Which college meal plan is right for you?


College is all about choices; where to apply, which college to attend, what dormitory to choose, and now, which meal plan is right for you. If your college is like the majority of schools, you’ll have little to no choice about purchasing a plan. In fact, many colleges now require incoming freshmen, and even upper-classmen who live on campus, to pony up for campus chow. Some will have designated plans that are specifically for freshman, but many will have an array of options that cater to many different lifestyles. Regardless of what’s available on your campus, choosing a college meal plan will be one of the most expensive decisions you will make, so it’s a good idea to take some time before signing any contract. Here are a few things to consider before deciding which plan may be right for you.


1. Know Your Stomach

If you like to sleep late or tend to skip breakfast at home, chances are you’ll still follow that routine in college, so purchasing a plan that includes unlimited breakfast will probably go to waste. Maybe you’re more like me, someone who prefers a late lunch and then snacks all night while studying. Then again, you could be someone who requires three meals a day or you can’t function; knowing what works best for your body and mind will definitely help you determine which plan to choose. Another thing to consider is food allergies or religious dietary restrictions. Many colleges now accommodate students who can only eat kosher meals or those who prefer a vegan lifestyle, but not all provide a wide variety of options. It’s a good idea to contact your school’s food services department to determine what may be available on your campus, as this could factor into how often you frequent on-campus dining facilities.


Compare Options2. Do Your Research

Not all college meal plans are created equal. Some schools have a wide variety of options, including plans that are based on the number of meals per week, a set number of meals per semester or flexible spending plans that basically act as cash. Many colleges even include an option to purchase snacks and groceries through the use of FlexBucks (flexible spending cash) at various on-campus eateries and convenience stores. If you’re really lucky, you may even have the option of using your college meal plan to have food delivered from various off-campus restaurants. There are even some schools that have unlimited meal plans, which means you’ll have no trouble putting on those fabled Freshman 15 this year.


3. Read the Fine Print

Very few schools offer a refund for unused swipes or excess dining dollars, regardless of the circumstances, but some colleges, such as the University of Florida, do provide a refund if you withdraw or register for a fraternity/sorority meal plan after purchasing your current meal plan. It’s important to review your school’s policy to determine what options you may have to decrease, increase or cancel your plan throughout the year. Some schools do have a grace period (usually two weeks) where you can adjust your meal plan, if needed. Most plans do allow you to add on additional FlexBucks, as needed, but your school may set specific increments. Check with your school to see if there is a roll-over option for unused swipes, as many will allow fall credits to be used during the spring. Unfortunately, the majority of colleges do not roll over points/swipes from the spring semester; use them or you’ll lose them! If you are receiving a generous financial aid package, your college may even allow you to eat now and pay later, as part of a deferred payment plan. Don’t forget to ask if your meals are covered during Spring Break, as many meal plans do not provide food during periods when the college is not in session.

If your college has a grace period or allows you to increase your plan during the semester, I suggest starting out with one of the smaller plans. You may be surprised at how often you grab something quick and simple from your dorm room to eat on your way to class, or how often you order pizza with your new roommate. In any case, it’s usually much easier to add to your plan than to have it reduced. Trust me, nothing hurts more than seeing your unused meal plan credits go to waste. It’s like flushing money down the toilet.  


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