Private student loans are a type of loan that undergraduate and graduate students can use to pay for college. Unlike federal student loans, which come from the federal government (the Department of Education, to be specific), private student loans come from private lenders.
It may seem like a daunting task to understand the concept of private vs federal student loans, especially for 18-year-old high school students. In this piece, we’ll do just that. We’ll walk through the definition of a private student loan, help you get a sense of who can get a private student loan, how much you can borrow, interest rates on private student loans and more.
Let’s get started so you and your student have a better answer to “What is considered a private student loan?”
Private Student Loan Definition
What’s a private student loan? Private student loans come from a private lender such as a bank, credit union or online lender — not the federal government. The private lender sets its own terms and conditions for the private student loan. The application process also looks different for private student loans compared to federal student loans. You don’t file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to get a private loan — you fill out an application on the lender’s page.
So, what exactly are the differences between private loans and federal student loans? It’s a great question. The federal government sets forth the terms and conditions of federal student loans and often come with more federal protections, such as in federal income-driven repayment plans. You do not get federal protections with private student loans, though private student loan lenders may consider your situation if you’re having trouble making payments.
In another example of additional perks, in the case of Direct Subsidized loans, the government pays the interest while you’re in college, a feature that private lenders don’t offer.
What are private loans and federal loan similarities and differences? Let’s take a quick look at federal and private loans definition and compare private vs federal student loans side by side below.
Federal Student Loans
Private Student Loans
Not due until after you graduate
May require payments when you are in school, but most allow you to wait until you are no longer in school.
Fixed interest rate (stays the same); may be lower than private loans
Variable (changing) or fixed; which may be higher or lower than federal student loans
Required credit check
Yes, in most cases
May be able to temporarily postpone or lower your payments using federal protections
May be able to arrange postponement or lowered payments through your lender
Repayment plans available, including income-driven repayment plans and standard 10-year repayment plans
May offer more flexible repayment plans; check with your lender
No prepayment penalty
There may be a prepayment penalty; check with your lender
Loan forgiveness programs available through the federal student loan program
Many private lenders do not offer loan forgiveness
Who Can Get a Private Student Loan?
Students and parents can both qualify for private student loans. For example, if you want to help your child pay for college, you can co-sign a private student loan. Typically, undergraduate students will need a cosigner to get a private loan. As a cosigner, private lenders may require you to get your credit score checked to prove your creditworthiness and verify that you have regular income coming in.
If your student is a graduate student, a private lender may grant them a private student loan in their own name. As a graduate student, a private lender may be looking at your student’s credentials, such as income and credit score.
Parents may even be able to get a lower interest rate on private student loans compared to the Parent PLUS loan, a type of federal student loan that parents can borrow to help pay for a child’s education. They come with origination fees that add to the total loan amount, which could potentially cost more over time.
How Much Can You Borrow in Private Student Loans?
Your student can’t borrow as much as they want with federal student loans. However, private lenders allow your child to borrow up to the full cost of attendance (tuition, room, board and fees) as well as other expenses such as books, computers, transportation and living expenses such as rent for an apartment. They do need to meet all lender borrowing requirements, however.
In comparison, undergraduate students may only take out $57,500 in federal student loans (and students can use no more than $23,000 in subsidized loans). Graduate and professional students can only take out a max aggregate amount of $138,500 for graduate or professional studies (with no more than $65,500 of this amount in subsidized loans), which includes all funds from undergraduate studies as well.
If the full cost of an undergraduate institution costs $63,000 per year, you can see how federal student loans might have their limitations and require you to take out private student loans to fill in the gaps.
What Are Interest Rates on Private Loans?
What exactly does “interest rate” mean? The interest rate is the amount the lender charges a borrower for the privilege of borrowing from them. The lender charges an interest rate as a percentage of the amount borrowed.
Unfortunately, there’s no “one rate” that categorizes private loans — they range considerably, from just over 3% to 12% and more. It’s important to consider the interest rates on private loans among various lenders.
Private loans may be higher or lower federal loan interest rates, depending on credentials. You can get a private student loan interest rate lower than federal interest rates.
Unlike federal student loan interest rates, which stay the same (called a fixed rate), private lenders often offer both fixed and variable interest rates. A variable interest rate means that the interest rate changes throughout the life of the loan.
How to Consider Private Student Loans
We’re going beyond the answer to “what are private student loans?” in this section! How do you consider all of the above factors and choose the right route? Let’s chat about it.
Step 1: Understand financial aid awards.
Instead of comparing and contrasting loan interest rates, one of the most important things you should do is understand how a financial aid award works. Financial aid awards all look different from school to school, and it’s a good idea to understand what must be repaid versus what doesn’t. In other words:
Does not need to be repaid:
Must be repaid with interest:
Must be earned:
Understand the differences between all the components of each line of every financial aid award so you can help your child make a great decision about private versus federal student loans they will take on.
Look into every aspect of every type of loan on the financial aid award. For example, let’s say your child receives $2,000 in Direct Unsubsidized loans and $3,500 in Direct Subsidized loans. What are the loan fees? What is the interest rate? (Currently, loan fees are 1.057% for these loans and interest rates are 4.99% for undergraduates.)
Step 2: Shop around.
In most cases, all the shopping you’ll have to do stops right at your child’s school. They will likely offer a reputable lender list and help you decide on a recommended selection.
Look into a variety of private lenders to compare all the features — interest rate, repayment structure, fees, borrower protections, whether there is a credit check, prepayment penalty — everything! Check with your local bank, look at online lenders, etc. Ask all the questions you can think of and more.
Note that the higher your credit score and income, the more likely you’ll get a lower interest rate. You may be able to snag a lower interest rate than those offered by the federal government through federal student loans.
Look into at least three different lending institutions so you have a healthy comparison.
