When your child applies for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), they may experience a gap between the cost of the school and the financial aid they actually receive. A private student loan, which may come from an online lender, credit union, bank or other lender, may help cover the gaps that financial aid doesn’t cover.
We reviewed the best private student loans based on research on interest rates, repayment terms, other benefits and more. We’ll also go over the basics of private student loans, including how they work, the pros and cons between private and federal student loans, how students can maximize both federal and private student loans and more.
Best Private Student Loan Lenders
We compared dozens of private loan providers and chose the top five to feature here. According to our research, the best private student loans for students include:
Minimum credit score
APR (both fixed and variable)
4.49% – 14.75%
4.50% – 15.33%
4.49% – 13.95%
How Do Private Student Loans Work?
Private student loans differ from federal student loans because they do not come from the government. Your child’s school may also be a direct loan institution, which means that the school may offer loans directly to borrowers. Ask your child’s school if it offers loans directly.
You can submit applications through lender websites and must include the following:
Information about your child’s degree or program
The school your child plans to attend
The amount of money you need to borrow (your child must have qualified higher education expenses at an eligible institution)
Personal and financial information
Cosigner information, if applicable
Your child may have to be the age of majority in your state of residence (if not, your child may need a cosigner) and be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or non-permanent resident alien. Your child may also have to be enrolled at least half time in a degree-granting program.
Your child can borrow up to their school’s cost of attendance in private loans, minus other financial aid earned. Individual lenders may have limits for the amount of money your child can borrow.
Your child will face limits on federal student loan amounts. For example, dependent students may not qualify for more than $5,500 in their first year and no more than $3,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans. Dependent undergraduate students run into an aggregate loan limit of $31,000; your child cannot get more than $23,000 of this amount in subsidized loans.
In contrast, the application process differs for private student loans versus federal student loans. You or your student must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify for federal student loans. Federal student loans come from the U.S. Department of Education through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program. Direct loans include Direct Subsidized loans, Direct Unsubsidized loans and Direct PLUS loans:
Direct Subsidized loans: Undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need may receive the Direct Subsidized Loan to help pay for college or career school. The federal government pays the interest on Direct Subsidized loans while you’re in school.
Direct Unsubsidized loans: Graduate and undergraduate students can tap into unsubsidized loans, which means that the government does not take care of the interest while you’re in school.
Direct PLUS loans: Parents of undergraduate students can help pay for cosmetology students’ education with a Direct PLUS loan. Parents will have to undergo a credit check.
Private student lenders may require you to make payments while you are still in school and can have variable or fixed interest rates. Federal interest rates are always fixed. This means that federal student loans may be more predictable when your child repays them.
Federal student loans typically carry lower interest rates than private student loans and private loans also cause you to lose out on income-driven repayment plans and other perks such as public service loan forgiveness, which means you do not have to pay your student loans after a certain period of time.
Federal vs. Private Student Loans
One of the best ways to compare federal and private student loans involves looking at the pros and cons of both. So, what are the pros and cons of federal vs. private student loans? Let’s take a quick look.
Pros of Federal Student Loans
Let’s take a quick look at a few benefits of federal student loans first.
Fixed interest rates: Federal student loans offer fixed interest rates. This means that when your child repays their loans, they know what interest rate to expect. Fixed interest rates never change, while variable interest rates change.
Payments not due while in school: Federal student loan repayment doesn’t begin until after you graduate, leave school or enroll in school below half-time.
Lower interest rates: Your student will typically pay lower interest rates for federal student loans compared to private student loans. However, it’s a good idea to compare several options to check on the costs.
Subsidized options: You can qualify for subsidized federal student loans, which means that the government will pay the interest while your child attends school.
Tax deductible interest: Interest may be tax deductible on a federal student loan.
Repayment plans: You may choose from several repayment plans for federal student loans, including income-driven repayment plans. Also note that if your child decides to pay off a student loan early, they won’t pay a prepayment penalty.
Loan forgiveness and consolidation: Your child will have many federal loan perks, including forgiveness (in which they may not have to pay back loans, such as if they choose to work in public service) and consolidation, which means combining at least two loans into one loan and getting a new interest rate.
