Dining On Campus: Perspectives From Current College Students

Read on for some perspectives about dining on campus.  The post below was written by 4 current college students, who are also interns for TheCollegeHelper.com. Their collaborative effort provides four different campus living experiences all on one page. Hope you enjoy!

  • Clara Ma, University of California, Berkeley

At UC Berkeley, living in the dorms means an automatic meal plan.  Our meal plans are based on a point system with each point roughly equal to a little over a dollar.  The points are stored in a debit card-like system so when you go to a dining area on campus, you swipe your student ID card and the points are automatically deducted.

My freshman year meal plan consisted of 2500 points, or roughly 1250 points per semester.  That meant an average of about 74 points per week I could spend on food on university grounds.  Lunch at a cafeteria was 7 points and dinner was 8.  Other items on campus in cafes or at the gym could be bought a la carte ranging from a 2 two dollar bottle of Gatorade to a 7 dollar box of microwavable mac and cheese.  Meal plans can also vary in point value.  Though mine was 2500 points and good for about 10-14 meals a week, some of the boys on my floor opted for larger plans of 3000 points per year so they could eat more.

As for dining locations on campus, there are four all-you-can-eat residence dining commons.  My friends seemed to like this because for a flat fee, you could have an entire pizza if you wanted to.  There is also an organic salad bar and lots of vegetarian options.  There are also special occasions such as Sundae Sunday where dessert was extra extravagant.  There are also ten retail locations where students could buy coffee (at Peet’s Coffee), household items (such as laundry detergent or paper towels), or other snacks and goodies, all using those same points.  On campus cafes also take meal points so buying a sandwich or salad on campus is convenient.  My favorite use of meal points, however, was the late night option.  Dinner hours usually ended around 9:00pm but because I was often in practice, I would miss dinner hours completely.  Luckily on Wednesday-Sunday nights from 10pm to 2 am, the dining commons close to my unit would open up again for “Late Night.”  Here you could buy a la carte menu items such as fries, wings, chicken strips, and other late night snacks if you missed dinner or just had some midnight munchies.  Late night studying was made immensely better with a plate of chili cheese fries by your side.

Lastly, if you were to ever run out of meal points, your parents can add more, 50 points at a time, by simply logging in online and transferring the money to you.  On campus dining was an easy way to get rid of the stress of cooking and fending for yourself your first year when you’re already adjusting to a new environment.  It’s one less thing to worry about and a great way to spend time with your floor mates and make new friends.

  • Madeline Fetchiet, Michigan State University

At Michigan State University students have a variety of dining options, more than other schools I have seen. MSU offers students six different neighborhoods to eat in, on-campus and off-campus dining plans and platinum, gold and silver dining plans depending how big their appetite is.

MSU has unique dining opportunities because students are able to use their MSU ID as “Sparty Cash” to make purchases from Sparty’s Convenience Stores and participating local businesses in East Lansing, like Noodles and Company. “Sparty Cash” can also be used for “Combo-X-Change,” a plan that allows students to eat designated food items at Sparty’s stores as a part of their meal plan.

The dining plans and quality of food offered at Michigan State have really impressed me. The variety of foods offered, from vegetarian and vegan options, to state of the art new cafeterias like Brody Square and The Gallery at Snyder Phillips Hall. So incase you’re ruling out dorm food altogether, try it, it could surprise you.

My favorite dining area on campus is Brody Square located in the Brody Neighborhood of dorms. The new cafeteria features everything from home-style turkey and mashed potatoes and grilled burgers, to tasty Asian cuisine and a pasta bar, among other options.

Other than dining hall options at MSU, the downtown area of East Lansing is packed with campus favorites like Jimmy Johns and Pita Pit, and unique restaurants like the Harrison Road House and Peanut Barrel. Students can take advantage of convenient dining hall options, or venture out to Grand River Avenue for classic cravings.

