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A campus tour has long been a precursor to enrolling in a university. It’s a chance for prospective students to get acquainted with the school grounds; brush up on the college’s history; and talk with current students about daily life on campus. There’s also the added bonus of testing out the dining hall food or getting recommendations for a cheap but delicious off-campus meal instead.
With more high school graduates enrolling in college and family travel on the rise, it makes sense that college-related trips would be a notable travel niche. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), college enrollment rates in the U.S. rose from 26 to 41 percent between 1980 and 2012. The NCES projects that approximately 20 million people will enroll in a degree-granting institution this fall — a sizable target market for a travel agent who understands the importance of college visits. And some families opt to see more than just universities while traveling.
Michelle Rosenberg, mother of two from Agoura, Calif., took her family on an East Coast road trip when one of her sons was shopping for a college. They saw seven universities in five days, including Harvard University in Boston; Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.; and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. But they also spent a portion of the trip exploring beyond each campus, making the experience part vacation, part university tour. According to Rosenberg, about 70 percent of her son’s classmates took a similar trip.
Covering so much ground in a short period of time is normal in this niche, according to Janice Caine, founder of Custom College Visits out of Foster City, Calif.
Caine launched her college travel consulting firm after her own daughter went on a subpar university tour with her high school. Despite the journey’s high price tag, her daughter returned home without a better understanding of the culture of the schools she saw, partially due to the brevity of the visits and the way each day was organized.
“I started planning additional campus visits for her, and it became evident to me that the more in-depth we could make each one, the better,” Caine said. “I also saw a similar need amongst my friends and beyond.”
Caine decided to apply her new passion and previous travel industry experience — she worked for Pacific Delight Tours and other brands in the past — to Custom College Visits. Company clients are most often from the luxury sector and helmed by two working parents. Caine and her husband work with each family to develop the best travel route for their child’s college interests. Transportation options, accommodations and on-campus tour schedules are prominent factors in the planning. If a client requests that someone else make all booking arrangements, Caine passes the client’s detailed itinerary to Frosch Travel in Larkspur, Calif.
“Having us plan their trip for them frees these parents up to do other things,” Caine said. “Afterward, kids have a better idea of where they want to apply — and they feel more confident during the application process.”
Lisa Palermini, a travel consultant with Moraga Travel in Moraga, Calif., has also helped clients plan college trips, and most of those families are opting to turn the experience into a family vacation. For Palermini, planning this type of trip begins with a central location; clients then visit schools and sightsee within a 30-mile radius. For example, one family went to Disneyland and toured multiple universities in Los Angeles and Long Beach, before boarding a cruise from the latter city. She recently planned a college tour that doubled as a mother-daughter vacation.
“A trip like this makes the difficult task of choosing the right college fun for the entire family,” Palermini said. “It also gives both the parents and the students peace of mind about where they will be living, shopping and so on.”
The trip can also be an emotional one.
“This is a very special time for a family,” Palermini said. “For parents, taking the time to go on a college vacation with a child may be the most rewarding vacation they ever take.”
Custom College Visitswww.customcollegevisits.com