Cons of Federal Student Loans
What are the downsides of federal student loans? You may have heard that you should take out federal student loans before private student loans, but you should still consider all angles of federal student loans before you borrow.
Borrower limits: Your child cannot borrow an unlimited amount with federal student loans. As your child becomes a first-year through fourth-year college student, they can borrow progressively more. They will face an aggregate loan limit that they cannot go over for both undergraduate and graduate school.
No subsidized loans for graduate students: Graduate students cannot tap into Direct Subsidized loans, which means the government will not pay the interest while your student is in school. Graduate students must also pay a higher interest rate for their federal student loans.
Not all institutions participate: Not all educational institutions that distribute Title IV student aid funds, which means that your child’s school may not offer federal student loans.
Hard to discharge: It is extremely difficult to discharge federal student loans. If your child defaults or cannot repay federal loans will not get away from them through bankruptcy. In short, it’s really hard to discharge student loans, including through Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Pros of Private Student Loans
The benefits of private student loans include the following:
Fills in the gaps: Private student loans can fill in the gaps between the sticker price of a college, financial aid your child receives and federal student loans. When your child has unmet need, private loans can take care of the rest.
Unlimited borrowing: Generally, you can borrow up to the cost of attendance in private student loans, minus financial aid.
Tax-deductible interest: Interest may also be tax deductible on private student loans.
May have lower interest rates: You may find that certain private loans have lower interest rates than graduate and parent loans, particularly with regard to graduate and parent loans through the Department of Education.
Cons of Private Student Loans
The downsides to private student loans include:
No access to federal protections: Your child will not have access to federal income-driven repayment or loan forgiveness options with private student loans. They also wouldn’t be subject to orders from the federal government to cancel student debt.
Based on creditworthiness: Qualifications for private student loans are based on creditworthiness, which means that you or your student must undergo a credit check. Lower credit scores combined with lower income can result in a higher interest rate. Your credit score is a three-digit number that ranges from 300 – 850 and summarizes how well you have paid back debt in the past.
No federal subsidies: The federal government will not pay the interest on a private student loan like the federal government does with a subsidized student loan.
How Are Private Student Loan Interest Rates Determined?
If you take out a private student loan, you must repay it with interest. Private student loan interest rates are based in part on your credit score (as a cosigner) or your child’s credit score. The higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate may be.
Your child may have the option for a fixed or variable private loan interest rate. A fixed interest rate stays the same throughout the life of the loan, while a variable interest rate changes depending on an underlying benchmark index rate. Variable interest rates are usually based on the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) index rate. As the interest rate changes, your monthly debt payment could go up and/or down due to the changes in the index rate. Interest rates typically include the base rate, the lender’s policies and you or your child’s credit history. To break it down even more, they are based on fixed margin, or the lender’s decision about your ability to repay the loan — this part of your loan doesn’t change. The variable part of the interest rate changes, and that part is based on the interest rate index.
Ask private lenders about the total cost of the variable interest rate you’ll pay and also compare these rates to current federal student loan interest rates, currently first disbursed on or after July 1, 2022 and before July 1, 2023.
Fixed Interest Rate
Direct Subsidized loans and Direct Unsubsidized loans
Direct Unsubsidized loans
Graduate or professional students
Direct PLUS loans
Parents and graduate or professional students
Note that private student loans list an annual percentage rate (APR), the annual cost of a loan to a borrower, including fees like loan origination fees. The interest rate doesn’t include these fees. You should always look at the APR of private loans, not just the interest rate.
How Can Students Maximize Both Federal and Private Loans?
Students can take advantage of both federal and private student loans by filing the FAFSA online at fafsa.gov or complete a FAFSA PDF and mailing it in. You can also apply for private student loans on a lender’s website.