  • Mollie Diedrich, DePaul University

As a resident freshman at DePaul you are required to have the DePaul meal plan. This level of their meal plan gives you $1,030 to spend per quarter on food on campus or $3,090 for the school year. This plan can be changed to a higher amount or, after your first year, a lower amount. The DePaul meal plan was what I had my freshman year and it was enough to fit all my eating needs.

DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus is the central Chicago campus, with the most options for food. The student center has Brownstones, which is like a coffee shop that has giant muffins, pastries, bagels, sandwiches, snacks and coffee. It’s the best spot for breakfast, quick meals and snacks. Yet on the second floor of the student center there is a large cafeteria full of meal options: including breakfast, a deli, a salad bar, pizza, Mexican, Asian, ice cream, pasta and a kitchen with rotating meals and side dishes. Lincoln Park also has three small cafes in the science building, the gym and the academic center. The Loop campus has a more traditional central cafeteria that you choose what you want and go to the check out.

Personally I was a Brownstones, deli and salad bar girl. I also used the small market where you could get groceries to take back to your dorm. I was impressed with the pizzas that you could order ahead of time, pick up and take a whole pie back to your dorm to enjoy. But at the end of the year you lose the money on your card if you don’t use it. Since most people had leftovers, we shared and stocked up on snacks we probably didn’t need the last few weeks to get every penny’s worth.

  • Pamela Nonga, University of California-Davis

I wasn’t worried at all about my dining situation when I left for college. UC Davis has three Dining Commons (or cafeterias) located near each of the residence hall areas. They serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, and “late-night” for those with late classes or who need an extra meal to fill them up. At my university, the dining plan lasts for the quarter (ten weeks) and students have the option of choosing between 90, 120, and 180 meal plans. This allows you to save money by choosing the number of meals that best fit your eating habits. I opted for the 120 meal plan and never ran out of meals. I usually ate at the Dining Commons, because I had pre-paid for it and it was convenient. Every once in a while I would stop by on-campus cafes to grab a coffee or light breakfast if I was in a rush and didn’t have a chance to sit down and eat.

We have all types of food available for sale on campus, from Pizza Hut to Carl’s Junior to crepes to a salad bar. Also, the residence halls have kitchens available for the times when you want to make something from scratch. Just make sure to have your all the ingredients necessary and pots and pans! Although being away from home and home-cooked meals might seem daunting, there’s no reason why you should starve during your first year with so many food options available.

  • Stephanie Hughes, Benedictine University

My school, being smaller, has limited dining options. We have only three different places on campus to eat; a traditional cafeteria, a burger style restaurant (the Coal Ben), and a coffee shop.  Our meal plan is divided up between meals and munches money, with the meal being roughly the equivalence of 6 dollars.   There are three different ways to split up your meal plan money between meals and munch money, varying between the amounts used for both of these. Meals can be used at the cafeteria during its hours of operation, and the Coal Ben during our “missed meals” period, which runs for a few hours shortly after the cafeteria closes.  Munch money can be used at the cafeteria, and the Coal Ben during the hours where meals are not available.

In addition to that, we have on-campus apartments, which come with kitchens. The students who live in the apartments, as well as commuter students, get a reduced meal plan, which comes with $25 of munch money and 20 meals.  Theoretically, you’d have access to more than the food that the school provides, so you wouldn’t need to eat there as much as resident students.  However, if need be, you can always add more money to your meal plan.

Personally, I prefer to eat at the cafeteria.  It’s all you can eat, I’ve always found it accommodating to dietary needs, there are some staple foods that are good no matter what,  and  whenever my friends have come to visit, they’ve told me that our food is much better than theirs.   I enjoy the coffee shop to, but it is more expensive, and only has sandwiches and snacks, or things that can be eaten quickly.

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This post is the collaborative effort of several of our college interns. By providing multiple viewpoints and allowing our interns to speak from their own unique experiences, high school students get a “real world” perspective on the college planning and transition process.