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College Tours From Your Couch

It’s a summer ritual that can be anything but a vacation—those campus tours of the colleges that your high school student is considering attending. And expect to spend even more time and money when your child’s or grandchild’s dream school is far from home.

There may be no substitute for visiting a campus and talking to students who have experienced life there, but there are low-cost ways to whittle down your school choices and set priorities.

Before you book airline and hotel reservations, see if you can get a free first look at a school by checking its website. Some offer video tours promoting the campus.

Another option is Collegiate Choice, a Web site that sells DVDs featuring walking tours of 360 universities nationwide. Cliff Kramon, who started the company in 1987 after enduring a summer’s worth of walking tours when his twin sons wanted to attend out-of-state colleges, says he personally films each tour after getting permission from the school and the campus guide. The DVDs typically run 30 to 90 minutes and cost $15 each, plus $6 shipping.

Don’t expect Spielberg-like production quality. “These are the same walking tours, with the same student guides, that you’d get if you were there in person,” says Kramon. That means you won’t miss any of the (sometimes boring) historical and practical factoids about campus facilities, services and activities.

Nor will you likely miss what else is shown in Collegiate Choice DVDs: crowded airports, traffic en route to campus, and glimpses of the sweating, fatigued parents and prospective students who personally made the trek.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.


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