Food and learning go hand in hand; after all, who can study for mid-terms when your stomach is growling? To help students find the best college dining experiences across the country, we collected an analyzed the following data:
- Number of dining halls
- Hours of operations
- Cost of meal plan
- Overall menu options
- Special diet menu options
The results? We found both public and private colleges and universities that each hold a strong commitment to providing students with a unique, healthy, and convenient dining experience. Check to see if your school made the list!
Top 30 College Dining Halls
30. University of California- Los Angeles
Though it’s last on the list, UCLA beat out a lot of competition to make it into the top 30, so don’t let its placement taint your opinion of this top tier school. Open 18 hours of the day to feed its student body, it has four well equipped dining halls to cater to just about every dietary need and want. Many of their dishes are kosher or halal compliant, and if you want to do carry-out, they have a sophisticated, interactive online menu. Ranked the 26th best college by US News and World Report, UCLA’s dining services aren’t far behind.
29. Wake Forest University
Not the cheapest, but certainly not the most expensive, the yearly cost of a meal plan at Wake Forest comes in just shy of 6K. Combine that with its four dining halls that are open 14 hours a day and its comprehensive menu selection, it’s not hard to see how WFU placed on our list. Particularly noteworthy is the Magnolia Room— a fine dining experience Wake Forest offers to students and staff alike. It’s open Monday through Friday for lunch, but it’s Thursdays you want to mark your calendar for. One night a week they serve a ‘premium dinner’ that every WFU student needs to try at least once during their stay (if not every week).
28. Yeshiva University
As a private university in New York City, Yeshiva University has a great meal plan at a great cost. For just $3,800 a year, students can enjoy a comprehensive meal plan with many kosher options. Yes, it could be open a little later for those late night munchies undergrads are so prone to get (they close their doors after 8 p.m.), but it compensates by having a dining hall at each of its four campuses that cater to a multitude of tastes. Many of its students aren’t Jewish, so YU has a comforting, eclectic mix of food to satisfy its diverse student body. Whether it’s kosher, burgers, or sushi, this New York research university has you covered.
27. Rice University
With an all you can eat dining policy, and a combination of the best ingredients with an excellent variety of food, you might be wondering why Rice University didn’t make it higher on the list. Afterall, they have six dining halls and a very reasonably priced meal plan (only $4,300 a year!) — not much to complain about, right? Well, though their hours likely fluctuate throughout the year, in our research they were only open seven hours a day. Granted, they were very reasonable hours to eat, but when you are in the middle of multiple intense intellectual battles, when you eat may not be during normal hours. But as we said with UCLA, don’t forget RU beat out a lot of competition to even make it on this list. Their dining service is one of the best, and you won’t find any complaints coming from the student body over it.
26. Lehigh University
The great thing about Lehigh University is that they encourage and welcome feedback. If they get requests for a specific meal, they make it. If they’re told something is just so-so, they nix it altogether or make it better. Wow, right? Most dining halls just hash out tried and tested old time favorites, but Lehigh goes further than just offering you comfort foods. Also worth talking about is the 14.5 hours a day they’re open and the three fully stocked, uniquely designed dining halls they offer. Need a quiet place with a professional atmosphere to talk things over with your professor? Head over to the Asa Packer Dining Room. Gourmet foods with a campus-made sweets station. Ranked 45th nationally overall, Lehigh’s dining halls rack up a bit better as a great university with great food.
25. Texas A&M University
Variety — that’s what you get at Texas A&M University. We literally cannot think of a food you can’t get at Texas A&M. From Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks, Panda Express, to campus cooked meals, if you choose to go to A&M, you won’t be in want. Their meal plan is modestly priced at $4,742 a year, and their residential dining halls are open almost fourteen hours a day. If you have specific food allergies, you won’t by any means starve, but you will have to hunt a little. Though they cater to all needs, their menus could be a little more intuitive. But if you don’t have any diet restrictions, and are a fan of retail dining in addition to residential dining, put A&M in the strong contender category of your list.
24. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Perhaps the most exciting thing about WPI’s dining services is Morgan Hall. Also referred to as the POD (‘Pulse on Dining Marketplace’), Morgan Hall strives to be eco-friendly. Edible waste is donated to pig farms, all papers and plastics are recycled, and local ingredients are used whenever possible. If you have allergies or food restrictions, there are stations devoted to your specific diet, but if you are free to eat whatever you want, you’re going to need four years to fully appreciate all that the POD has to offer. Number wise, their meal plan comes in at $5,400 — a bit more expensive than the national average, but they’re open 16 hours a day and have three bustling dining halls ready to serve you.