Students can generally borrow up to the cost of attendance for private student loans, minus financial aid. The first step involves filing the FAFSA, which you can do in a few simple steps (you can do it for your student or your student can do it by themselves):
First, create an account with a username and password, called an FSA ID, and have the following information handy:
Social Security numbers for you and your dependent student
You can save time by using the IRS direct retrieval tool (DRT), which automatically transfers tax information onto the FAFSA. Note that you can’t see the exact data for security purposes; you’ll see the words “transferred from the IRS” in the appropriate fields.
Maximizing both federal and private loan options also involves understanding the annual loan limits for federal student loans.
Maximum Annual Limits
Direct Subsidized loans and Direct Unsubsidized loans
Between $5,500 and $12,500, depending on year in school and dependency status
Direct Unsubsidized loans (graduate students are not eligible for Direct Subsidized loans)
Up to $20,500 each academic year
You can add up the federal loans your child receives, as well as the work-study, scholarships and grants that make up their financial aid award. What is the gap between the amount of aid received and the amount still owed to the college?
Let’s use some fictitious numbers to illustrate the point. Let’s say your child receives the following:
$5,500: Federal loans
In this case, aid would amount to $18,600 in total. Let’s say that the cost of college is $25,000 (another fictitious figure). The gap between the cost and the award amount is $6,400, which means your child could then apply for a private loan to cover the rest of the costs.
Is a Private Student Loan a Good Option?
A private student loan can offer a wonderful opportunity to allow your child to achieve a college degree and their career ambitions.
However, it’s a good idea to consider all the angles of a private student loan, including the interest rate, loan limits, fees repayment penalty (the amount your child may have to pay if they pay off the loan before it’s due) and even customer service that the private lender may provide.
Consider encouraging your student to exhaust their federal student loan options first due to the federal protections they get with their federal loans, such as consolidation and loan forgiveness.
Your child can also drive down their interest rate with private student loans when they have access to a reliable cosigner with excellent credit. This could make federal student loans a great option.
How to Find the Right Private Student Loan
First and foremost, carefully compare options between private loan lenders, including repayment terms. You can help your child take the following steps to find the best student loans for college.
Step 1: Put together a lender list.
Help your child put together a lender list. Look at reputable companies known to support borrowers during repayment. You can eliminate any lenders that don’t line up with the eligibility requirements for your child’s particular situation.
Don’t forget to check with the financial aid office of the school your child plans to attend for a preferred list of lenders. Many institutions are direct lending institutions for college loans.
Step 2: Check the loan terms.
Loan terms tell you how long your lender expects you to pay back your debt. Unlike federal student loans, you do not get a standard repayment schedule for private student loans. Many private student loans give students 120 months (10 years) to repay their loans, but some private lenders allow a 25-year repayment term.
Also, find out what happens if you can’t make your payments. Private lenders don’t have forbearance programs if your child loses a job in the future, though the best loan providers for students may help out in a sticky situation.
Step 3: Get quotes and compare offers.
Prequalify with a lender next. Lenders will do a soft credit inquiry when they check your credit for prequalification, which doesn’t hurt your credit quite as much as a hard credit inquiry.
Next, compare offers to determine the lowest rate, best repayment term for your child’s situation, borrower protections and other benefits.
Step 4: Choose a lender.
Finally, choose a lender and complete an application using the lender’s process. Each lender will offer different instructions on how to get a student loan. Have items handy such as Social Security number, address, enrollment information in school, employment information, financial information, loan amount requested and financial aid information.
Every provider will have a different process on how to get a student loan. Most lenders will tell you the results quickly, but read the fine print before you make a final decision. Your child should have about 30 days to accept the loan offer and your lender should release the funds within weeks or months.
Can My Child Get a Private Student Loan without a Cosigner?
Eligibility requirements for a private student loan vary depending on your student’s lender and the loan you want to take out, but generally, your child will face limited options if they can’t get a co-signer.
How to Get Private Student Loans with Bad Credit
How might you help your student get student loans, even if you have bad credit? Naturally, you want to raise your credit score to increase your chances of cosigning a private student loan with your child. A couple tactics include paying off debt, making all payments on time and keeping your credit utilization low. Let’s take a quick look at all of these options.
Pay off debt: Having a lot of unpaid debt can affect your credit score. Paying off your debt may help raise your credit score and help you cosign a private loan with your child. You can benefit from paying off any debt you have, whether from your own student loans, credit cards, personal loans and more.
Make payments on time: Making payments on time can also increase your credit score for any loan you owe on. Setting up autopay on all bills can help you raise your credit score.
Keep credit utilization low: Your credit utilization ratio compares the amount of credit you use versus the amount of credit you have available. For example, if you have a credit card limit of $5,000 and use $1,000, in this particular instance, your credit utilization limit is 20%: $5,000/$1,000 = 0.20 x 100 = 20%. Try keeping this number below 30%.
You can’t pinpoint an exact time that your credit score will take an upswing, it’s always worth trying to make it happen so you can become a cosigner for your child.
Let’s take a look at a few frequently asked questions about private loans for college.
What are the eligibility requirements for a private student loan?
Lenders each have their own eligibility requirements. In general, your child must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, attend school at least half time and qualify with a cosigner. Understand the risks before you become a cosigner, because you’ll need to make monthly payments on your child’s loan if they default on their loans. Getting a loan without a cosigner can cause your child to pay more in interest over time.
How do you find the best private student loan?
What is the best student loan? Shop around to find the best private loan. Check on interest rates, fees, customer service, ratings among current customers, repayment options, including repayment flexibility and more. The private loans that have the lowest interest rate and most favorable customer service options, fees and repayment options should catch your interest. However, consider having your child take advantage of federal student loans first, which usually offer more repayment perks and lower interest rates.
Do private student loans have fees?
Private student loans can come with fees, such as the origination fee (the amount your child pays to to take out a loan, which is the percentage of the loan fee), the application fee (the fee charged to process your application), late payment fee (the fee your child pays if they don’t make on-time payments) and prepayment penalty (the fee for paying off the loan early). Make sure your child can pay the loan off whenever they want.
Here’s how College Money Tips chose the best private student loan lenders: We reviewed interest rates, repayment options, loan amount options, cosigner details, fees, Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating, customer service and other benefits. We aggregated the data based on all of these factors and made decisions based on top scores in each category.
College certainly isn’t free, what with the cost of tuition, room, board and fees, college applications, the cost of standardized tests and more. It’s easy to think that those are the only costs involved in the process, but they aren’t.
So, in general, are college tours free?
Yes and no.
You don’t pay money to go on the college tour but the “extras” cost money. When your child visits college, you have to think about other costs — travel expenses, meal purchases and hotel visits. Consider the cost of visiting five schools. Flights, meals, parking and hotel rooms can cost into the hundreds (if not thousands!) of dollars.
However, colleges and universities often invest their resources to make college visits absolutely free of charge for students.
Do College Tours Cost Money?
No, tours themselves do not cost money, and generally, neither do college visits. In other words, you don’t have to pay a fee to the campus visit coordinator as soon as you step onto the threshold of the admission office. However, you might have to pay to park in the admissions office lot or a lot near the admissions office on campus. You might have to pay to eat lunch in the cafeteria.
Let’s break down the definition of a college tour. College or university tours involve a walking tour of campus that lasts between 60 to 90 minutes. In these, a tour guide (typically a college student) takes you through academic buildings, residence halls, student lounges, cafeterias and more.
A college visit refers to all the activities you do while you’re on campus, including the tour. For example, the full visit might include the following:
Meeting with faculty
Tour of campus
Meeting with admissions or financial aid
Eating lunch on campus
Meeting with an extracurricular advisor or coach
It’s worth asking how much you’ll pay in extra fees when you sign up for your visit. The campus visit coordinator or your admissions counselor will tell you what fees you’ll pay once you’re on campus. Overall, these direct fees shouldn’t cost a lot.
Which Types of Programs Offer Free College Visits?
Some colleges offer programs that guarantee that your child’s visit will cost nothing. Students may tap into a wide variety of options, but the tricky thing is that all colleges may offer different options. It’s also worth noting that colleges may not offer free programs for parents — only students. Let’s take a look at three main types of programs you may want to ask about: diversity fly-in programs, travel reimbursement and scholarships for college visits.
