Nobody ever said that college was easy. With tests, book lists, and seemingly endless assignments, college students are under a whole lot of stress. Sometimes all that’s needed at the end of a long day is a good meal, but unfortunately, they can’t always get it. Let’s face it: College dining halls are typically not culinary havens. Thankfully, though, there are more than a few colleges across the country that go above and beyond when it comes to their dining services. From schools that have their own vegetable gardens to ones that host chef demonstrations and serve only food that’s made in small batches from scratch, we’ve tracked down the 75 best colleges for food in America.
75 Best Colleges for Food in America for 2015 (Slideshow)
This is our fourth annual ranking of the best colleges for food. Over the years, the list expanded from 52 colleges in 2012 to 60 colleges in 2013 to 75 colleges in 2014. To assemble our ranking, we started out with a full list of roughly 2,000 colleges, and after rigorous research and outreach to their dining services, we narrowed that list down to about 300 contenders. These standout colleges were highly respected for a variety of reasons across the country, and had dining programs that caught our attention. After that, we ranked the final 75 by scoring each of those colleges on the below criteria:
Nutrition and Sustainability: The college makes consistent efforts to ensure that its food is well-balanced as well as tasty, and is healthy not just for the students, but for the environment as well.
Accessibility and Service: The college accommodates all dietary preferences, has a variety of options for students to choose from, and makes sure that the dining options are conveniently located near students’ dorms. Dining program has on-campus eateries that are open late at night, and meal plans let students purchase off-campus food.
MORE ON COLLEGE FOOD 52 Best Colleges for Food in America 60 Best Colleges for Food in America for 2013 75 Best Colleges for Food in America for 2014 The 25 Best Colleges for Tailgating 25 Best College Bars in America Education and Events: The college offers nutrition and culinary education to every student on campus and holds food-centered events to foster community and break the monotony of the dining experience.
Surrounding Area: Students have access to exciting and vast food options in the area surrounding the college and can access it easily. We compiled information from Yelp to grade colleges on the quality and accessibility of all the food around campuses within a five-mile radius.
The “X” Factor: These are the little extras that made our jaws drop and prove that these colleges really go above and beyond and get genuinely creative.Even though the actual quality of the food was extremely important in our ranking, the overall dining experience, including the surrounding area, is what really determined which colleges made the cut and which didn’t.
Even though the actual quality of the food was extremely important in our ranking, the overall dining experience, including the surrounding area, is what really determined which colleges made the cut and which didn’t. Surprisingly, it wasn’t only the Ivy League schools that came out on top; smaller colleges often had better programs that could cater to each and every student’s need due to their lower population.
The nine newcomers this year include the University of South Carolina, which uses no frozen foods and has nine certified executive chefs on campus; Rhode Island School of Design, which builds recipes around seasonal ingredients and offers pizza delivery until 12:30 a.m.; and Georgia Tech, which has a completely sustainable food program and recently rebranded its dining halls as “community restaurants.” Other first-time inductees include UNC Chapel Hill, the University of Southern California, Ball State, Northeastern, Duquesne, and Tulane.
Slideshow: 75 Best Colleges for Food in America for 2015 The Northeast has the most colleges on our list, with 26, followed by the West and South, with 16 schools each. 10 schools from the Midwest made the cut, and seven are in the Mid-Atlantic. Health-conscious California has more ranked schools than any other state, with 15; followed by Massachusetts with seven; New York and Pennsylvania with five schools each; and Connecticut, Georgia, and Maine with four schools each. One more Southern school made the cut this year than last year, along with one additional Northeastern school, two fewer Mid-Atlantic schools, and one fewer Midwestern school. The amount of Western schools on the list remained the same.
The schools on our list really make an effort to ensure that students are well-fed with healthy, sustainable food in unique preparations. Schools including UC San Diego, Tulane, University of Washington, and NYU have food trucks stationed on campus daily; Yale, University of Washington, Purdue, Dickinson, Stanford, and Mills boast on-campus farms; Bates, UCLA, and Northeastern all have dining halls that have been Certified Green by the Green Restaurant Association; and schools including Johns Hopkins, Tulane, Purdue, Northeastern, and Columbia host regular chef cooking demonstrations and classes.
