As she walked onto the campus, welcomed by the bright red doors of each building, Hannah Seewald, 17, instantly felt life. The bulletin boards overflowed with flyers advertising shows and club events, and the dining hall had two stories, offering endless sports to camp out on all day long. Amongst the fascinating book sculpture and enormous dining hall, though, what caught Seewald’s attention was that she could really see herself as a Muhlenberg student.
Heading into her Muhlenberg College – a small school in Allentown Pennsylvania – tour, Seewald had no idea what to expect. “The students and faculty alike were filled with passion,” Seewald said. “For such a small school, the opportunities seemed endless.”
As such, college applicants often consider affordability, availability of a desired program, reputation and academic quality, career outcomes, value of education for cost, feeling of fit, proximity to home, among others, according to The Chronicle for Higher Education.
Academic reputation, graduate job outcomes, possibility of financial aid, cost, and visits to the campus were the top five factors students thought most influenced their final college lists, according to U.S. News. Considering one’s social – classmates, professors, and faculty – and academic environments – offered departments and areas of study – should be considered, according to Forbes.
Diversity, student-to-faculty ratio, sorority life, athletics, clubs, and weather are additional considerations for most students, as Quan Pham, senior at The Hill School in Pottstown, PA, said.
“Really, the colleges I’m looking at all sort of reside within this ‘bracket’ of quality,” Pham said. “That means I mainly look at the campus and the social environment of the school. I don’t really mind the weather because I’m not that picky, but the location in terms of proximity to cities is one super important thing.”
While both Seewald and Pham began their college search process junior year and visited numerous schools, they, as with the majority of college applicants, have not yet considered the food options for their four or so years away from home. Dining halls are an essential part of colleges, although there may only be one as with Swarthmore College, so such an accommodation may often be taken for granted.
A Washington Post article discusses a potential outcome of such disregard. Caleb Torres, a first-generation college student, lost seven pounds during his freshman year. Torres ended up skipping meals halfway through the year since he ran out of grocery money, all because he did not enjoy the dining hall food.
Furthermore, 36 percent of students at 66 surveyed colleges and universities do not get enough to eat. Such hunger might only worsen as the cost for housing and utilities too increase.
“I only started considering food once I went to the Syracuse Open House, and they let us eat at a dining hall for free,” Seewald said. “They had many fresh fruits and vegetables and a variety of options for those with allergies and diets. After that, I started to look into dining plans and dining halls at schools, but it still isn’t my priority.”
While Pham agreed with Seewald on dining options not being quintessential, he considers food variety a part of the once-in-a-lifetime college experience. “All the local food is super important to me,” Pham said. “I don’t want to eat in one dining hall for the entirety of my college career. College is all about discovery and experimenting with things, and food is part of that experience.”
While students often cannot eat at the dining hall as part of their school tours or predict the quality of a school’s dining hall(s), countless credible sources rank the worst and best college foods for students. Niche, a source cited by Business Insider, for example, ranks the best college foods in America for 2019, while The Daily Meal rates the ten of the worst. According to these websites, Ohio Northern University is fifth in the list of ten, and Virginia Tech has the #1 best.
“If [they] go to a place with lots of diversity and taste in local food and international food, that’s a win-win situation,” Pham said. “At least that’s how I see it,” he added.
Seewald, for one, suggests that college students learn how to cook. Whether it be a simple dorm-made meal or an attempted recreation of a savory homemade meal, cooking can help students minimize their expenses. “My mom always says that Japanese curry isn’t hard to make, so I think I should write down the recipe and attempt it myself before I go to college,” Seewald said. “I want to know I can make myself my favorite comfort food.”
Jenny Huh, Grade 12