How do you find out about the opportunities available at colleges and universities? Easy! Just ask, referencing some of these program ideas/opportunities when you ask the admissions office.
Diversity Fly-in Programs
Colleges may want to develop their profiles by developing its minority population. Therefore, they may have something called fly-in weekends, diversity overnight programs or weekend immersions. Colleges may call them different things, but the point is that they cost nothing to attend for the entire visit — meals, the overnight visit, everything is free. Students will spend the night on campus with another student, eat meals in the cafeteria and experience college life side-by-side with another current student.
Students who visit colleges (typically from out-of-state) might qualify for travel reimbursement, such as flight or gas expenses. Typically, the admissions office accepts receipts and then sends a check to reimburse you, the parent. Colleges and universities may require your child to live a certain distance away from the school in order to qualify for travel reimbursement. For example, you probably can’t expect to get travel reimbursement if you and your student live just one hour away.
Scholarships and Grants for College Visits
Some colleges and universities will give you a scholarship or grant for making an official campus visit. However, it’s likely that you’ll need to enroll in exchange. For example, a school might state on its website, “If you make an official campus visit, you’ll receive $1,000 per year for up to four years when you attend XYZ College.” Look into the requirements, such as visiting by a specific date.
Who is Eligible for Free College Visits?
In general, free college visits are set up for those who would find the cost of college visits too expensive or for underrepresented students on campus. Colleges would like to underrepresented students who fit certain backgrounds, such as the following:
First-generation college students: First-generation (also sometimes abbreviated “first gen”) means that parents of college students didn’t attend a four-year college, regardless of whether prior generations (including grandparents) did.
Lower-income students: “Low income” refers to a family’s taxable income for the preceding year that did not exceed 150% of the poverty level amount.
Minority racial and ethnic backgrounds: Colleges and universities may also put efforts toward recruiting underrepresented minorities. Hispanic undergraduates have increased at four-year colleges and universities since 1996 (their numbers have jumped from 6% to 16% in 2016). Hispanics are now the largest minority group at minimally selective four-year institutions.
What Do Free College Visits Typically Entail?
Free college visits for students may include a wide variety of options. Your child may have great leeway in choosing the activities they want to do on campus. Other schools may completely structure the visit, particularly if no family members tag along. Your child may not have much choice about the times and arrangement of activities, whether it includes an academic presentation, meeting with faculty members, tour and more. The college may strictly weave these activities into what your child does.
The timing may matter as well. Fly-ins and diversity visit programs typically occur in the spring of junior year or fall of senior year. Colleges may also conduct fly-in and visit programs during the spring semester of your child’s senior year to help your student ultimately decide where to attend college — these ultimately give them a last chance to market the college.
How to Qualify for a Free College Visit
Let’s take a look at how to help your child qualify for a free college visit.
Step 1: Help your child identify colleges to visit.
The first step might seem like the trickiest part — targeting colleges to visit! However, that’s a good way to narrow down all the free college visit options. Ask your child where they think they might want to visit — large state universities, small private colleges or mid-sized universities.
If your child doesn’t know for sure, it’s worth considering visiting local colleges and universities to get a feel for the opportunities closer. Otherwise, explore strong options that have your child’s major.
Once you have two or three options narrowed down, you can move onto the next step.
Step 2: Contact the admissions office.
At each of those schools, contact the admissions office. The admission counselor assigned to your child’s part of the country can let you know about your options for free college tours. The counselor may outline a number of options or may require proof of your financial situation if that’s the requirement to qualify for free tours.
Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) gives you and your child the fastest way to prove your financial situation. The admissions office will know pretty quickly whether you have a qualifying income level that allows your child to attend a free college visit. In the same way, if you report your child’s status as a minority, they will likely check your child’s qualifications or take a look at the application.
Step 3: Keep track of processes.
Every school has a different process, so keep track of the visit benefits for each school. It might get confusing if you have six schools on the list! Consider whittling down the list with your child as you go on visits. You may not have to use every voucher because your child might find a dream school halfway through the search process.
Step 4: Consider budgeting.