Students across the country are becoming more mature in their tastes and more demanding in what they expect of their higher education dining experience. They want their food to taste great, to be fun, and to be sustainable, and these colleges are stepping up to the challenge. If you’re a food lover who wants to go to a college that’s as passionate about food as you are, then you might want to get those transfer forms ready after you check out our picks for the 75 Best Colleges for Food in America.
75 Tulane University, New Orleans
Is this a dining hall or restaurant?
New Orleans is one of the finest cities for food in America, and Tulane is located right in the heart of it. While students can venture off campus to eat if they’d like, Tulane’s dining halls provide everything they need. All items are made from scratch, and their late-night City Diner, open daily from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., serves a famous 16-ounce “Big City Pancake” on a pizza tray along with New Orleans staples like shrimp and grits, po’boys, chicken and sausage jambalaya, and red beans and rice. Their popular on-campus food truck, Ironsides, specializes in waffle sandwiches, and it’ll soon be joined by a second food truck called Rouler that serves New Orleans street food. Their main dining hall was remodeled this summer, cooking demonstrations are held regularly at a special demo kitchen, produce is purchased from several local farms, a weekly farmers market is held on campus, and students can use their “NOLA Bucks” to purchase food at 25 off-campus restaurants.
74 Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Customized salads are made to order.
Feel like watching behind-the-scenes videos about what goes on in the dining hall? At Boston College you can, with the school's Kitchen Confidential web series. And if that isn’t enough, you can also take a virtual nutrition tour that assesses popular nutrition facts and topics, all with the intent of educating and encouraging students to lead a healthy and happy life. Boston College also hosts a Featured Chef Series to expose students to the dishes of such culinary celebrities as Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, and Giada De Laurentiis, prepared by the dining staff. Clearly this school knows how to please its students. Click here for the 73 top colleges for food.
Did we miss any? Let us know! Leave us a comment or send us an email about food on your campus and we’ll consider it for next year.
Additional reporting by Sidney Harrison.
75 Tulane University, New Orleans
74 Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
73 University of Southern California, Los Angeles
72 University of California, Irvine, Irvine, Calif.
71 California Baptist University, Riverside, Calif.
70 Carleton College, Northfield, Minn.
69 Duquesne University, Pittsburgh
68 California State University, Chico, Calif.
67 Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pa.
66 Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I.
65 Colby College, Waterville, Maine
64 Southern Methodist University, Dallas
63 College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine
62 Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.
61 Saint Anselm College, Manchester, N.H.
60 Saint Lawrence University, Canton, N.Y.
59 University of Washington, Seattle
58 Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.
57 University of Delaware, Newark, Del.
56 UNC Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C.
55 Tufts University, Medford, Mass.
54 University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, Calif.
53 Northeastern University, Boston
52 Bates College, Lewiston, Maine
51 Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt.
50 Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
49 Roger Williams University, Bristol, R.I.
48 Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pa.
47 Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, Calif.
46 University of Houston, Houston
45 Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa.
44 Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.
43 UC Davis, Davis, Calif.
42 Connecticut College, New London, Conn.
41 Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
40 Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla.
39 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.
38 Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn.
37 Carroll University, Waukesha, Wis.
36 University of Chicago, Chicago
35 University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn.
34 Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.
33 High Point University, High Point, N.C.
32 Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.
31 Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis
30 University of San Diego, San Diego, Calif.
29 University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
28 UC Berkeley, Berkeley, Calif.
27 Pitzer College, Claremont, Calif.
26 Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
25 St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.
24 Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
23 University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.
22 University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y.
21 Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
20 UC San Diego, San Diego
19 Brown University, Providence, R.I.
18 Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
17 UCLA, Los Angeles, Calif.
16 University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.
15 James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.
14 Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
13 UMass Amherst, Amherst, Mass.
12 Mills College, Oakland, Calif.
11 Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
10 Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.
9 Boston University, Boston
8 Occidental College, Los Angeles
7 New York University, New York City
6 Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
5 Duke University, Durham, N.C.
4 Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Ga.
3 Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
2 Columbia University, New York City
1 Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine