The business of planning custom college tours has the potential to grow as tuition continues to balloon at schools across the U.S. The relative cost of having an expert plan an intensive college visit may be worth it for students and families preparing to make a major investment.
There’s a growing specialty for travel advisors to consider: college tour planning. With the cost of higher education sometimes rivaling the cost of purchasing a home, there’s increasing demand for assistance in getting an in-depth look at prospective schools.
“Not many of you would go and spend a half million buying a house just by looking online. You are going to want to walk around the house and get a feel,” said Trevor Sturgeon, director of TS College Tours, which is geared toward international students planning to attend college in the U.S.
Mindful of the substantial investment college requires, families are springing for college tour services, which may include transportation, lodging, meals, and campus itineraries that can stretch for more than a week and cover more than a dozen colleges.
“People might be traveling to five colleges in five states in five days and trying to figure out how to get from one place to another efficiently,” said Dr. Elizabeth Stone, executive director of Campanile College Tours.
Stone launched her company nine years ago after working for a decade as a college admissions counselor and college professor. As part of launching the company, which is part of the Virtuoso network, she became a Certified Travel Associate.
“People really want to make use of their time and money well,” Stone said. “If people are taking off work to travel around the country, they really don’t want to have to make a return to the school because the student didn’t get a feel for what the campus is really like.”
The business behind custom college tour visits is a 50/50 split between campus planning and travel planning, according to Stone. Her company sets up detailed individual itineraries for families that include one-on-one meetings with faculty, in-class observations, and tours of campus areas not typically offered by the schools.
The cost for Campanile services ranges from $410 to $485 per campus visit and includes full travel coordination minus flights.
Stone and other operators interviewed by Skift emphasize the services aren’t just for the wealthy. Campanile has planned tours for families who have never bought an airline ticket before or traveled out of state.
Custom College Visits, which was founded by Janice Caine in 2010, is gearing up for their busiest time of the year between June and August. Like Campanile and TS College Tours, the company’s work is a combination of travel logistics and campus planning.
The main reason that parents seek assistance is that many are overwhelmed by the thought of planning college tours, particularly if they are also juggling busy careers and family responsibilities, Caine said.
Caine has a background in travel, having worked for travel wholesalers and in the meetings industry before launching her company. After planning college tours for her own daughter, friends and family began asking for her help.
“A friend said, ‘I wish I had someone who could do this for me.’ That night I went home and said to my husband, ‘I can do this,’” Caine said. “That lit the fire under me.”
Custom tours with Custom College Visits range from $2,500 to $2,800 depending on the number of schools involved. Aside from planning the travel accommodations and on-campus visit, Custom College Visits and Campanile both feature apps outfitted with custom itineraries for each client.
“It’s like putting a puzzle together,” Caine said. “It’s a lot of juggling to make it all work, but I love it.”
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Photo credit: Brittany Caine, the daughter of Janice Caine, founder of Custom College Visits, at Southern Methodist University. Custom College Visits