All About Meal Plans

Managing meals and eating well can provide new experiences for college students, who may not have done a lot of cooking or meal planning when they lived at home.

What is a meal plan?

A meal plan is a pre-paid account for meals in the campus dining halls. When you arrive at the dining hall, you will swipe your card and the amount for that meal will be taken out of you account. Typically, you will pay for a plan at the beginning of the semester. Although it varies from school to school, you may forfeit any unused funds at the end of the term.

Do I need a meal plan?

Students living in the residence halls may be required to sign up for a meal plan. Check your institution’s guidelines on meal plan requirements for those living on campus. Some schools also allow students who live off campus to purchase a meal plan. Often, this information is listed within the dining services section of a school’s website. If you are not living on campus, you may be able to purchase a meal plan or put money into your account to use to purchase meals on campus. If this is something you are interested in, check the web site for your school’s dining services.


How do I decide which plan is right for me?

  • Types of meal plans and what is included in each plan is usually listed on a schools’ website, often in the dining services section (like on this page from the University of Georgia’s website).
  • Before deciding on a meal plan, check to see if the residence hall to which you have been assigned has a communal kitchen where you can prepare your own meals, if that appeals to you and/or better fits your budget. Many students decide to make their own simple breakfasts in their room (such as cereal, oatmeal, or hard-boiled eggs) with a microwave, hot pot, and mini-fridge, and save their swipes for lunch and dinner. If this is not an option for you, determine how many meal swipes or how much money you may need for food each week. Don’t forget about the weekends–you’ll need to eat those days, too!
  • Learn where you can use your “swipes” on campus and the hours when food is available. Depending on the size of your school, there may be one main dining hall or many scattered throughout campus. Some dining halls even open back up later in the evening for late night snacking after studying. In addition to an official dining hall, there may be other options for using your meal plan at food court like vendors on campus, coffee kiosks, library and classroom cafes, convenience stores, and more. Some university meal plans can even be used at off-campus restaurants.
  • View CDC’s 10 Tips: Be Choosy in the Dining Hall.