If you can, consider putting together a budget for college visits. Like it or not, it may cost something to make college visits happen, particularly if your child doesn’t meet every single qualification that the school requires for free visits. Note that parents aren’t always covered during free college visits, so that might be the biggest downside. You may have to pay for yourself to go.
Step 5: Make visits happen.
Next, make college visits happen. Again, you may have to pay for yourself to attend. If you can’t financially afford it, you may not enjoy the fact that you have to sit out of college visits. Sending your child on college visits on their own may not make you feel good about the search process, but if it gives your child a chance to visit colleges, then it might be a good thing. If you’re in a tough spot financially, it may end up being the only way to go.
What if We Don’t Qualify for a Free Visit?
Some colleges won’t offer free visits. If a school offers a somewhat reduced cost for its college visits, they still might not end up as affordable as you want. Consider adjusting your child’s college list to schools that are more willing to adjust the cost of tours.
You may also want to consider making another request to the admissions office to find out what else they may be able to do for your child. In many cases, admissions offices want to do everything they can to get qualified applicants on campus. They may be willing to make a special exception for your child and cover visit costs.
Should You Do Virtual Tours?
Virtual tours are online college tours that you can take while you sit at home in your living room. You and your student may want to consider sitting in on online tours of colleges at the beginning of the college search process.
However, don’t make them your only visit. A college puts its best foot forward with virtual tours. This means that they show only the shiniest options on campus — perfect buildings, beautiful residence halls and more. They put the perkiest students on the tour video and everything looks fresh and amazing. A virtual tour almost always shows an altered reality of campus, so make sure your child gets their feet on campus.
Learn More About Free Tours
Don’t stop looking for options for free tours, even if the option isn’t immediately apparent on a college or university’s admission website. In fact, many won’t publish information about free college tours. Call and ask to learn more and to answer the question, “Do college tours cost money at this particular school?” — it’s your best bet.
Let’s take a look at a few frequently asked questions about free college tours.
Are college tours expensive?
In general, college tours are not expensive. They typically don’t cost you or your child money. Colleges and universities generally offer free tours, free lunch on campus and more. However, it’s the other expenses — hotel, airfare, gas and more — that can add up.
Are college tours worth it?
Yes, college tours are worth it. There’s nothing more important to choosing the right college than getting you and your child’s feet on campus and experiencing it for yourself. You’ll talk to the students, faculty members and other individuals who will make your child’s college experiences invaluable.
What should I expect at a college tour?
One of the most common questions prior to starting the college search process looks like this: How to tour colleges? College visits may involve a wide variety of opportunities that align with your students’ interests. For example, if your child wants to play soccer in college, your child may talk to the soccer coach. The college tour makes up a portion of the college visit. In a college tour, a tour guide takes students through academic buildings, residence halls, common areas and more. The campus tour gives students a general overview of what to expect when they are a student on campus and also gives them an opportunity to ask questions while on the college tour.
Do college tours increase chances of getting in?
No. Your child taking a college tour does not determine whether or not they will get into a college. Your child’s qualifications for admission do more to determine whether your child will get into a particular college or university. However, it’s always good to meet the individuals on campus and have your child show their personality, interests and more. That may tip the scales in favor of admission if your child is “on the bubble.”
“Deferred” means that a college or university hasn’t finished reviewing your child’s admission and will decide on your child’s admission status at a later date.
Deferred admission usually happens in two different ways: When an early decision applicant goes into the regular applicant pool and when a regular applicant must submit more records or materials in order for the college or university to make a final decision about the applicant’s credentials.
In this article, we’ll discuss “What does deferred mean in college?” and what to do if your child gets deferred from college.
What is a Deferred Admission College Decision?
What does deferred admission mean, in more detail?
When a college or university defers admission, application deferred meaning simply means that the admission committee at that particular school wants to review your child’s application against the Regular Decision pool of applicants. Regular Decision refers to an admission round where students submit their application non-binding (which means they don’t have to attend if accepted) typically by January and receive an admission decision by late March or early April. They have until May 1 to accept or decline the offer of acceptance.
