10 Ways To Get Free Food in College

by Broke Grad on September 22, 2008

Even though I’m no longer a college student, the appeal of free food still hasn’t worn off. Why does the exact same pizza taste so much better when you get it for free? Maybe it’s just one of life’s many mysteries.

While we may never solve that mystery, there’s another issue at hand that I can definitely help you out with — finding ways to get free food in college. With 8 years of college under my belt, here are some tips for finding free food on or around your campus.

1. Join a club
Campus clubs will often have free food at their meetings throughout the school year. In some cases, you actually have to be a member of the club, but other times they’ll throw events that are open to all students. Go for the food, and who knows? You may even meet some interesting people and learn something new.

2. Participate in the fraternity rush
Just because you participate in the frat rush doesn’t mean you have to join a fraternity. What it does mean is that you’ll get free food almost every day of the week as you visit the different frat houses. I did this with a few friends my freshman year, and while a lot of them ended up joining fraternities, I didn’t. The free food was awesome though. Sorry, girls, sororities usually skip the free food and activities for their rush.

3. Go to campus events and activities
Throughout the school year, colleges have various events, activities, fundraisers, etc., and there’s usually some free food involved. I’ve had everything from free cheesecake to free BBQ. Be sure to show up early though, because the food at these events tends to run out fast.

4. Check out art openings
It’s hard to mention art without mentioning wine and cheese. Stay on the lookout for gallery openings and new exhibits on or near your campus. These events are almost always stocked with wine, cheese, and other treats. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you actually appreciate the art as well.

5. Go to restaurants on free food days
Some restaurants give out free food throughout the year. Check your campus paper for coupons and ads. Over the years, I’ve happily devoured my fair share of free Chipotle burritos, and I’ve stood in line for free ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s on their annual free cone day. Speaking of free ice cream, Cold Stone is giving out free ice cream on September 25th from 5:00-8:00 PM.

6. Become a regular
If you frequent a place enough, you should get to know the owner, manager, and waitstaff. While you shouldn’t expect to eat an entire meal for free, I’ve gotten free appetizers, drinks, etc. in the past. It’s even better if you already know someone who works there, because you get the free food benefits immediately.

7. Shop at a grocery store with free samples
I’m not suggesting that you make a trip to a grocery store just for the free samples, but at some stores, you could almost make an entire meal out of them. Stores usually have more samples out during the weekends, so if you’re up for braving the crowds, you can enjoy a miniature feast while restocking your supply of ramen noodles.

8. Find a boyfriend/girlfriend
If you’ve got a significant other, you’re pretty much guaranteed free food on at least one day of the year — your birthday. Then there are those other days like Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, half-birthdays, or whatever other crazy things you choose to celebrate. Depending on your relationship, you’ll either get free food or the satisfaction of paying for your partner’s free food.

9. Go to a thesis defense
It’s no secret that free food is the best bait for graduate students. In my graduate program, students typically provide free snacks at their thesis defense. Of course, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth sitting through an entire thesis defense for a couple of donuts. The other option is to show up at the end and scavenge the leftovers.

10. Go dumpster diving
This is the only tip on this list that I’ve never done myself, but from what I’ve read, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Bakeries and bagel shops are popular targets for dumpster divers, since many of them throw away perfectly good day old items. Grocery stores are another great target, because they throw out “expired” goods, which could be anything from aged produce to cases of wine.

For even more tips and ideas on how to get free food in college, check out these articles:

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Blake September 22, 2008 at 7:24 am

Nice tips. While it’s not free, since I’ve already paid in advance for all my meals, I try to get as much for my money as possible from the dining hall. I stock up on fruit to last me through the weekend and for snacking during the day, fill up tupperware’s with cereal, and fill up a bottle with milk. It really helps cut down on outside food expenses.

I once saw a guy in our cafeteria fill up an empty 1 jug at the milk dispenser. haha.

2 Young Money Talks September 22, 2008 at 11:10 am

Free food must be the name of the game today. There’s a post on WiseBread about the freebies from Cold Stone and their sister companies as part of their benefit for the Make a Wish Foundation.
I’ve gotta say, Number 4 on this list cracked me up. