Preparing for College

What Are "Swipes" at College?

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

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

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

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