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Articles / Applying to College / What Are "Swipes" at College?

March 29, 2017

What Are "Swipes" at College?

Question: Next week I'm going to visit a high school acquaintance who is a freshman at a college that I think I may attend. She said that we can use her "swipes" for food. I felt too stupid to ask her what "swipes" are, but now I'm wondering.

Many colleges offer students some choice in meal plans. The different plans include a fixed number of meals in campus cafeterias (ranging from about 12 or 15 per week to unlimited), and often these plans also include some meals in restaurants with branches right on campus (often chain joints like Pizza Hut or Panera) and even at food trucks or participating off-campus eateries.


Students pay for meals by "swiping" their school ID card which contains a magnetic strip, much like a credit card, that keeps track of the number of meals purchased. Depending on a college's regulations, it's often possible for a student to "double-swipe" the card to cover a visitor's food as well as his or her own. Colleges usually don't allow unused swipes to "roll over" at the end of the school year to be added to the next year's total. So your host probably realizes that she has extra swipes that will vaporize in May, if she doesn't share them now.

So take her a little "bread-and-butter gift" when you visit, and also take her up on her offer to feed you for free. But be sure to sample some of the college's own cuisine. You'll get a better sense of the place where you may spend the next four years if you check out the fare at the student dining commons and not just the Kung Pao Chicken at the campus Panda Express!

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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