23. Dartmouth College
Perhaps the most well-rounded dining service is the one found at Dartmouth College. At DC, a fully-loaded meal plan only costs $3,900, and for that price you get 11 hours of dining time per day, three dining halls, and an in-depth menu to choose from. Whether you need kosher, halal, vegan, or vegetarian, Dartmouth has you covered. Ask the locals, and you’ll find that the Class of 1953 Commons is the place to go. Pay the entrance fee and you have ten minutes to gather as much food as you want. No matter how much you get, the price is the same. But it’s not just a buffet styled ponzi scheme. The food is actually really good. They stop serving shortly after 8, but if you’re not done hanging out with your friends, head on down to Sarner Underground — a 24 hour social place that’s perfect for unwinding after writing a term paper.
22. Northwestern University
With six dining halls to choose from, you’re going to need the 16.5 hours available to you to fully appreciate all the food at NU, although it does come at a price. A completely stocked meal plan will run you about $6,600 a year, which is a tad bit more than most other colleges charge. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you won’t have any issues finding tasty options, but if you have specific allergies, your dining experience won’t be as streamlined as it could be at other universities. No worries, everything is labeled, just not separated as much. The directors are on a mission to get as much fresh food as possible into each dining hall, and by 2020 they hope to have revolutionized the college dining experience. They’re well on their way now. With Northwestern, you get quality and quantity.
21. University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill
All colleges know diet affects performance, but at Chapel Hill they strive to put that knowledge to good use. With residential dining, fresh, organic food is used as much as possible, and the food is properly labeled and organized. They only have two dining halls, but they’re open 17 hours a day, and a meal plan will only cost you $4,450. Could there be more variety? Yes. But make no mistake, there are choices. Also, be sure to check out their website if you want to order in advance (it’s a lot better than other colleges), and follow them on Twitter. Strange, we know, but they do tweet when tasty meals are coming down the pipeline and will let you know if any of the dining halls have a change in hours. Back when we were in college, dining halls just locked their doors to let us know they were closed, so… consider yourself lucky.
20. University of Massachusetts — Amherst
If you’re looking for good, healthy food, you really need to check out UMass Amherst. It’s the first university in the country to offer SPE certified meals to its students. In a nutshell, being SPE certified means that the food comes from a quality source, and, when applied to a restaurant or dining facility, is prepared or paired in such a way to maximize its health benefits on the consumer. Honestly, because of this alone we’d like to put Amherst higher, but the cost of its meal plan is a little high per year ($6,162), and the menu could be a little more fleshed out; however, that said, the food looks amazing. Places like Texas A&M seem great on paper because of all the retail options, but at the end of the day there’s nothing like the energy rush you get from a properly cooked meal. If you choose Amherst, mom’s cooking gets to go with you (and it will even taste better, but our lips are sealed).
19. Georgetown University
A private Jesuit university in the heart of DC, Georgetown has a lot to offer its students who chose to dine on campus. Though it’s a relatively small school, it has a couple residential dining locations that are able to serve the entire school population; however, the one everyone seems to flock to is Leo O’Donovan Hall. With two stories of all-you-can-eat goodness, Leo’s has been cared for over the years but never needlessly updated. While other universities strive to build, expand, and renovate, Georgetown has never needed to reimagine itself . Maybe because it got all of its buildings right the first time it can afford to give its students such affordable meal plans. $2,238 a semester is practically a steal when you take into account where it is. Pair that with it’s accessible menu and 16 hour service hours, and you can see how Georgetown made it all the way to number 19.
18. University of California — Berkeley
Berkeley boasts four dining halls and a very affordable meal plan — like Georgetown it’s only $2,200 a semester, so considering we’re talking about Berkeley, California, that truly is remarkable (and location didn’t even factor into our calculations!). The downside is that they are only open ten hours a day to students (but the hours may vary throughout the year, which would probably put it even higher on our list). Every dining hall looks more than decent, but Crossroads seems to rise above the others. They cater to every dietary need, and somehow manage to do so with all organic ingredients. That’s over 4,000 products! They’ve also moved completely away from partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) in all of their food. Not only would you get a great education going to Berkeley, but you’d get a healthy body, too.