Step 3: Know the process to get a private student loan.
How do private student loans work? You and your child will apply on the lender’s website at no cost to you, fill out information such as address, Social Security number, enrollment information, requested loan amount, financial information (you will, too, if you’re a cosigner), employment history and choose interest rate type and repayment preferences.
The lender will review you/your child’s credit, approve the application and choose the interest rate and repayment option. You and/or your child will accept the loan terms and sign. Once completed, your lender will check into your eligibility, including eligibility for enrollment and the full cost of the school.
Step 4: Consider refinancing for later.
Remember that if you and your student can’t get a great interest rate on a private loan now, you can always refinance down the road and get a lower rate. Refinancing means replacing one or all of your loans with a new loan with a private lender. It’s worth reminding your student again (when the time comes) that she will lose the federal protections and federal repayment options of federal student loans when she refinances.
You cannot refinance a federal loan into a federal loan. You can only refinance from a federal student loan into a private student loan. Note that your child will also have to offer proof of regular income and a higher credit score in order to refinance.
How Long Does it Take to Pay Off a Private Student Loan?
Unlike federal student loans, private student lenders do not offer a standard repayment schedule. However, many private lenders offer the same repayment schedule — 120 months (10 years) to repay. Some private lenders will allow you to extend your payments, potentially up to 25 years.
Understand Private Loans Ahead of Time
It’s a good idea to compare and contrast all the benefits of private loans for your child’s situation and all the various ways you can get college paid for. Get a feel for how private loans can offer your child the best benefits. Will they fill in the gaps that scholarships, grants and loans can’t cover? Will you try to fill in some gaps as well?
Paying for college can seem like a giant puzzle, but it’s important to figure out how each piece fits into the picture.
Let’s take a look at a couple of frequently asked questions that digs deeper into answering the question, “What is a private loan?”
How do you know if loans are private?
You’ll know if loans are private if they don’t come from the federal government. Once you and your child file the FAFSA, they will show up on the financial aid award at every school your child applies to in the form of a “Direct Loan.” Private loans will not show up on financial aid awards, which means that you and your child can work with the school’s financial aid office to choose the right private loan.
Is FAFSA a private student loan?
No, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a free application that you fill out that enables your child to qualify for federal financial aid, including grants, loans and work-study.
How long are college tours? It’s a great question when your child is getting started on the path to visiting colleges. However, understanding the answer to “how long is a college tour?” isn’t as simple as it seems.
Why not? First, it’s important to understand the difference between “college tour” and “college visit” — the tour portion of a college visit is a much smaller part of the campus visit. Furthermore, the college visit itself depends on what your child wants to do while on campus. Your child could schedule a college visit that lasts two hours or two days — it just depends on the student’s preferences.
It’s easy to see which prospective students and families have had great tours in any admission office. In fact, I vividly remember one very satisfied family coming back from tour. Here’s what happened, all at once:
Dad high-fived the tour guide.
Mom looked thrilled (and relieved) and gave the tour guide a hug.
The prospective student grinned from ear to ear and added the tour guide’s personal cellphone number to his phone. He said, “I’m really excited to be here next year.”
Dad asked for our current student’s business card.
I knew that kid was sold, and that’s what the tour should look like!
You just knew each personality was a perfect fit. The student did a perfect job fielding the parents’ questions, addressed the student’s felt needs and connected all the dots for everyone.
Let’s take a look at the definition of a college tour, the length of a typical college tour and visit, the components of a college tour, the benefits of college visits, how to choose your college tour length and an example. By the time you finish reading, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how long you should plan to visit a particular college or university.
What is a College Tour?
The tour is a part of a college campus visit. During a college visit, prospective students and their family members schedule a time in which they can take a look at a college or university. They may do a number of things on a college visit, but the tour in particular shows off certain components of a campus, possibly including, but not limited to, the following:
Residence halls (also called dorm rooms)
Student center or student union
Other areas of the campus
In contrast, the college visit involves a much larger, more comprehensive picture of the college. It could involve the following:
Talking to an admission counselor
Conferencing with the financial aid office
Meeting with a coach
Chatting with someone from an extracurricular activity
Talking with an academic counselor
Chatting with a dietician in the cafeteria
Listening in on a session
There are other types of meetings you can schedule during a college visit, but as you can see, the college tour represents only a small percentage of the college visit.
Campus tours might start out with an information session that lasts approximately 45 minutes, and an admissions officer usually leads the session. They will offer detailed information about the campus, the application process and the process of getting financial aid. Student panelists may also answer questions.
How Long is a College Tour?
How long does a college tour take?
The college tour typically lasts around one hour. However, if your child requests to see additional buildings or you have a slow-moving group, it might take longer than one hour. However, it’s important to be respectful of the tour guide’s time. They are usually students and may have to run to a class immediately after the tour. Some students schedule themselves for their work-study jobs tightly between classes because they’re so busy.
If you think your child may take longer on tour — for whatever reason — you may want to notify the admission office in advance. The admission office may schedule you for a longer tour.
Keep in mind that some schools have a very rigid process and schedule for tours. For example, some give large group tours, show two buildings and that’s it. However, most colleges and universities typically want to try to accommodate your child as much as possible and allow you to do as much as your child requests. It never hurts to ask for those “extras” even though the online schedule looks like it won’t change much.
How Long is a College Visit?
A college visit can last as long as your student and the admission office agree that it can last. For example, if your student wants it to last for two days because she wants to spend the night on campus to get to know the campus better, she can. However, college visits typically last a few hours. During those few hours, you may fit in a tour of campus, a talk with a professor, a conversation with a coach, eating lunch on campus, an academic session, etc. If you want the quick version, you may be in and out in an hour and a half, with just a tour of campus and a chat with an admission professional.
