College brings many extra costs, but it also has quite a few perks and benefits as well. One of these perks (or downsides depending on how you look at it) is the college meal plan which is offered by pretty much every university out there. However, if a meal plan is not on your list of priorities, the question you should be asking is whether or not you can refuse a meal plan altogether.
Students who live in separate housing complexes are usually allowed to refuse college meal plans, though it is strongly recommended not to. College meal plans are typically required for students who choose to live on campus in a dorm. However, different universities have different rules.
As mentioned before, a college meal plan may not be high on your list of priorities but the rules vary from college to college. If you are interested in learning more about college meal plans, read on to understand the pros and cons of one, and where they are required or not required.
Hopefully, this will help you to make a good decision that will best serve your needs as a college student.
College Meal Plans: The Rules and Regulations
As mentioned before, different colleges have different rules and policies about their meal plans. In general, most universities will require a meal plan for students who choose to live in the dorms that are located on or near the campus.
If you aren’t living in the dorms, a meal plan may not be required, though it will probably still be strongly encouraged.
Many people wonder whether or not a meal plan is worth it. Below are a few examples of meal plan costs from several different well-known universities:
|UNIVERSITY||MEAL PLAN COST|
|Iowa State University||$580-$4,830|
|Boise State University||$733.22-$1,998.56|
|Columbia University||First Years: $2,886. Upperclass Students:$1,091-$2,791|
|University of Iowa||$1,470-$3,780|
A lot of students look at those numbers and think “As if paying tuition weren’t enough, now I have to pay potentially thousands of dollars for a meal plan?!”
However, if you are a student first starting out, a meal plan might just be exactly what you need to get by. Not only will it save you time, but it will also be far less complicated than doing something like a pay-to-eat option. That would mean you’d have to have cash constantly on hand.
As a college freshman, having a meal plan will simplify your life by a great deal. However, as you progress through your college journey, you may find yourself moving to a house or rental apartment that has a full kitchen.
This makes it a little more practical to quit the meal plan (which you can do if you’re off campus) and start overseeing your own meals.
At the end of the day, all that really needs to be taken into account are where you’re living and what your personal preferences are. If you live in the dorms, you are likely won’t be able to refuse a meal plan (unless you have certain dietary needs). However, you will usually have the opportunity to refuse a meal plan if you live outside of campus.
College Meal Plans: The Pros and Cons
Whether or not you want a meal plan throughout college, there are a few pros and cons that you should probably know. Understanding these might help you to be more informed about your decision. Here are a few of the most important pros and cons of having a college meal plan.
First, a college meal plan is superbly convenient. Not only do you not have to worry about what to make for dinner every night, but you don’t have to worry as much about the budgeting of meals either.
Your meal plan has already been paid for so you won’t have to spend any time allotting funds for grocery shopping. If you’ve had an exhausting day after work and class, you can come home and know exactly where and what to eat. Easy peasy!
Additionally, all the food provided to you will be precooked.
This means you will not only not have to spend time grocery shopping, but you will also not have to spend time cooking and preparing meals. If nothing else, having a meal plan will at least save you a lot of time, and time is something that is both valuable and hard to come by as a college student.
Several meal plans will not only account for you, but they will also account for friends and visitors as well. You can sometimes bring a person with you and let them eat for free. This way, you don’t have to worry about having friends staying the night and not being able to feed them. For the amount that you pay, that should be a pretty good deal.
Obviously, each dining hall and meal plan is different, but many of them will get you access to unlimited buffets. One swipe of a card and you’ll be able to eat as much as you want for one meal whenever you want. Forget about being a starving college student; you will have all the food you could possibly need for a good amount of money.
On the flip side, meal plans can be somewhat expensive.
This will, of course, vary by university, but as seen in the chart above, you could potentially be paying several thousand dollars just to eat. That seems like quite a bit of money, especially when paired with tuition costs. Indeed, it might be cheaper to just make your own meals.
Additionally, you will only be able to access the food that your school’s dining hall. While most of them should have a well-balanced selection available, not all the students will necessarily like what is being served.
Plus, students with any dietary restrictions may have an especially difficult time finding things they can eat and enjoy at the same time.
Related Article: Are College Meal Plans Worth It?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.