Students who end up with a deferred admission start out applying for admission in a few ways — Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA) or Restrictive Early Action (REA). Let’s take a quick look at the definitions and learn more about the various admission types:
Early Decision (ED): If your child applies ED, the decision is binding. Your student must attend that particular college and withdraw applications to any and all other schools. Students can apply ED to just one other college.
Early Action (EA): EA, which is not binding, means your child can apply to other colleges and does not have to attend if accepted.
Restrictive Early Action (REA): The not-binding REA allows students to take until May 1 to make a decision but cannot apply early to any other college — including ED, EA or REA.
Your student may feel disappointed about not getting an outright acceptance, but it’s important to stay focused on the positives — most importantly, that the college still wants to continue “getting to know” your student. Your child is still in the running! In fact, you should think of it this way: Schools often don’t know what the level of competitiveness of their applicant pool will look like in the Regular Decision round, so they want to hold back applications in order to compare them.
Some early applicants go into the regular applicant pool. The admission committee will give them a second chance with a new look at them. That way, they can look at strong applicants in the context of the regular application pool. This is a good thing because the regular applicant pool usually isn’t as weighty (aka competitive) as the early applicant pools.
Here’s another perk: Your child can submit updates, such as final semester grades, leadership accomplishments and others that they couldn’t submit before because it was too early in the application process.
Why Do Colleges Defer Students?
Colleges defer students for several reasons, including the fact that they are not ready to make a final decision about your students’ applications. They may have also had a huge surge of early applications and need to defer a large group of applicants who are “on the bubble” — those who are not automatic shoo-ins but still admissible and viable as candidates. Admission offices might also expect a surge of applications for Regular Decision and want to keep spots open for the right candidates.
Now, to make things seem more confusing, you may have also heard of “deferred enrollment.” Note that this means that a student decides to defer admission on their own after acceptance into an academic program. For example, a student may choose to defer admission in order to take a gap year.
Is a Deferral a Rejection?
No, a college deferral is not a rejection. It also does not mean that anything at all is wrong with your child’s application. However, your child might think of it as similar to a rejection, and it’s important to help them understand that a deferral offers them an opportunity to continue to prove their worth to the college or university that issued the deferral.
Harvard says the following about “What does deferred mean?” within its frequently asked questions, “It is impossible to predict individual admission decisions. Past students whose applications were deferred have been admitted at various rates, often approximating the rate for Regular Decision candidates. Over the next few months, your application will be reviewed again, supplying another opportunity for eventual admission.”
How to Handle a Deferral
Let’s take a look at a few steps to handle a deferral if your child gets one.
Step 1: Learn what the college needs to know.
Some colleges share that they would like to learn more information about your student, such as asking for an updated transcript, newer test scores or an update on extracurricular activities.
A college might also firmly state that deferred students should not submit additional application materials. If that’s the case, your child should not submit anything else — not following directions can ruin their chances of gaining admission.
If the college allows you to send additional materials, here’s what you can do next:
Your child will have to gather all the requested materials, just like they did the first time around. However, everything will need to go up a notch. Don’t submit test scores if they are worse than previous scores, and work to get incredible letters of recommendation that are absolutely fantastic. Do whatever you can to encourage your child to go all out after the deferral — not lose momentum. It can be easy to lose enthusiasm after a deferral, but don’t.
If you or your child have specific questions about the materials to submit, call your child’s admission counselor (you can find territory assignments on the college’s website) and have a candid conversation about the materials. The admission counselor will not be able to give you or your child any guarantees regarding admission but will advise you about what to include and maybe even some tips on how to present it. They have your student’s best interests at heart.
Step 2: Have your student draft a letter.
Your student may already feel as if they’ve done a lot regarding admission to that particular institution. However, it’s time to write a professional letter to the director or dean of admission as well as to the admissions counselor.
