Today’s show features a great way to visit many college campuses without ever leaving your home. Chris Car-son is the founder and President of CampusTours.com, which features hundreds of virtual tours you can take of campuses across the country. It’s never going to be a replacement for the real thing, but it can help you hone down your choices based on what you see.
I’ll also answer a question on what impact a student inheritance can have on financial aid and discuss what the options are to minimize any negative impacts there could be.
Open your laptop, it’s time for a road trip!
Romantic ideas of the college road trip can quickly fade as the miles pile up and the reality of the costs for transportation and lodging set in. So we welcome our guest Chris Carson, President of College Tours and the website, www.campustours.com. He visits us to explain how virtual campus tours can help families either focus in on or eliminate in-person tours to make the best use of your time and money.
The www.campustours.com website features more than 1,000 virtual tours of various colleges and universities across the country, with video guides, photos, interactive maps (some featuring 3D renderings of the campus and panoramic images) and student commentary. Chris explains that tours are valuable in that they offer the feel of the campus and the atmosphere, and less so on the college’s facilities. Families who take a virtual tour generally spend about 15 minutes on each campus, but depending on their interest could spend several hours if they chose to view every video at every stop on the tour.
So what can you expect on a virtual campus tour?
- Each school’s content does vary – some replicate the actual tour, but the best virtual college tours feature stops or topics that include additional information through student or faculty video commentary.
- Easily digestible content to allow families to view far more campuses than they could in-person; Chris said these tours are just as much about developing your list of target schools as it is about eliminating schools from your search.
- Search functions allow you to find schools in your location, as well as by the size and tuition costs
- Content is geared for the ‘first-look’ students so if you have already decided on a college and have done all your research, the tour may not provide as much new information for you.
Why not just skip the in-person college campus tour?
- While core content can be provided for specific areas of interest, a virtual tour is no replacement for touring a college campus in person. You can’t ask questions of the guide or other students, so make every effort to go to those schools on your target list to meet with counselors and tour the campus.
- Colleges want to see demonstrated interest. Simply viewing a virtual tour online is invisible to the admissions office.
- You can ask great questions that show you’ve done some research; admissions counselors and others in the school’s administration can offer advice and help your chances of acceptance and potential financial aid and scholarships.
- Colleges are not as interested in inquisitive parents – their customer is the student and if the student appears genuinely invested and interested in their institution, more consideration is likely to be given to that student when they receive the application.
What if you simply can’t afford to visit the college campus in person?
- Here again, demonstrated interest is key, so call the college’s admissions office and introduce yourself; ask questions of a counselor that show you’ve done your homework on the school
- If the school offers it, attend an online college fair
- Ask if there are any campus representatives living in your area for you to meet with in person
- Seek out alumni to interview them
Chris Carson’s 3 Quick Tips for Touring College Campuses, Virtually or In-Person
- Take the virtual tour early in the process, as it will help you differentiate one campus from the other as your in-person college campus visits
- DRESS NICELY – your appearance should be at least dress casual and shows interest and respect; this is a stepping stone into a new phase of the student’s life
- Bring a notebook – take tons of notes, because after enough visits, one college campus will blend into the next; this too shows demonstrated interest and sincerity
What’s the impact on financial aid if a student receives an inheritance?
Denise writes in to ask about an inheritance her daughter received, and what impact it could have on receiving financial aid. The amount is relatively modest, $5,000, but it deserves some careful thought:
- Money left to a student will have an impact if you report it (and you do need to report it)
- If the amount is modest, however, and you have legitimate bills (books, loans) to pay, you could also spend these dollars with no need to report it, thus negating any impact
- The money may also be put into the parent’s name. Depending on their income, parents often have a protec-tion amount for money in the bank or investments from $10,000 to $50,000. Overall, parent assets have less of an impact on financial aid than a student’s.
If the inheritance is much larger ($50,000 or more), the scenario of “spend it before you need to report it” doesn’t apply as much. So what would be the options in this case?
- Money can still be put in the parent’s name, as again, the parent asset carries less weight than a student asset
- If your student did not qualify for need-based aid anyway, the inheritance won’t change that
- Merit-based aid will also not be impacted, as it is based on grades and performance and not income
- Understand what the school is willing to give. In some cases if your need is $20,000, the school may only offer $5,000 no matter what. If an inheritance cuts that need to $10,000, then the school will still offer that same $5,000 because the need still exceeds $5,000.
- Talk to the school and be honest with them that your income has changed to find out what the outcome could be
- Consult with a college planner to review all of your options given your situation
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