Anatomy of a College Visit
So, let’s back up a bit and discuss exactly what happens during a college visit. A college tour is just one component of a college visit. A personal campus visit can involve the following:
Lunch with a student
Meeting with a professor
Financial aid meeting
Meetings with other organizations or people on campus you and your child specifically request (like a dietitian, academic support personnel, etc.)
On the other hand, you and your child can also attend group visits, which are very different from personal campus visits because you do everything in a group setting. You may do the following:
Specific meeting requests after the visit day
Sure, you’ll want to sit down with your child and think through exactly what you’d like to do while you’re on your visit, but notice what I included on the first bullet of each option? Yep — the college tour. It’s typically the highlight of the campus visit experience. And if you have a fun, knowledgeable student tour guide, that can make or break a college decision.
A fantastic tour of campus should include a stop at every one of these locations:
Classroom or lecture hall
Student center or lounge
These locations could be added — at your request! (The best tour guides veer from the script and go where your child wants to go):
Student resource center
Greek life and other organizations
Campus chapel or other religious center
Athletic facilities or workout facilities
Other locations on campus
And add the glue — an amazing tour guide! — and you’ve got yourself the best college tour ever. How do you get that kind of college tour at every college?
Answer: You plan for it.
A campus tour gives your child (and you!) a much more up close and personal understanding of a college. A campus tour almost always starts from the admission office at a college or university. In fact, the campus tour usually takes a circuitous route across campus so that you end up back in the admission office after the tour.
Students employed by the admission office usually give the tours on campus. Typically, upper class students who have been trained to give tours get this job. In most cases, unless it has been arranged in advance, the student you get for your tour guide will happen to be someone who happens to have work-study at that particular time. However, some small colleges may try to arrange a one-on-one campus tour with someone who has the same interests as your student. At large state universities, you’ll likely go on large group campus tours.
As mentioned above, your tour guide should show you some combination of the following areas of campus.
Keep in mind that it’s likely that the tour guide will show you the very best the school has to offer. They likely won’t show you the dingiest dorm room on campus or the oldest building on campus unless it’s a national treasure. (Pro tip: If you can, ask to see an academic building where you plan to take classes. That will give you an idea of what the academic buildings look like in your area of study — not just the most beautiful, updated ones that they use for showing to prospective students.)
Getting your questions answered is one of the most important parts of the college tour. The student tour guide can give you insight on life on campus, class sizes, the food on campus, dorm living, campus traditions, course availability for first-year students, diversity of the student body, extracurricular activities, professor/student interactions and other opportunities. You and your student can and should ask as many questions as you and your student can think of.
If there is an area of campus that you can’t get to on your tour but your student really wants to see, ask whether it’s possible to see it later on your visit. An accommodating admission office should make it happen before you leave.
How to Choose Your College Tour Length
Do you know that you and your child can choose your college tour length? You can! You’re not completely powerless by letting the college do all the scheduling. Let’s take a look at how to choose the length of your college tour.
Step 1: Think through an ideal tour.
Think past the entire campus visit and think very specifically about the tour itself. What does an A+ college tour look like? Does it mean seeing one of the newest residence halls? Does it mean looking at the library to see how students utilize that space?
It may be hard to visualize, particularly if you and your student have just started visiting college campuses for the first time. You simply may not have any idea what to expect. In that case, it’s okay. Think carefully through your student’s interests before you go to the next step.
Step 2: Contact the admission office.
Call up the admission office of the school your child wants to visit. Even better, require your student to call the admission office for the visit. Try not to sign up online like this because you may not be able to work in the intricacies of your child’s visit. For example, let’s say you plan to bring your child’s grandparents on campus and they need a wheelchair accessible tour. (This happened before at the college I last worked at.) Calling the admission office ahead of time allowed us to make an excellent plan for the grandparents and also allowed us to discuss the logistics of the visit with the student tour guide in advance. College admission offices are notoriously flexible, but you still want to be as forthcoming as possible.
Talk about needs and specific requests. If you think your child will want to see more buildings, for example, it’s a good idea to talk about that with someone ahead of time.
Make sure you call at least a week in advance. Colleges (particularly those putting together visits by hand, which happens at small private institutions) appreciate the lead time.
Step 3: Talk about timing.
Once your student explains what she wants to do while on campus, have her ask the admission office how much time it’ll take. If you’re under time constraints, make those known as well. You want to pack in as much value into the tour (and the visit) as possible without sacrificing quality and a little bit of down time.
If the campus visit coordinator at the admission office says that it will take four hours to complete the tour and other things your student wants but you only have three hours available, it gives you a good starting point to start to figure out how to build out the best visit under certain time constraints. Either that, or you could make more time in your schedule for the visit. Keeping everyone on the same page allows for the best situation possible. That way, there are no surprises — for the school, you or your child.
Step 4: Confirm in advance.
The admission office should send your child a confirmation in the mail, via text or through email — or a combination of all three. It’s a good idea to confirm that all the details are correct. If they aren’t, call long before the scheduled visit date so that the admission office can make the necessary corrections.
Step 5: Ask good questions while on tour.
How large a college do you want to attend? Colleges come in varying sizes, including their campus and student body. Do you want to attend a small college with a student body that’s also small, a medium-sized university or a large institution, such as a state university?
What type of college do you want to attend? There are many different kinds of colleges. You can choose to attend a liberal arts college, which is typically smaller in size and has fewer degree options. You could also choose a private or public university, which can provide more academic offerings.
How selective of a college do you want to apply to? Colleges apply different criteria to their admissions selection process. A college tour can help you gauge the academic rigor you want to face while studying. The tour can give you a good feel for how your grades and activities stack up.
What is the return on investment of this college? Even though at first, college seems to be about the dorms, friends and which major you’ll choose, your time in college passes quickly. It’s important now to ask: What is the return on investment of each college I’m touring? Is this college focused on helping me launch my career or graduate school plans after I earn my degree here?
Example of How to Choose Your College Tour Length
Here’s an example of how to choose your college tour length. Let’s say your child calls the admission office at XYZ University and finds out that it will take one hour to take a general tour of campus. However, your child wants to do a private tour of the athletic facilities. In that case, during the call to the college admission office, ask for a lengthier tour or to tack on the athletic facility tour with a coach or with another tour guide at the end of the day.
By the way, I wouldn’t recommend trying to cram two campus visits into one day.
When to Do a Tour
Think about the time of year! If you can select the best time of year to visit, you’d be amazed at the difference that makes. Visiting a college in Maine in January or a college in Florida in August might not set you up for success.
Consider the Weather
This may not really be something you can do anything about, but if you have the flexibility, choose the best weather day to go. Rain puts a damper on a college visit. If you can’t change your visit date and the weather isn’t going to be great, make sure you have the right weather gear: hats, gloves, winter coats, umbrellas, hats.
Visit When Classes Are in Session
Visiting when classes are in session is best. Let’s say you visit during the summer. You can definitely learn about admission and financial aid processes and see campuses but you and your student won’t experience the same hustle and bustle you would when school’s in session.
Choose the Right Time During High School
A popular question is this: “When’s the best year in high school to visit?”
This question is a fun one because there’s no “right” year to visit. Here are a few truths:
You and your child will have to get started sooner if she has 12 schools on her list. If she only has two, you’ll obviously spend less time on visits.
A popular time is to visit spring break of your child’s junior year.
A good rule of thumb is to visit one large, one medium and one small school.
It’s a good idea to consider your child’s maturity level and excitement about visiting schools. Some freshmen in high school are ready; some juniors aren’t ready at all.
It’s not a bad thing to get a “taste” at a young age. Some high schools do school trips to colleges during freshmen year. Some students tag along on tours with older siblings. It’s a great way to launch the college search!
During Your Tour
Student tour guides have a prescribed tour route for prospective students and families. Make sure you:
Let your student interact with the tour guide as much as possible. Don’t dominate the conversation!
Ask to see things. If something looks interesting, ask about it and ask to go in the building.
Focus on people! Buildings aren’t going to connect your student to alumni after college or help you make friends in the residence halls.
Encourage your student to talk to as many people as possible — everywhere. Students, dining hall workers, tour guides, even faculty sitting in their offices. (Your student may not feel comfortable doing that, but the more people you all talk to, the more robust your visit will be and the better overview of the college you’ll get.)
Find out what’s going on. Look at bulletin boards, campus events and pick up a campus newspaper.
Watch students and get a feel for how they interact with each other. Are they engaged and friendly? Aloof? Do they seem friendly to your student in general?
Think of other details. What are your specific needs and expectations?
Do You Have Concerns About Walking on Campus?
Worried a bit about your ability to get around? It might be hard for you or someone in your family to hoof it around campus with a group. If so, this is the time to speak up! Tell the campus visit coordinator ahead of time if you’ve got some health issues, your child’s broken her foot — whatever it is!
The admission office will make accommodations for you. They might put your whole family on a golf cart or abbreviate the tour to meet your needs. Colleges are used to accommodating families and they do it happily. Don’t be afraid to ask for physical accommodations.
Need a Wheelchair-Accessible Tour?
Explain to the admission office that you or a family member are in a wheelchair. Admission staff members will often have a specific wheelchair-accessible tour mapped out ahead of time. They’ll also ensure that your tour guide knows how to give a wheelchair-accessible tour.
Need Other Accommodations?
Think of other accommodations you might need. This could involve:
Sign language interpretation
Accommodations for a blind family member
What if the Tour isn’t Awesome Even After All that Prep Work?
Okay, so everything you do to prepare for a college visit still might not end up jiving. Pinpoint what it was that wasn’t great. Was it the tour guide who kept checking his phone? Did a professor turn you off? Was an admission counselor less than enthused?
Once your child has narrowed the college list, you may want to make return visits to schools. Your child can also do overnight visits. On these visits, plan to go to classes and interact with students. (Some colleges even offer spring programs for juniors and fall programs for seniors. Check online or contact the admission office.)
Keep a list of people’s names you interact with and let the admission office know what turned you off about the visit. If possible, have your child communicate that.
Contact anyone you know who has connections to the college to learn more about it. Maybe it was just a tiny “glitch” and the college deserves a second chance.
You Can Adjust Your College Tour Length (in Most Cases)
You’ve probably already heard the term, “You’ll never know until you ask.” It’s completely true in the case of college tours. Note also that it’s important to get your child’s boots on campus. Many virtual tours exist, but you want to make sure your child gets on campus for an on-campus university tour.
Colleges and universities may allow you to shorten or lengthen the tour depending on your needs. However, if your child wants something special or something that isn’t necessarily spelled out online, it’s important to ask.
Have your child call up the admissions office and ask about the possibilities.
Your child may be wondering, “Do you have to decline admission to colleges?”
It may not be something that they feel comfortable doing, but yes, it is customary (and thoughtful!) to let a college know that they do not plan to attend that particular school. Your child should communicate with every college and university they don’t plan to attend.
In this article, we’ll discuss what it means to decline college admissions, why you should do so and how to decline a college acceptance. We’ll even include a couple of examples of how to communicate so your child doesn’t have to think twice about how to do it.
What Does it Mean to Decline College Admissions?
Figuring out how to decide what college to go to is not easy. It’s a huge deal. That’s why it’s easy to focus on which college you say “yes” to rather than the other colleges on the “thanks, but no thanks” list.
When you decline college admissions, it means that your child tells colleges and universities that they plan not to attend their institution. It can involve an email to an admissions counselor or a phone call to the admissions office. In some way, your child should communicate to the college or university that they plan to go elsewhere.
When you decline admission, colleges may ask you for some information for their own research purposes, including the college you plan to attend and why you plan to attend that other institution.
Do You Need to Decline College Admissions?
Do you need to decline college admissions? Yes, your child should make sure colleges understand that they will not attend their institution. It helps both the colleges and your child (and you!) get reoriented on the next step in the process.
It’s important to note that it’s not an absolute requirement to let colleges know that your child won’t attend for the semester for which they are applying. However, declining admissions officially reflects well on your character. It gives your child an opportunity to thank the college despite the fact that they will not attend.
For example, the college can focus on individuals who do want to attend their institution and you and your child can focus on your next step. Think of declining college admission as clearing space in your calendar, cleaning out a stuffed closet or a cluttered desk.
Ultimately, it’s really rude to not decline admission and allow the college to keep contacting your student when your child knows they aren’t planning to attend. It can save lots of time and energy on everyone’s part — it can help everyone save on emails, mailings, phone calls, personalized messages, trips, etc.
Let’s expand on the previous paragraph a bit and look at several reasons to decline admissions to colleges, including from the college’s perspective as well as yours.
Reason 1: It helps the college understand their incoming class.
Colleges want to get a sense of how their classes are shaping up. The earlier your child can provide that information, the better. If your daughter knows for sure that she won’t attend University X in November, encourage your child to communicate with the college.
They need to shape the incoming class as much as they possibly can, and if you decline admissions, you might even open up a spot in the class for the next person. Why not pay it forward by making the next person in line extremely happy?
This may be one of the best reasons to tell colleges that your child doesn’t want to attend! You stop getting mail, emails and more. Your child can even communicate the information prior to beginning the application process with a school.
For example, let’s say College A begins sending information, unprompted, to your child. If your child has no interest in College A, she can send a quick message letting the college know that there’s no chance of her attending that school.
Reason 3: Colleges stop personally contacting your child.
Some colleges have robust texting and phone call communication processes, particularly small colleges and universities that must distinguish themselves among large amounts of competition.
Coaches and other individuals who have been recruiting your child for a specific program will also stop contacting them. Kindly communicating a child’s disinterest in the program can help coaches and other recruiters focus on the new class of incoming students.
Reason 4: You can move forward.
Both you and your child can move forward with the admission process. That may mean focusing on visiting other colleges, applying at other schools, writing supplemental essays and applying to scholarships at the schools in which your child is interested.
How to Decline College Acceptance
Do you know how to reject a college acceptance, exactly? It’s totally understandable if you don’t have a roadmap for how to help your child let a college know that they don’t want to attend.
So, how exactly should your child do so? First of all, I encourage your child to reach out — not you, as the parent. It’s a good lesson in growing up and taking on more responsibility in making life decisions.
Let’s take a look at the next steps.
Step 1: Check the acceptance letter for exact steps.
Many schools include the exact steps your child needs to take to decline acceptance. Dig out the acceptance email or letter to find out whether those steps are listed. This process may end up as filling out a super easy form to decline the offer of admission. If that’s the case, great!
However, this approach is a very transactional experience and fully ignores any relationships built throughout the process. Individuals who work with your child throughout the process may feel slighted if all they get is a form in the mail that states that your child will not attend the school.
Step 2: Locate the contact information for the admissions office.
Every college or university admissions office has a section on their website that outlines the contact information for your child’s particular area. After all, you want to make sure your child’s email or letter gets to the right person!
If your child worked one-on-one with someone in an admissions department at a particular college, locate that person’s contact information. Ultimately, having your child contact the admissions department is the best place to start.
Step 3: Talk to your child about politeness and courtesy.
Learning how to decline a college acceptance may not feel intuitive to your child at all. However, it’s important to talk about clarity, conciseness and being kind. Your child should offer thanks for the offer, but clearly note that you plan to decline the college’s offer.
Warn your child to steer clear of rudeness, snideness or condescension in their communication, even if your child had a negative experience with the college that changed their mind about the institution. Declining a college acceptance politely keeps the door wide open for later — remind your child that they may not like the college they end up choosing and may want to transfer later on.
Step 4: Have your child send an email or letter.
Your child has a few different avenues to pursue an admissions decline. Encourage your high schooler to send a formal letter or email, and if they have a personal connection with someone at the college, they may want to make a phone call instead for a personal touch.
If your child has been working with a particular coach or another individual at a college over the course of a few months, the coach likely deserves the courtesy of personalized communication with your child.
Step 5: Decline admission by May 1.
May 1 is National Decision Day, which is the cutoff date for making a college decision. Does this mean you have to wait till May 1 to notify a school you won’t attend?
Absolutely not. The sooner you know, the better. However, don’t rush the decision. You want to make absolutely sure that you weigh all the pros and cons. You will have to submit an enrollment deposit once you make a final decision about which college to attend.
Example of How to Decline College Acceptance
Let’s take a quick look at an example of how to reject a college acceptance through an email or snail mail.
Your child’s name
Your child’s address
City, State ZIP
November 18, 2022
City, State ZIP
To whom it may concern (or name of admissions professional):
Thank you so much for the offer of admission at University Y. However, I plan to accept an offer from a different institution.
Thank you for the ongoing communication, personal notes and phone calls that assisted me in making my final decision.
All the best,
Your child’s name
Your child can eliminate the address information to turn it into an email. As you can see, it doesn’t have to be long — it can be short and sweet and to the point.
Will Colleges Continue to Get in Touch?
Colleges and universities should stop contacting your child after an email or letter gets sent once you know they are no longer interested.
