College Visit Tips: The Off-Campus In-Town Checklist

Maybe it’s time to start visiting colleges, or the visits are done and you need to prepare for move-in day. There is no shortage of college visit checklists, questions and campus visit worksheets out there to help them pick the right school for their college education. But what about picking other important places in their college town? If they go to school outside of their hometown, a little bit of research before move-in day can make them more comfortable away from home (and you more comfortable knowing you’ve talked about these things!) 

After you’ve visited the bookstore, talked to professors, and checked out the dining hall, be sure to go through our Off-Campus In-Town College Visit Checklist! With Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University and Heartland Community College in Bloomington-Normal, plus 3 additional colleges and universities within a 45-minute drive, we’ve learned quite a bit from visiting parents we had to share with you.

4 Off-Campus Tips for the Best College Experience

It’s time to become a local, by staying somewhere local and gaining first hand perspective while you explore the town that will be home for your newest college student over the next several years. We recommend taking 2-3 days in the middle of a week and staying in town at a locally owned bed and breakfast that you can use as your home base for checking things off the list below. Mid-week means you get a feel for the town the way it usually is, not when it’s overrun on move in weekend, giving an unrealistic picture of the typical restaurant scene and traffic! And if you choose a B&B instead of a typical hotel, it’s more intimate so you can have important conversations as a family and have an amazing breakfast together every morning as you come up with your game plan to explore.

1. Plan for Emergency Situations

It’s unlikely that the next several years will be 100% trouble free. The best way to reduce a stressful moment is to have a plan in advance for where you will go, and what is covered by insurance. Even if your kid is never in this situation personally, they can be a friend to someone else and help them, even if their parents didn’t go through this checklist.

  • Where is the nearest hospital, ER entrance, and Urgent Care Center? Do they know how to get there from their dorm or apartment? Do they have a copy of their insurance card in their wallet and know they will need to have that with them?
  • In our town you can’t turn around without hitting a Walgreens or a CVS, but do they know which one to go to? Be sure you’ve found the nearest pharmacy that supports your insurance for prescriptions. As a parent do you have the phone number and address for that pharmacy in case their at home doctor needs to call something in?
  • Will they have their car on campus? Car troubles happen at the most inconvenient time to all of us. Where would you want them to go? Whether it’s oil changes, repairing or replacing a tire, or fixing broken A/C or heat, make a stressful moment less worrisome by knowing in advance where to go and how to get there.

2. Think about Trips Home & College Visitors

This is especially important if they don’t have a car on campus, or if there are hometown friends and significant others who intend to visit often. Know the transportation options to make travel easier. Where is the closest airport, and are there direct flights to destinations important to your family? If it’s a small airport, which airlines are supported? Are there nearby train and bus route options? Get a copy of their schedules and pricing.

We have Central Illinois Regional Airport, the Amtrak station in Normal, and the Peoria Charter making visits and trips home easy for everyone. Wherever your child decides to go be sure to know these spots in advance. And though we know it’s just the beginning, in a few short years when they graduate, extended family may want to come to the ceremony, so knowing the closest airport, train options and bus options can make it easier down the road.

3. Locations for the College Necessities

Beyond emergency situations and figuring out transportation alternatives, there is the all-important list of necessities: groceries and gas.

You know that buying what you need at a grocery store is typically cheaper than going to a convenient store or gas station, so narrow down the multitude of grocery store options in advance. Walmart is a natural choice for many college students (we have two in our town), but look for other options based on their needs. If you can find an ALDI nearby, they’ll save some big bucks, and if they have special dietary needs, see if the town has organic options, Farmer’s Markets, or places that specialize in gluten free foods. (Bloomington-Normal has all of the above.) 

Many grocery stores are along a bus route, so if they don’t have a car on campus, make sure they know which bus routes will drop them off right where they need to be. And bonus tip, if there is a grocery store in town that you have a rewards card for, get them an extra card they can use to get discounts.

Really you can go to any gas station, but similar to grocery stores, if you have a gas station where you earn reward points, see if there is one in town where you can both benefit. And some gas stations have reward programs in conjunction with grocery stores (e.g., Hyvee & Casey’s) so they can get the necessities with discounts on food and gas. 

4. Find the Best (off campus) Restaurants

This is the fun part of exploring their college town. Talk to the owner where you’re staying and do some Google and Yelp searches to find the hidden gems. Don’t let your new college student default to national chain pizza places all of the time. Find places together that you’ll love and can go to when you come to visit:

  • Which spots will remind them of home, so when they are home-sick they can get a jolt of nostalgia? (With Portillo’s in town, our Chicagoland students can get that decadent chocolate cake whenever they need it)
  • What is local and unique to the town that isn’t a chain? Be sure to look for breakfast spots, lunch options, dinner choices and desserts.
  • Find a mix of affordable and special occasion restaurants. There will be dances, formals and dates at some point over the next few years, so help them find a few good spots that will be memorable and worth the money.

Get the most out of a college visit

After your kid has picked their college, go stay in the town together well before move in. Help them get familiar and comfortable with the most important places off campus for emergencies, necessities, food and fun. Stay someplace local and connect with the owner to learn more about the town and where to explore. The secret is most likely a bed and breakfast, because most owners have been in their towns for years, so they’ll steer you in the right direction, and make sure you all have a good breakfast each morning to get you ready for your day of exploring. 

Get to know the town your kid will be living in, by living local.


Stay at Vrooman Mansion Now and Celebrate with us when they Graduate College

We want to be your home when you visit them, move them in, or move them out. And we want to celebrate this amazing journey alongside your family, with epic gourmet breakfasts together to catch up on their lives. Then when it’s time for them to walk across the stage, you can host their graduation party here. You can rent out the entire property for graduation weekend, where family and friends can stay, enjoy gourmet breakfast together, and celebrate this significant moment with a party in the garden and on the patio. 

Vrooman Mansion is a place where historic things happen, let us be the setting for your next several years alongside their collegiate journey, and then with a diploma in hand when they create history, we’re here for that, too.

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