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For many college students leaving home figuring out what to eat and where is one of the biggest dilemmas. What if I don’t like the cafeteria food? Are there any good places to eat around campus? How many meals do I really need? Is it worth it to pay 500 extra dollars to get the unlimited meal? What do these terms even mean? Many parts of the meal plan selection process can be confusing and are different for every university. However there are some general things that are consistent across all universities that can definitely trip people up.

Unlimited Plans

This means you have as many meals as you want to eat in a week at any dining hall on campus. Want to fill up your water bottle? Swipe a meal. That is one of the best benefits of this meal plan. You also never have to worry about budgeting meals and not remembering to save meals for Sunday. The unlimited meal plan is great for people whose friends eat on different schedules than them but still want to be able to sit down and chat while the other eats. Also, it is great for those who sometimes just want to grab an apple or ice cream, and go. You haven’t wasted a meal, because you have meals to waste.

19/20 meal plan

This meal plan is the most livable for a college student. You are able to get nearly 3 meals a day 7 days a week and it is usually cheaper than unlimited. Since you’re destined to sleep in or be in a rush for class you may miss a breakfast here and there resulting in you actually having meals left over the week. One of the best things about meal plans is that at most universities if you find yourself wanting to eat more or wasting meals you can typically decrease the next semester to save money.

Guest meals

These are meals you can use on friends and family who come to visit so that they don’t have to pay to eat. Alternatively you can use these meals on yourself which is very great when you run out of meals you can use outside of a dining hall. Also, if you are trying to stock up for a long night you can use one of these to buy a meal to go.

Free money

Technically this isn’t really free because you pay for it with your meal plan but it seems that way anyway. Meal points/dining dollars are a part of most meal plans. The less meals you get usually the more points you get. These can be treated as cash all over campus and used to buy things like detergent, frozen pizzas, and other things you can’t get in the cafeteria. If you’re out of meals for the day you can use your points to get a snack. However it is good to budget your points per week at the beginning of the semester (ex: 5 per week). Because before you know it you’ll be out of points and using money from your wallet.


Many universities have places where you can’t use regular meals. This means you’ll have to use cash or points. They do, however, often give you the option of paying another lump sum to be able to use meals at these places. They do tend to have better food, but using points and sucking it up is better for people on a budget. Sure it can be inconvenient to walk 100 feet to go to the dining hall rather than just eating in your current building, but adding student loan debt is even more inconvenient.

It is important to look through all of the options your school has for meal plans. If you can, ask an upperclassman at your school for help in deciding what to do. This will not only let you know the quality of the food but also what the best meal plan may be for you. The language of each dining system can be confusing, and actually being at college is the best way to figure it out. However, if you’re trying to figure out your financial aid package by calculating in a meal plan, feel free to call dining services at your school because they should be able to help you figure out which plan is best for you.

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the author

Stephanie Jones is a student at Villanova University studying Computer Engineering. When she isn't reading or writing she enjoys watching tv shows on netflix, tumbling, and texting her friends. Memes are a sure fire way to make her laugh and she is always available for contact at

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