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Articles / Campus Life / College Food Rankings

Aug. 9, 2016

College Food Rankings

I often wonder if any high school seniors apply to certain colleges because of the great food those schools serve. Conversely, I also ponder whether or not anyone chooses not to apply to a college because the food is reported to be substandard.

That's an an interesting selection criterion. It may also be related to the so-called “Freshman 10" (or 15, or maybe even 20!), but that's another story.

I've written before about collegiate food quality, but thought it time to review the current “rankings." Yes, something as subjective as food can be ranked, probably because some college food can be called rank.

Of course, no blog post of mine would be complete without an insipidly boring retrospective of (turn on the echo machine for another exciting episode of) How It Was When I Went To College. As all my devoted readers know, I attended two institutions of higher learning before nailing down (some have said “cobbling together") my degree.

I spent my freshman year at a small liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania. At the end of that year, I couldn't decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, rather than waste further time and money, allowing my grades to plummet due to my unsettled focus, and possibly get drafted into the military and sent to Vietnam, I withdrew and joined the Navy to avoid the draft. My strategy and budding sailor career promptly took me to Vietnam … twice. You gotta love it when a plan comes together.

Anyway, after my sailing days (daze?) ended, I transferred to Penn State University, which was at the opposite end of the spectrum from my little liberal arts school. So, I've seen both types of higher-learning environments: small colleges and huge universities.

What did I notice about the food back then? Well, it was certainly nothing like it is today. Maybe that's because I wasn't paying every year as much as a new Corvette costs these days. Food rankings did not exist and students weren't looking for or even sometimes demandingepicurean perks. We were just happy to have a hot dog or a piece of pizza.

The one thing that stands out in my memory of freshman year is the name of the guy who was head of food services at our little college: Mr. Bloodgood. Yikes. We used to conjure images of him working in the kitchen preparing meals. Those imaginations were less than appetizing. Maybe that's why I spent so much time school evenings at Hilltop Sub Shop. I've written about that here too. The HSS is where my lifelong affair with mayonnaise began. Maybe I'll write about that some day (I'll give you advance warning).

After my time at Penn State, I was able to deduce a rough theory about colleges and their food. It appeared to me, from my micro-sample, that the smaller the school, the better the food. That is, there seemed to be an inverse relationship between food quality and school size: smaller = better; bigger = less good.

And that brings me to Best College Food. “The 2016 Best College Food ranking is based on meal plan costs and student reviews. Top ranked colleges offer outstanding on-campus dining – students can easily access healthy, quality food across a wide range of cuisines and dietary preferences."

Of course, noting the high level of subjectivity associated with judging food, you may be wondering how these experts went about creating their rankings. Here's a peek into the rationale:

The Best College Food ranking provides a comprehensive assessment of the quality and cost of on-campus dining options. This grade takes into account key factors such as average meal plan cost and student reviews in an attempt to measure the caliber of and student satisfaction with campus food options.

1713 Colleges Assessed

At the time of analysis, our database contained records for 1,713 public and private, traditional four-year colleges and universities across the United States. For the purposes of this ranking, a “traditional" college is considered to be any accredited, non-profit post-secondary institution that primarily offers four-year degree programs (as opposed to two-year or less). Some colleges were not included in this ranking if: (1) they were not located in one of the 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, or the District of Columbia; (2) they had fewer than 100 full-time undergraduate students; or (3) they had insufficient data (see below). Of the colleges that met the required qualifications, we were able to grade 1,378 and rank 1,071 …

Factors Considered

Student Surveys on Campus DiningStudent opinions about the quality of the campus food at the college they currently or recently attend(ed). Includes 95,612 reviews and opinions from 85,562 unique students. Minimum 10 unique students required at each college.Self-reported by Niche users85.0%
Average Meal Plan CostAverage cost of meal plan, as reported by the college.U.S. Department of Education15.0%

Statistics obtained from the U.S. Department of Education represent the most recent data available, usually from either 2013–2014 or 2014–2015, as self-reported by the colleges.

Without further ado, then, let's take a look at at the 2016 Top-10 food schools. along with some supporting details.

10. Skidmore College

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.4 out of 5 48
Average Meal Plan Cost$5,162

9. Cornell University

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.3 out of 5 116
Average Meal Plan Cost$5,566

8. University of Georgia

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.2 out of 5 306
Average Meal Plan Cost$3,956

7. Gustavus Adolphus College

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.3 out of 5 49
Average Meal Plan Cost$3,290

6. California Baptist University

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.2 out of 5 160
Average Meal Plan Cost$4,430

5. James Madison University

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.2 out of 5 188
Average Meal Plan Cost$4,632

4. Bowdoin College

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.6 out of 5 42
Average Meal Plan Cost$6,796

3. University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.3 out of 5 227
Average Meal Plan Cost$4,820

2. Washington University in St. Louis

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.6 out of 5 90
Average Meal Plan Cost$4,666

1. Virginia Tech

Student Surveys on Campus Dining4.5 out of 5 183
Average Meal Plan Cost$3,624


Looking back over the Top 10 here rather puts the kibosh to my smaller-is-better theory. However, you can check out the complete list, which is ten times longer than the above Top 10. You can also search by state and each school has a link for more details.

Penn State, by the way, comes in at #62. I think that's appropriate. I didn't see Mr. Bloodgood's school listed, so I can't tell if his efforts made a long-term difference (Dave said humorously).

So, ask your stomach where it would like to spend its next four years (or more). Then, go with your gut, so to speak.


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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