Many colleges and universities, where students live on campus or in nearby apartments, are now offering the option of an off-campus meal plan. Typically, this is a complementary add-on to a more traditional plan offered for getting regular meals at a cafeteria or student cafe. An off-campus meal plan allows students to visit nearby participating restaurants, and pay for meals there using their university cards. This allows the students to get more variety in their meal options, save money with discounts, and have more convenient options for dining if they live off campus. It is important that students carefully research the plan, however, as these meal plans can be more expensive to purchase up front, and may cause some students to spend more money than they normally would.
Offering an off-campus meal plan allows colleges and universities to partner with local area businesses to offer dining options to students, in what is often a win-win situation. Some participating restaurants may even offer discounts to students if they purchase meals using their off-campus meal plan. The main advantage of these plans is that they allow college students a number of dining options beyond the standard cafeteria fare, or the food that is found at an on-campus cafe or student union.
If students live and work away from campus, an off-campus meal plan can be much more convenient for them, rather than having to constantly return to campus to eat. Some meal plans also offer students the ability to manage their accounts online, such as by adding funds and tracking their spending habits, allowing them to see how much money they have spent on food each year. The convenience factor is also increased with an off-campus meal plan because it allows students to eat at any time; they are not limited to the hours that the dining hall or cafeteria is open.
There are some potential cons to an off-campus meal plan, however. First, such a meal plan may be more expensive to purchase up front, if the university requires funds to be pre-loaded on the cards. In addition, students might end up spending more per semester than they otherwise would just by eating at a dining hall, even if the restaurants offer discounts. Some universities avoid this, however, by simply charging students for one "meal" on their card, regardless of the cost at a restaurant. It is essential, therefore, that students considering signing up for an off-campus meal plan be sure to understand the specifics before paying for it.