New York/Tri-State College Tour & Vacation Itinerary

The New York region is a natural starting point for college and university exploration. Densely packed with schools, the area offers everything from quintessential urban campuses to idyllic college towns. There are also plenty of engaging diversions to mix in, making the trip feel less like homework and more like a mini-vacation.

For this roundup, we’re including a general flyover of marquee universities with a variety of campus vibes. From a logistics perspective, Manhattan makes a great starting point and home base. 

We suggest visiting only one school per day. A large part of the college touring experience revolves around absorbing the atmosphere, and that demands slowing down to enjoy the journey. If official campus visits leave time to drop in at a local coffee shop, look at the billboards for onsite activities or have lunch and just observe the students. These moments will help teens envision if the school feels like a potential fit — more so than learning where the undergrad library is located.

College Tour Vacation Ideas
NYU. “Frederick Loewe Theatre” by Ajay Suresh is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

New York College Tour Vacation Ideas

Day 1

Start your exploration with a visit to NYU. New York University is clustered in fabled Greenwich Village, a bustling and vibrant downtown neighborhood. Make sure to check out Washington Square Park, with its iconic arch and fountain, and leave time to take in all of the quirky street performers and people. Grab a slice of pizza at Joe’s or head to Rocco’s, an old-school Italian bakery around the corner. Afterward, you might head south toward Soho for some retail therapy.

The Spy Museum in Midtown is a great, newer interactive option to blow off steam in the afternoon. Or go classic NYC and check out Central Park or the views from the Empire State Building.

TIP: If your student’s potential field of study is more targeted, consider adding visits to specialty schools in the area such as FIT for fashion, Pratt Institute for art or Cooper Union for art and architecture.

Day 2

Today is all about Columbia University in Morningside Heights. Easily accessible by subway, Columbia is an Ivy League school located in Upper Manhattan. After exploring campus, enjoy a meal at Community Food & Juice. Then consider options for exploration in the afternoon. Hamilton Grange, the relocated homestead of Alexander Hamilton, is a quick subway hop north. Or head farther uptown to the Met Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum and an oasis in Fort Tryon Park that’s known for its European medieval architecture and art. Alternately, explore the neighborhood around Columbia and then head to nearby Yankee Stadium for a chance to see the Yankees play. 

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College Tour Vacation Ideas
Yale University. Photo by Michael Marsland/Yale University

Day 3

Head northeast to Connecticut to see Ivy League standout Yale. A car will offer the most flexibility, but taking the train plus a short taxi ride is certainly feasible. Just hop on MetroNorth from Grand Central to New Haven. After touring campus and absorbing the atmosphere, satisfy your appetite with a taste of New Haven “apizza” at local institution Sally’s. Spend some time on the Green or explore the Yale University Art Gallery before heading back to the city.

Catch a show on Broadway tonight, or if the weather is good, hop on the Circle Line and enjoy a cruise around the tip of Manhattan.

Day 4

Today is devoted to Princeton, the prestigious Ivy League institution located south of the city in New Jersey. Again, a car would be the quickest option, but NJ Transit via Penn Station will take you to Princeton Junction in less than 2 hours. Amble around this storied campus and stop in at Small World Coffee or Olive’s for lunch before returning to New York City.

Top College Touring Tips

  • Spring and fall are ideal seasons to see a campus in all its glory. Though summer offers plenty of time off from school for visiting, most campuses have a distinctly different feel when students aren’t there. Make sure to contact each school before your trip to book official tours and visits, and arrange your schedule accordingly.
  • During downtime over meals or while doing unrelated activities, initiate low-pressure chats about your teenager’s feelings and takeaways from each visit. Ask, “Did the school feel like a place you could see yourself?” The information you glean will help dictate how and where you should look further to zero in on the right school fit. 
  • Making memories together will come naturally if you frame the trip as an opportunity simply to enjoy being together and not just about getting into college. Incorporating fun elements and slowing the pace can also help mitigate any pressure about this next stage that may be lurking beneath the surface.

Relevant Links:

Browse all ideas for vacations with tweens and teens on Ciao Bambino

Get our top recommendations for things to do in New York City

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Boston edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Southeast edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Midwest edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: SoCal Edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Pacific Northwest edition

9 places to make family travel memories with college-age kids

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