17. Brandeis University
At Brandeis you can shop and pay online (a great thing if you have food limitations and are on the go), but if you’re not in a rush, you have four dining halls to choose from, all of which are open into the evening. It’s another well rounded university. Our favorite thing about it is the yearly meal plan cost — only $3.350! Another thing we really like about it is the mobile app that tells you what’s open on campus. So no more trekking to the mini-mart when your favorite dining hall is closed, and you don’t know where else to go because you’ve never explored. With the app, you know exactly where you can go and what you can get. Regardless of the possibilities, Sherman Hall is the go-to place. With stations devoted to every dietary need, it’s a safe place for worry-free eating. At the end of the day, their menu selection could broaden, but with everything else factored in, Brandeis has edged out a lot of competition.
16. University of Florida
University of Florida has a whopping 15 locations students can eat at that are open 16 hours a day, and a fully decked out meal plan will only set you back $4,292. Overall, Florida could easily be a lot higher on the list if it considered dietary restrictions at its dining halls, but we could find no mention of them anywhere online. That aside, the food options are almost endless. Retail and residential have truly merged, so you are never going to get bored over what you could eat. Moreover, all of their dining centers are modeled after the most sophisticated European Marketplaces. Choose the University of Florida and your palette will evolve alongside your noggin.
15. University of Virginia
UVA’s food options are solid across the board, with three dining halls located throughout campus along with several other restaurant options open beyond the dining halls’ 14 hours. The $5,080 price tag is worth it for students who appreciate diverse menus catering to multiple dietary preferences. The University of Virginia also sets a high standard with its green initiatives, including sourcing ingredients locally and composting dining hall waste. It’s an ideal option for anyone who is conscientious about where their food comes from and what happens after they drop off their tray.
14. University of Georgia
Though its dining halls don’t have the longest hours on our list, you can get a comprehensive meal plan each year at the University of Georgia for under $4,000. There are also five locations spread across the campus so you’ll have an easy time finding a place to eat no matter where your classes are located. Plus, many of the dining halls have witnessed recent renovations, making them bigger and better than ever. You’ll find traditional entree stations along with all-day breakfast bars, taco bars, and even hand-spun milkshakes. Yum!
13. Cornell University
With ten dining halls open 19 hours a day, it’s easy to get a hot meal at Cornell. That convenience comes at a price though, with the top meal plan costing over $6,500 a year. You can, however, earn free meals by becoming a mystery shopper and evaluating the dining halls — not a bad gig! Cornell also gives all students access to a registered dietician who reviews all menus to ensure there are healthy options available along with tasty options for those with special diets. Plus. the university sources food from 25 regional growers and celebrates New York farmers each September with the annual Fall Harvest Dinner.
12. University of Texas — Austin
Located in a city known for its eccentric food scene, it’s no surprise that UT Austin ranks so high on our list. In fact, it received solid marks in each category across the board, with three dining halls open 16 hours a day for just over $4,300 a year. It wouldn’t be Austin without breakfast tacos, and you can even get Texas-shaped Longhorn waffles every morning. And if you have dietary restrictions, online menus are labelled with the top eight food allergens so you know what to avoid.
11. Emory University
A great choice for cost-conscious students, Emory University has one of the lowest meal plan prices on our list at just $2,786. The dining halls are also open for a solid 14 hours each day, giving you plenty of time to sneak in a meal before class or after a late-night studying session. You can even use your Dooley Dollars at food trucks that are stationed throughout campus from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. A true foodie school, Emory’s dining website has a blog, recipes, and a well-being indicator to help keep your health and nutrition in check.
10. Boston College
Boston College has nine dining halls and you can access food for 14 hours throughout the day. You’ll pay a little bit more at BC with a full meal plan costing around $5,200 each year. But if you have a special diet, it’s a great place to eat. Its vegan “Power Bowl” recently won the bronze medal from the National Association of College and University Food Services. If you’re happy to splurge, you’ll be happy to know that BC has its own bakery on campus that creates tasty concoctions for dining halls and on-campus catered events.
