Is a meal plan a good deal?

This calculator calculates the average cost per meal for a meal plan. Many colleges and universities require students that reside on campus to register for a meal plan. Even if you are not required, it may be cheaper to buy a meal plan than to pay cash for your meals. Most sources of financial aid and tax-advantaged college savings plans consider meals a legitimate education-related expense.

Colleges and universities often offer a variety of meal plans, including some plans that are targeted for off-campus residents including commuters. Some plans may restrict the use of the plan to on-campus dining halls. Other schools may advance some of the cost of the meal plan as campus cash, a currency that can be used to pay for late-night pizza orders and other petty cash expenses. The calculator excludes any campus cash from the cost analysis.

Some of the questions you may ask about meal plans include:

  • Can unused meals be rolled over and used in the next period?
  • Are meal portions unlimited?
  • What are the dining hours and when are meal times?
  • What types and what merchants accept campus-cash?
  • Is sales tax levied on the plan?
  • Does the plan accommodate for special meals (e.g. ethnic or vegetarian)?

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