The OTHER big college decisions: housing, meal plans and transportation


Decisions, decisions. Your student will be making a lot of them now that they’re getting ready for college — from the really big decisions like which school to choose and what to major in, to smaller decisions like which scholarships they should apply for.

But there are certain decisions your student will need to make that are just as important, but don’t always make the headlines. We’ll break each one down and help you help your student make the best choices for them.

Where am I going to live?

Your student needs to decide whether they’ll be living on or off campus. Many colleges require first-year students to live on campus, so we’re going to focus on that. (If you’re wondering why on-campus living is often required, it’s because students who live on campus are generally more connected and more likely to graduate than students who live off campus.)

Your student’s college will have a deadline for when they need to secure their housing, so first off, make sure your student is aware of what that deadline is. If they meet it, they are more likely to get the accommodations they want. 

Next, they’ll need to choose their residence hall and room style. Many colleges place students from the same program into the same residence hall, so your student’s residence hall choice might be limited — you could say the residence hall chooses the student. But they’ll probably get to choose their floor plan. Make sure they consider all the options, as well as the pros and cons of each floor plan. They’ll also want to be aware of room costs. Room styles vary and as with most things, the more coveted styles cost the most.

Additionally, your student will want to learn about the amenities their room and residence hall offer. Are cable and utilities included? What about a refrigerator and microwave? If your student likes to cook, is there a community kitchen? How about recreation spaces? 

What am I going to eat?

If your student is living on campus, they’ll likely eat most of their meals on campus, too. College dining halls offer a variety of meal plans, so your student will need to carefully consider which plan makes the most sense for them. Here are some questions they should ask:

  • How many meals per day do I see myself eating on campus?
  • How many times per week will I eat a meal from a restaurant?
  • Will I be eating any meals at home or at a friend’s residence?
  • What type of food and how much of it will I keep in my dorm room?
  • What will I do for meals when the dining hall is closed?
  • Will I ever want to treat a friend to a meal in the dining hall?

If your student works out a realistic idea of when and where they plan to eat each day, they’ll be in a better position to choose the dining hall meal plan that works best for them.

How am I going to get around?

Another decision your student may have to make is whether they need to bring a car to college. The answer depends on several factors. 

First, your student should consider whether they’ll be living on or off campus. If they live on campus and everything they’re going to need (think: grocery store, pharmacy, entertainment) is within walking or biking distance, or if the town has a robust public transportation system, they might opt to leave the car at home. If they’re living a mile or more off campus and they don’t have a convenient bus or rail line nearby, then bringing a car might be the way to go.

But fair warning — with a car comes costs. Costs for parking, costs for maintenance and repairs, costs for gas and insurance. All this has to be taken into consideration when deciding if a car is worth bringing to college.

Your student should also consider transportation options for getting around campus. Will they walk? Ride a bike? Skateboard or scooter? And if they are going to rely on wheels, does the campus have any zones where wheels are prohibited?

Once your student decides on their housing, meal plan and transportation, they’ll be that much closer to starting a successful first college year.