Shortly after arriving on campus as students for the first time, first year students quickly find out that there are two different ways to pay for things (namely food) on and around campus. Here is my attempt at explaining the differences between the campus meal plan and LionCash.
What’s a meal plan and how do I pay for it?
If you live on campus (which you will as a first-year student unless you are from Centre County and decide to live at home), you are required to purchase a meal plan to pay for your meals on campus. The meal plan is paid for through your bursar account, meaning you pay for it in the same bill where you pay for your tuition and room charge (the meal plan is the “board” part of the “room and board” cost you’ve heard about).
What are the different levels of the meal plan? And what’s a “base cost?”
There are three different levels of meal plans for those living on campus, which all share the same base cost of $1,370 a semester for the 2017-18 school year. That base cost goes towards the 65% discount you receive when you go to dining halls on campus. On top of the base cost, you also get to choose how many dining dollars you want. See the chart below:
Where can I use my meal plan?
You can use dining dollars anywhere on campus you can buy food: dining halls, the restaurants in the HUB, Beaver Stadium, the Bryce Jordan Center, convenience stores located mostly in residence hall areas around campus, and various cafes in academic building (Au Bon Pain is a popular one).
How do I make the most of my meal plan?
The best way to get the most out of your meal plan is to eat in the dining commons (there’s one in every residence hall area) as much as possible, since you are getting the 65% discount that you already paid for in the base cost. For example, paying for dinner at a dining commons with cash would cost you $14.50; with your meal plan, it’s only $5.20 because you have already paid the base cost.
Is the meal plan based on “swipes” (number of meals per week) or on the amount of money?
At the beginning of the semester, you will have your full amount of dining dollars available. There is no limit to the amount of meal points you can spend in a week. As the semester goes on, your dining dollars balance will decrease. You can check how much money you have left on your meal plan anytime on ELiving.
So how is this different than LionCash?
The biggest difference between the two is that while a meal plan is paid for with your tuition bill and is required if you live on campus, LionCash is completely optional (although you need it to do laundry on campus!) and can be loaded on to your ID+ card at any time. In addition, while you can use both meal points and LionCash on campus, stores and restaurants downtown (click here for a full list of businesses that accept LionCash) will only accept LionCash. Since there’s no base cost associated with it, you do not get the same 65% discount that you do with the meal plan; however, you do receive a 10% at most on-campus dining locations.
What if I run out of meal points at the end of a semester?
If you run out of meal points at the end of a semester, you can use LionCash to receive the discount since you already purchased a meal plan. Conversely, if you have too many meal points left over, you can decrease the level of your meal plan. Meal points carry over from fall to spring semesters, but any unused meal points at the end of the spring semester will be lost. Throughout the semester, you’ll notice that when your total account balance flashes on the screen after you use your meal plan, it is the total amount of meal points and LionCash that you have. This makes it easier not to have to worry about running out of meal points, since you can add LionCash at any time.
While the difference between meal points and LionCash is not easily (or shortly) explained, once you’ve spent some time on campus it will all start to make a little bit more sense. Now go out and make the most of having so much food so close to your dorm!