Venturing Outside the Dining Hall: Off-Campus Meal Plans
Most colleges and universities require you to buy a full meal plan freshman year. But after that, depending on where you live, you will most likely have more freedom to decide where you want to eat. Usually, whether you are living on or off campus, you will still be able to buy a full meal plan or have an account for á la carte places on campus. However, it may be more convenient and economical to look into an off-campus meal plan or plan to budget for groceries if you have access to a kitchen.
An example of an off-campus meal plan is the OCMP, which is offered to students at the University of Delaware, University of Massachusetts, Purdue, Syracuse, and various universities in New York City (a full list of schools can be found here). The OCMP works similarly to on-campus meal plans in that you buy a set number of meals per week (by semester) depending on your needs. The plans vary in size from 2-3 meals per week to 21 meals per week (to view a full list of options and prices, click here). The plan considers 1 meal to be $7 and uses fractions based on prices. So if you use your card to buy a latte for $4, that would be considered .57 of meal. But if you purchase a pizza for $13, that would be 1.86 meals.
If you have a kitchen, you can also budget for groceries, which is extremely economical compared to buying a meal plan on-campus and even eating out often off-campus. Last year, my on-campus meal plan at UD was over $2,000. This year, I buy groceries and cook in my on-campus apartment. I’ll probably spend less than $1,000 on groceries for the whole year by the time spring semester ends.
As you look at schools, make sure you are aware of the dining options, both on and off campus. Find out what most students do after freshman year and figure out what option (or combination of options) works best for you. Remember that meals should be shared with others, but also should be wholesome and nutritious. The trick is finding a balance between the two.