You've read through all the new material about your school. You know who your roommate is; you know what day you're moving in; you may have even thought about what to pack. But one thing that seems super confusing is the campus meal plan. How on earth do you figure out which one is best for you? In most cases college meal plans take one of several forms. You may get a certain number of "meals" per semester, meaning you can enter the dining hall a pre-set number of times and eat to your heart's content. You may have something similar to a debit account, where you are charged based on what you purchase. Your account is debited until your balance reaches zero each time you eat. Your school may also offer a combination plan (some debit, some meal credits). Think about your eating habits and be honest with yourself about them. Don't approach your meal plan thinking that you are suddenly going to wake up early every day and eat a healthy breakfast in case you are always up late. Also, realize that things are going to change when you're at school. You might be up late with friends and want to order pizza at 3:00 a.m.

How to select the best college meal plan

You may have an 8:00 a.m. lab class, making breakfasts nearly impossible. You can adjust how you approach your meal plan as you adjust to life on campus (especially if you're trying to avoid the Freshman 15 by knowing your eating habits. Knowing the start and end dates of your plan is also important. For example, using that for 12 weeks or 16 weeks makes a big difference as to how you budget in case you are given $2000 for the entire semester. You can check throughout the semester to see if you're on track in addition to this. Offer to buy coffees instead in case the meals you've been buying your off-campus friends are really hurting your balance. Each college offers its own unique dining options. Some schools offer one main dining hall, with no outside vendors (such as Jamba Juice. Some schools only offer outside vendors. Other schools have dining areas in each residence hall, and you will learn quickly which halls are more accommodating than others. Especially larger public schools have relationships with nearby restaurants where you can use your dining plan off-campus (for that 3:00 a.m. pizza, perhaps!). Most schools are also reasonably accommodating if you have eating restrictions, such as being lactose-intolerant or having religious restrictions. Most of the schools will let you add more money (or meal credits) later in the semester but they won't give you your unused money back. You may want to err on the smaller side if you're trying to decide between plans if this is the case at your school. Being informed of your own eating habits and preferences, and how those will work into what your school offers, will avoid much confusion later. Plan now so that you can focus on your academics.