9. Virginia Tech
Perhaps because it’s a public state school, Virginia Tech ranks high for low-cost dining, coming in at just $3,800 for the year. What does that get you as a student? Access to six dining halls and a variety of choices for food allergies and other restrictions. The school also continuously places in other lists for having some of the best quality food in the nation. No surprise there — you can even use your meal plan to snag meals-on-the-go from two food trucks on campus. One features Latino-fusion food like smoked pulled pork tortas and the other focuses on Asian-fusion concoctions like the chicken yaki-ramen. Who’s hungry?
8. Washington University in St. Louis
Right off the bat, Washington University announces that it is well accustomed to working with people with special dietary needs. Check. Move on to its meal plan: $4,794. OK, looking good. Hours? 18.5. What? Really? What about number of dining halls? … 3. Wow. If WU was was playing home run derby, they just hit three home runs. Nothing to be concerned with, and a lot to be excited about. Maybe they’re so awesome because they clearly know when to delegate. Like a few other colleges around the country, WU has partnered with Bon Appétit Management Company, which is a solid dining company that strives to produce healthy foods in a sustainable manner. Not only are their dishes diverse, but they’re practically superfoods. If you’re having trouble deciding between WU and another school, consider going to WU for the dining alone.
7. Pennsylvania State University— University Park
Penn State might be one of the more expensive schools on our list when it comes to dining — a full meal plan will set you back more than $5,200 a year — but the convenience is worth it. In fact, the school’s dining halls are open a full 19 hours a day, so unless you’re craving a snack in the middle of the night, you’ll probably be able to find somewhere to eat. Penn State takes that convenience one step further by creating a campus dining app for smartphones. You can use it to check out location hours and daily menus, and even create a daily food log to track your own nutrition.
6. University of Michigan — Ann Arbor
University of Michigan is another strong contender that is consistent across the board for its dining services. You’ll find a strong commitment to dietary restrictions and diverse menus, plus seven locations where you can use your meal plan that are open 14 hours a day. And the food goes well beyond the typical chicken tenders and french fries, with mouth watering options like pork carnitas, jerk tofu, and chocolate torte for dessert. You can also order a to-go meal if you’re in a hurry as well as a “feel better” meal when you’re sick or injured.
5. Ohio State University — Columbus
Low cost meal plans (just $3,700 a year) and extensive dining hours bring Ohio State towards the top of our list. You’ll find fun seasonal traditions like Steak Night that serves a NY strip steak with a plethora of side dishes, and Late Night Breakfast with treats like red velvet pancakes and creme brulee french toast. The school also boasts extensive options for vegan, vegetarians, and gluten-free students.
4. Georgia Institute of Technology
Open 19 hours a day, Georgia Institute of Technology’s dining halls features locally sourced ingredients whenever possible so you get quality food while supporting area farmers. Check out the Farm Stand at certain dining halls for whole fruits http://www.bamco.comand other mindful snacks. You can also track your nutrition through the school’s new dining app, which shows you daily menus and specials, ingredients, calories, and nutritional values. So what can you eat on campus? In addition to traditional hot entrees, you’ll find burritos, grill food, an antipasti grain bar, and more.
3. University of Minnesota — Twin Cities
University of Minnesota worked its way to number three by having solid scores in each of our categories. With several dining halls open 17 hours a day, a yearly meal plan will cost you around $4,100. The school is also jumping on the technology bandwagon with an app that allows you to pre-order your food and pick it up on the go, all from the convenience of your smartphone. If you ever have any questions about your health or nutrition, you can contact the registered dietician on staff.
2. Clemson University
Clemson offers late night hours totaling 18 hours of dining availability, not to mention a reasonable price tag at around $4,000 a year. But where Clemson really shines is its commitment to a broad range of menu options. On top of traditional dining options, you’ll also find international specialties like Korean bibimbap and a Mongolian wok. And the online menus label each selection with nutritional information and potential allergies.
1. Duke University
Duke takes the title of best dining hall with 10 locations with some offering availability a whopping 24 hours a day! Never again will you have to pull an all-nighter without the hope of some Cinnamon Toast Crunch to fuel your brain. And considering that major perk, the cost is reasonable at just around $4,600 for a year-long meal plan. At Duke, you’ll find a weekly pop-up restaurant to get your inner foodie fix, as well as a culinary lab to channel your inner top chef. If you learn best with great food in your belly, then Duke is a heavy contender.
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