Declining College Offers is Polite
If your child asks, “Do I have to decline college offers?” say yes. Have your child send a letter to the college or admissions department thanking them for their offer and declining. Encourage your senior to send a personalized letter if they have a personal connection with someone on campus.
How long do admissions officers read applications? More specifically, how much time do admissions officers spend on each application? You may wonder who sees your child’s application, how long they look at it and how they make a final decision.
The short answer is that it depends on the school, and a lot depends on the selectivity of the institution. All schools take a look at the application, but the rigor of the institution can dictate the amount of time spent reviewing it. For example, if your child applies to a highly selective institution, the application may go through at least two readers and a final committee. All told, between the first round of readers and the final committee, the application might get 15 minutes of attention from each round.
Admissions readers have a lot of applications to read and a finite amount of time to do it in, which is why your child’s application has to be a slam dunk.
In addition to answering the question, “how much time do admission readers spend on each application?”, we’ll also walk through where the application “goes” after it enters the college admissions process “tunnel.”
What is Admissions Reading?
First of all, what exactly is admissions reading? During the admissions process, students apply for admissions at their top choice schools.
Once the application has been submitted, people take the time to review applications. Colleges often hire seasonal readers to work up to full time during what admissions professionals call “the reading season.” These admissions readers review prospective student test scores, transcripts, essays and other relevant admissions criteria to help make decisions about admissions candidates. Readers use a customer relationship management (CRM) system to manage the process. Students get admitted based on that particular college or university’s enrollment goals.
The College Admissions Reading Process, Step by Step
Let’s take a look at the college admissions reading process, step by step, so you know what to expect. We’ll answer the question, “How do admissions officers read applications?” We’ll also touch on the amount of time admission readers take a look at the application.
Step 1: The college screens and sorts applications.
When the college receives a senior’s application, each college likely has a specific process for handling them. Many colleges import the information on the application and input it directly into the college’s CRM system.
(Fun fact: When I first started in admissions, our data team printed out the applications and checked them against the computer system — yes, we were still using physical files! Once our data team checked them over and ensured that the CRM matched the application, the file was ready to go onto the next step.)
The appropriate admissions officer will then receive the application. Admissions counselors have a region that they handle. For example, one admissions counselor will handle applications from the state of Colorado. If your student lives in Colorado, that admission counselor will handle your high schooler’s application.
Step 2: Admissions readers read applications.
Admissions readers then take on the process from there, usually in collaboration with the regional admissions counselor. How many admissions officers are there? It depends on the school, but admissions readers often work in pairs.
On the first pass, a new application may get a 10- to 15-minute review from that part-time hired application reader or another individual at the college or university. This leads to an understanding of the competitiveness of a candidate. Based on this first pass, they will give a recommendation about each candidate, entering in detailed information into the college’s CRM for each applicant. Admission readers may read 50 applications per day, moving methodically through a laid-out process.
Do admissions officers read all essays? The truth of the matter is that some schools have the application go directly to the final committee, whereas other (selective) colleges might read an applicant’s application again before it goes through the final phase.
Is this process subjective? Of course. Admission readers, while they have been trained in the requirements for admission to that particular institution, they obviously have biases and preferences when reviewing candidates for admission. A second or third round can offer another analysis and offer a more diversified view of the applicant. However, some universities, which have more qualitative processes, may push the applicant through to the “acceptance” stage without going through another round of reviews.
Step 3: A committee takes a look at applications.
Depending on the school, the college or university may not send applications to the “committee.” For colleges and universities that do send applicants to a committee, an official committee group may include a senior admissions official or two, an academic representative and other committee readers designated by the college or university. They will take a look at a rubric or notes in the CRM created by the reading process prior to the committee review.
This process will take about 15 minutes or so and a final decision will come out of the final committee meeting.
Step 4: The final decision occurs.
Once the process concludes, naturally, your student will get a final decision.
How long does it take to get a final decision? It depends on the type of admission at a particular college or university. Check out the eight different application types as well as a basic summary below:
Regular admission: Regular admission deadlines typically occur in early January and admission offers are sent in late March or early April. Students will have to decide by May 1, the National Candidate Reply Day.
Rolling admission: Students get an admission decision quickly, typically within two weeks, instead of sending out acceptances all on one date. Like regular admission, your student will need to decide whether to attend a “rolling admission” school by May 1.
Open admission: Colleges accept high school graduates in the incoming class until all spaces fill up. Community colleges typically use this type of admission and you get a decision quickly.
Early action: Early action, which is nonbinding, means your student has the option to submit an application before the regular deadline and you get a decision earlier than usual, typically in January or February.
Early decision: Early decision is binding, which means you must attend that college. You typically apply early (usually in November) and usually get a decision by December.
Single-choice early action or restrictive early action: This nonbinding option requires you to not apply to other schools during the early action period. You’ll apply early and hear back in December.
How to Get a Admission Reader’s Attention
So, how long do colleges look at applications? Let’s take a look at it this way: How can you get an admission reader’s attention quickly? Consider that they may only spend 30 minutes total with your application from start to finish.
Get their attention by personalizing your application. Tell your own unique story in an engaging way. Many colleges request you to write supplemental essays. You can add intricate details about yourself through these supplementals. Here are a few examples:
Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at University X specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections.
To tell us more about yourself, please complete the following sentences using only the space provided:
If I could travel anywhere, I would go to…
The most interesting fact I ever learned from research was…
In addition to my major, my academic interests include…
My favorite thing about last Wednesday was…
When I think of diversity, I think of…
Something you might not know about me is… Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying to University X. How would that curriculum support your interests?
Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
Prior to applying, it’s important to know the answer to “how long do colleges spend on each application?” It’s also important to figure out how to communicate your unique qualifications. Take every opportunity to convey exceptional talents, alumni legacies, how you will fit into the academic department that you are applying to and more.