Consider sending both an email and a hard copy of the letter in the mail. In the letter, one of the most important things your child should do involves explaining why you want to enroll in college. Above all else, colleges want to make sure you fit their school academically, but they also want to hear the magic words — “I want to attend your school because of these reasons…”
It may sound something like this:
My first-choice major at XYZ University is biochemistry, which combines my favorite science classes, biology and chemistry. I knew that I wanted my senior year schedule to follow a strong biochemistry program. After numerous conversations with alumni and my admissions counselor, Jackie Smith, I decided that I wanted to attend XYZ University. I believe that XYZ’s biochemistry program offers me the best opportunity to pursue my goals of becoming a pharmacist. I also plan to pursue the Science Club and undergraduate research opportunities through Professor Mei’s annual attendance at the molecular biology symposium.
I’m excited about all the possibilities available to me at XYZ — the college remains my first choice. If admitted in the regular decision round, I intend to enroll at XYZ.
Since I applied Early Decision, I have become president of the biochemistry club at my high school and began volunteering at our local hospital.
Show that your child will enroll at the school. Restate why the college makes academic and social sense and reference various opportunities your child will get involved in. Let the admissions committee know about those achievements.
Step 3: Ask for letters of recommendation.
As you already know, it’s important to pull out all the stops, so when your child needs additional scholarship recommendations, you should carefully consider just who will do it. You want this person to be able to talk up your student’s character, leadership skills and other qualifications. Who has developed a personal relationship with your child and who can write a letter of recommendation for admission?
Look for someone who can share your child’s character, qualities and future potential. Letter writers really do have a big job — they have to understand the gravity of the deferral recommendation letter, factors that appeal to the committee, deliver a well-written letter and more. They have to make it succinct, compelling and impossible to resist, which is why your child should choose the right person, ideally someone who knows deferred meaning college and what is at stake.
Step 4: Recheck the application.
Your child has done a lot up to this point on the application and it may seem like a major heave to look at everything again. However, it’s worth putting in the extra effort to make sure the application checks all the boxes.
Have your student check the grammar, change some language from active voice to passive voice, have your child read it out loud. As with everything else, it’s time to get this absolutely right.
Step 5: Get comfortable with other schools.
Even if your child takes all the above advice, remember that they could still get rejected in the regular admission cycle. Does your child have other schools on the list? Get to know other schools.
If your child has applied to four or five, what are the pros and cons of each of them? What types of admission do they require, such as rolling admission? You may need to go through the process of visiting other institutions if you’ve been focused on this one. Therefore, consider setting up visits through the admissions office at various schools. You may even need to take a look at other schools by visiting a second time.
Can You Turn a Deferral into an Acceptance?
Absolutely! Once you’ve deciphered the “deferred from college meaning,” it’s important not to lose heart or lose sight of the continued possibilities. Your child still has a chance with the college.
You likely don’t want to think negatively about your child’s acceptance and how it might turn into a deferral. However, don’t focus so much on the deferred college meaning.
Instead, do everything you can to help your student work toward an acceptance but remember that colleges may not want students to submit additional application materials. If that’s the case, follow the college’s instructions to a T — not doing so can spell out an automatic rejection from the college.
Let’s take a look at a few frequently asked questions about deferrals.
Is it better to be waitlisted or deferred?
Waitlisted is different from a deferral. Waitlisting means that your child goes into a type of “holding tank,” meaning that your child may or may not get admitted. At some schools, those on the waitlist almost never get admitted. If waitlisted, your child should start making plans at other schools, which is why students always need a backup list.
Is it better to be deferred or rejected?
A deferral is not the same thing as a rejection. A rejection means that the school will not offer your child admission at this time, while a deferral means that your child’s application will go into the Regular Decision pool of applicants. They want to compare your child’s application against those applicants in the Regular Decision pool.
It’s worth mentioning that a rejection doesn’t have to be permanent. Your child can attend another institution for a semester or a year (such as a community college) and transfer to the original school to which your student applied.
Does deferred usually mean rejected?
No, deferred doesn’t mean an automatic rejection, and it’s important to remember that. Your child still has a shot at admission. Colleges defer students because they are not ready to make a final decision, may have had a large number of early applications or may expect a large number of applications in the Regular Decision round and want to keep spots open for the right candidates.
It does not mean an automatic rejection at all. However, prepare your student to tap into backup options.
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.