The Foodie Factor: 12 Tips for Evaluating Campus Dining

Salad Bar Veggies

It’s happens every year. Hordes of high school juniors and seniors descend upon colleges and universities across the country to tour campuses and figure out where the heck they will be living for the next 4 years of their lives. Of course, many factors go into this major decision and often times students create very complicated spread sheets to evaluate each school based on certain criteria.

Every student has their own criteria differing in importance and order that they use to evaluate their choices, from academics to sports to location, just to name a few. Did you know that some students even choose their school based on whether the school allows pets? Yes that exists!

Bikes at YaleWhile campus food sometimes make it onto the list, it is less common for students to factor this into the decision. This could be a huge mistake, after all this is your home for the next four years. Most likely, there will be those times when you need to grab a quick bite between classes or before studying for finals, so options are key.

The first step before heading out to visit schools is to do your research. Make sure to check out the following:

  1. Check the website – but take it with a grain of salt. Have you ever booked a hotel online, only to find out that it bears no resemblance to what you saw on the website? Yeah, well, that can also happen with campus food. You need to investigate further.
  2. How many dining halls are there? – Of course this will vary with the size of the school, but just for the sake of variety, the more the merrier.

Outdoor cafeNow that are armed with the information provided on the website, it is time to do your own investigating.

  1. Are there options other than dining halls? Many campuses have coffee shops, food markets, small cafes, and even separate vegetarian/vegan facilities. What are their price ranges?
  2. Are any of the dining halls or other on campus food options a part of the tour? Generally, those that have better food and/or a larger variety will want to show it off.
  3. Ask to visit the dining hall. Even if it is not a part of the tour, ask the admissions office if you can visit the dining hall.
  4. Better yet, build time into your visit so you can have a meal. This will also allow you to get more of a feel for the students at the school.
  5. Check out the fruit and vegetable options. How does the salad bar look? Does the produce and other food look fresh? Are there a lot of options, particularly protein choices, such as eggs, beans, cheese, and quinoa?
  6. Do the dining facilities look clean?
  7. If you have special dietary needs, you may want to ask to meet with someone.
  8. Do you see nutritious options? Are there plenty of veggies at the hot bar, and is there a good variety of options other than burgers, fried foods, and starchy side dishes?
  9. What are the hours? Of course at this point you have no clue what your schedule will be like, but in general, there may be times when you need a late breakfast or an early dinner.
  10. Check out the vending machine options. Many campuses are offering healthy vending machines and plenty of water as well.
  11. Can you get food to go? This could be a lifesaver during finals or for those times you have back-to-back classes.
  12. Can you use your dining dollars in places other than the dining halls? Some schools, particularly those in cities, have worked out arrangement with nearby food establishments where students can use their points.

UMD McKeldinIt can be hard to compare campus dining services when touring colleges, simply because each school is different and the options vary. While you may not find the perfect situation at the college of your choice, ultimately it does make sense to factor this information into your equation before making you choice.

Download this checklist RIGHT NOW and bring it with you on your next tour!

On campus Dining (2)

Graphic created by: Jackie Parker

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