Freshman Advice: Is A Meal Plan Worth It?

Photo by Aubrey Rose Odom on Unsplash

Meal plans are one of the most discussed topics at freshman orientation.

Back when I went for my college orientation and campus tour, it was mentioned dozens of times. The college tour guides brought us in front of the campus restaurants and showed us the “delicious food” that they were cooking. They gave us vouchers to sign up and receive the meal plan and even talked constantly about all of the benefits of using it.

But I never bought one. In fact, a lot of people never bought one.

After talking to some of my friends who had purchased meal plans, they talked me out of it and explained to me why cardboard pizza and chicken that was marinated in your uncle's dirty socks were not worth the price. My best friend, on the other hand, figured it would be worth it. So, to knock down some of the confusion that I was faced with, in today’s article I am going to be explaining if a meal plan is worth it or not to an incoming Freshman.

If you have any questions about meal plans or anything related to life as a college student, check out my Instagram and shoot me a DM.

1) Living Situation.

A major factor to help you decide if a meal plan is worth it or not for you depends on your living situation. Some people decide to live off-campus in an apartment, and others decide to live on campus in a closet-sized prison cell. Look at your specific situation to see if you should purchase a meal plan or not.

If you are living in a dorm without a community kitchen, it is definitely a good idea to look into the pricing for your meal plan. Not having a kitchen is a huge hassle with simple things like breakfast foods; and being able to go and use your meal plan is extremely convenient with situations like this. Lunch and dinner foods aren’t as bad, because you can make something in your microwave or go and wait for hours at the overcrowded chick-fil-a on campus, but cereal gets old after a while and you are going to want to have a better breakfast here and there.

The same situation goes with later nights. If you are on campus studying for an exam, and it ends up getting pretty late, it is nice to be able to walk across to the campus dining halls and grab a quick snack.

In an off-campus apartment, on the other hand, it is a bit different. Living off-campus usually means you have a kitchen. Even if you don’t know how to cook, it is better to attempt to learn than to spend your personal money on an overpriced meal plan that has below average food. You can save a lot of money and eat much healthier if you cook and grocery shop on your own, so a meal plan would not be worth it in this situation.

If you are an incoming freshman and are still unsure about living on or off campus, check out my post talking showing the pros and cons of each.

2) Transportation.

Another factor when it comes to deciding if a meal plan is worth it or not is considering your transportation options. This usually coincides with your living situation, but for some people it may not. Regardless of if you live off or on campus, I would avoid getting the meal plan if you have a vehicle. Being free to drive wherever you want makes it to where you will end up getting food somewhere else, regardless of if you have the meal plan or not. For example, two of my roommates had meal plans but would end up riding with me to get food most of the time. If you have your own car, the chances that this is going to happen are even greater.

3) Financial Aid.

Many times, students will receive scholarships or grants that can be used for college. These grants can usually be used for anything related to college expenses; whether it’s tuition, living, or any other needs you might have. Because of this, financial aid can often be used to purchase a meal plan. If this is the case, it is most likely worth it to purchase one.

Having your school pay for your meal plan can save you a TON of money. Most of the time, these plans are pretty expensive and they are not worth it if you are paying out of your own pocket. But, since the school would be the one paying for it, it will save you the cost of purchasing it, plus the cost of food for the entire semester. You can save thousands of dollars which you can use for bigger and better things down the road.

4) Quality.

Now, this is where the meal plans really become an important decision for some people. It is undeniable that dining hall food is completely inferior to everything, including garbage disposal leftovers.

Most dining hall employees are going to be underpaid students who have no idea how to cook. They simply follow directions and do what their managers tell them to. Because of this, the food is usually pretty trash and often undercooked. Now, this varies from school to school, so be sure to research your specific school. But, if you have the option of cooking, it is definitely a better idea unless you want to eat baseball park cheeseburgers and pizza every night.

5) Health.

Baseball park cheeseburgers and pizza sound pretty good every once in a while, but if you are trying to keep track of your health or be healthy, this is probably not the best idea. Cooking on your own or choosing where you can eat allows you to better track your nutrients. Keeping track of what you are eating is essential when it comes to working out or trying to lose weight. Plus, when you eat better foods, you will feel better which can result in you being in a better mood for the entire day.

Dining halls usually have healthier options, but they aren’t always the “healthier” option. If you can fully keep track of what you have going into your body, life will be much more enjoyable.

Hopefully this helped you decide! If you enjoyed this article, check out my article on places to meet people in college. It shares what I learned as a freshman and how to meet people in places other than in bars.

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