If you’re curious about the admissions process at a particular college or university, you can ask. They may offer a detailed explanation or may also just give you a general explanation of how the admission process works.
Do admissions officers read applications?
Yes, admissions officers do read applications. The admission office of a particular college or university may also hire remote or in-office seasonal readers to read applications during the admissions “reading season.”
That’s why it’s important for your student to put their best foot forward with the application — they should do the best they can to personalize the application, particularly with any supplemental essays required by the institution. This gives them an opportunity to showcase their unique personality and qualifications.
How many essays do admissions officers read a day?
Every admissions office has a goal for the number of essays that must be read during any given week. However, college admissions officers and admission readers may read approximately 50 applications per day, spending approximately 15 minutes per application.
Do admissions officers actually read essays?
Yes, admissions officers do actually read essays, but they might have already screened candidates first in a preliminary round. Every admissions office has a different process and it’s impossible to sum up the exact step-by-step process for each admission office in one blog post.
When you’re taking a look at the full costs of college, room and board happens to be part of the cost of attendance. But what is room and board, exactly? What does room and board include in college? How does it fit into the overall costs?
These are great questions. Taking care of college costs may be one of the most expensive (and one of the most important!) experiences you’ve ever paid for, and in this situation, you may feel as if you have to take an X-Acto knife to your budget to pare as much as possible from it to make room and board payments.
In this article, we’ll dive right into room and board meaning as well as answer the question, “What does room and board include in college?” We’ll also cover how to learn the cost of room and board, whether you have to pay room and board (and how to pay for it!). We’ll also walk through steps to make it less expensive.
What is Room and Board?
Room and board: Quite simply, it refers to the roof over a student’s head (room) in the residence hall and the food a student eats at college (board). Besides that, what are the fringe benefits? What is included in room and board?
As you might imagine after taking visits to colleges, your child will encounter a wide variety of types of residence halls or “dorm living” — large rooms, small rooms, residence halls for solely first-year students, others that are more apartment-style living. Some schools have required residential living on campus.
College rooms typically come furnished with beds, desks, chairs, bookshelves, dressers and closets, not to mention lounge spaces, restrooms, electricity, heat, and internet access. You may have to pay more for fancier on-campus digs, which might include flashier apartment-style living and amenities like fitness centers.
Check the differences between costs of various housing options on campus. The admission office or financial aid office should be able to help you and your child iron out those specific costs.
What is the “board” in room and board?
“Board” refers to a meal plan, or a pre-set number of meals you can purchase prior to the start of an academic semester in college. Colleges also have a wide variety of meal plan options that are preloaded on an ID card. Many meal plans at many colleges offer meals for seven days. For example, a student might choose from a 13-meal plan, where they get 13 meals throughout the week, or a 20-meal plan, where they get 20 meals throughout the week. This is typically called a standard/basic meal plan.
However, students may be able to choose from a much smaller meal plan, such as seven meals per week. Note that some schools do not allow students to opt out of the meal plan, particularly if schools have a residential requirement.
Some schools even offer unlimited meals, but most function as a per meal/swipe limit or a point plan.
Per meal/swipe plan: The per meal/swipe plan allows your child to swipe every time to use up their allotment. For example, your may use a “swipe” for a granola bar or a huge buffet meal — they would “give up” that swipe, no matter how little or how much they eat.
Point plan: Purchasing meal points means that you purchase a certain number of points ahead of time and points get deducted from the “collection of points.” For example, if your child eats that granola bar for lunch, it would “cost” them fewer points than the big buffet meal.
How Do You Learn the Cost of Room and Board?
Most schools list room and board right on their websites, so you don’t have to guess where the “room and board” comes in among the other costs. It is embedded in the cost of attendance at most schools.
Schools typically list the tuition, required fees and other parts of a financial aid award very clearly and in order on their websites. Some people call this the “cost of attendance” (COA), which also includes room and board. In addition to room and board, COA estimates other educational expenses such as:
Yes, you have to pay for room and board. Naturally, the total cost of room and board depends on the type of campus housing and the food plan your child chooses. The cost of living on campus, according to the most recent data (for 2020 to 2021) from the National Center for Education Statistics, was $6,897 for all institutions. On average, the board for colleges cost $5,335 for all institutions during the same timeframe.
How do you find out your COA? You can find out the total cost of attendance on the school’s website. However, you can drill in deeper and use a net price calculator, which gives you a more accurate cost of the college aligned with what it will cost your child based on your personal financial situation. You can find a net price calculator on every college and university website — it’s required by law.
How to Pay for Room and Board
Let’s take a quick look at how to pay for room and board from the standpoint of truly understanding your child’s financial aid award. We’ll also help you get an idea of the different types of financial aid opportunities available to your child, including scholarships, grants, loans and work-study.
Step 1: Understand the financial aid award.
One of the most important things you can do: Understand the financial aid award from top to bottom. It’s important to have a firm grasp on how much a particular school will cost.
Sometimes, various types of aid get lumped together. For example, it might look like your child has received a huge financial aid award, but when you peel back each layer, you may realize that a few of those “awards” are actually loans. Some schools also work-study as part of the award calculation. I’m really not a fan of this tactic because it looks like you get a guaranteed lump sum of money, but that’s not true — your child must earn work-study money by working a job on campus.
In addition to that, some financial aid awards do not include the total cost. When financial aid awards don’t publish the total cost right on the financial aid package, you might have to do a little digging. Look carefully at a school’s costs page online, or better yet, call, to be absolutely sure that you’re considering all costs, such as lab, orientation, athletics, campus, transportation fees, etc. You may not find out about these “nasty” surprises till later.
It’s also a good idea to consider the fees and interest rates for loans. Use an interest rate calculator to get a sense of how much it will cost you for sure. Finally, remember that colleges also implement tuition increases each year but scholarships don’t always increase as tuition increases.
Ultimately, it’s important to really understand the full figure and what to expect.
Step 2: Apply financial aid toward room and board.
How does financial aid award actually work? You get a round COA, then apply individual situations to it. Specifically, this means that you apply scholarships, grants, work-study and loans to it. Therefore:
Cost of attendance (COA) – Financial aid = Your final costs
Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will get you started in the right direction. This means that your child will be considered for federal student loans, federal work-study and federal grants. I encourage every family to file the FAFSA no matter what, because you may be able to chip away at the costs using federal aid. Items such as work-study will not go on your child’s financial aid award if you don’t file the FAFSA. You must file the FAFSA in order to qualify.
Consider housing assistance grants. Some states offer housing expense grants for students, and it’s important to recognize that grants do not need to be repaid. Funding can depend on your state and your child’s school. Housing grants may require an application, including filing the FAFSA. Check with the financial aid office at schools, state department of higher education or more.
Search for scholarships (including throughout college). Your child does not need to pay scholarships back (just like grants), but they can help cover the cost of room and board. Students can find scholarships through a wide variety of means, including through a college or university, through your local community (through clubs, organizations, religious groups, etc.) Need-based and merit-based scholarships can help you pay for room and board. Your child can also apply for scholarships throughout those college years — they’re not limited to just scholarships they get during their senior year of high school.
Consider loans: Loans can help your child pay for college. Federal student loans give your child the best bang for their buck because they have the lowest interest rates and give them opportunities for forgiveness as well as other flexible repayment options such as income-driven repayment. Here are a few types of federal student loans you may need to be aware of:
Direct Subsidized loans: The government pays the fixed interest rate (which means the interest rate doesn’t change) on need-based Direct Subsidized loans when your undergraduate child stays enrolled in college at least part time. Your child will also receive a grace period before they need to repay their loans after graduation.
Direct Unsubsidized loans: The government does not pay the fixed interest rate on non-need-based Direct Unsubsidized loans, unlike in the case of Direct Subsidized loans. Unsubsidized loans go to undergraduate and graduate students.
Direct PLUS loans: As a parent, you can take out a PLUS loan to pay for education costs when you need to pay for “the rest” of college costs. Graduate students can also take out PLUS loans for graduate school. However, you must have a decent credit score in order to qualify.
Private student loans: If your child still needs more money to pay for college, they can tap into private student loans. They can have fixed or variable interest rates and various loan terms (which refers to the length of the payback period) but these rates may be higher than federal student loans. Your student also cannot access privileges related to forgiveness or other types of income-driven repayment plans with private loans.
Step 3: Consider other options.
It’s possible to think outside the box here. In many situations, your child doesn’t have to live on campus. If you and your child pencil out the costs and you find out that it’s cheaper to live off campus, it might actually be a good idea to approach an off-campus living situation.
Your child may also want to look into becoming a resident advisor (RA) in their second year of college. An RA is the leader of a portion of a residence hall, which means that they might mentor a handful of first-year students and help them get used to residence hall living. They might play games with them, organize on-campus group meals and oversee the behavior of residents on that floor. RAs typically receive free or discounted room and board. The amount of the discount varies from school to school.
In many cases, student RAs must maintain a certain GPA and continue to make academic progress throughout any given semester.
Step 4: Pay the bill for room and board.
Finally, the last step involves paying the final bill for room and board. Most colleges send the first semester tuition bill prior to the start of the academic year, like in July. You may also consider opting for a monthly payment plan, which divides up the months of the year that your child will attend school or spreads them out over the course of 10 or 11 months.
Make sure the school’s financial aid award captures the correct scholarships and other aid (particularly outside scholarships) before you pay the bill.
Is it Less Expensive to Live On or Off Campus?
At first glance, the cost of living off-campus may seem cheaper than room and board, but by the time you add up the additional costs, such as furniture you have to purchase, utilities, and purchasing your own groceries, you may get close to the cost of paying for room and board.
Iron out all the expenses between both with your child. It’s your child’s first foray into adulthood and it’s important to remember that some kids need the residence hall environment for a few years — some students are not yet ready for apartment living.
How to Make Room and Board Less Expensive
You likely have a little bit less maneuverability when saving on room and board in a residence hall because there aren’t dozens of ways to cut back. Your child’s only options may involve choosing a less expensive meal plan (which likely involves fewer meals) or a lower-cost dorm room.
However, there are quite a few ways your child can reduce expenses if they choose to live off campus:
Put together a budget to monitor daily expenses.
Get a roommate to share expenses.
Choose lower-cost groceries or clip coupons and limit going out to eat.
Cancel cable and opt for lower entertainment costs.
Save on utilities (wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat) and turn out the lights.
Choose a lower-cost apartment with fewer amenities.
Shop for cheaper internet.
Use public transportation.
Limit use of credit cards.
Brew coffee at home.
Encourage your child to get creative about saving money — college students are notoriously creative.
It’s Possible to Save Money on Room and Board
You can save money on room and board. It’s a good idea to compare costs by considering the answer to “What are room and board expenses?” and comparing on- and off-campus options side by side.
Furthermore, encourage your child to get as many scholarships and grants as possible, money that they don’t have to pay back.
Do college scholarships pay for room and board?
Yes, college scholarships pay for room and board. When you get a financial aid award, most money gets applied toward both tuition, room, board and fees, with the exception of certain scholarships such as full-tuition scholarships, which only apply to tuition.
Does room and board count as tuition?
Room and board is not the same as tuition. Tuition refers to the costs you pay for classes. Tuition varies from college to college, just as room and board varies from school to school. These costs can vary widely. For example, a liberal arts college may cost far more for tuition, room, board and fees than a community college.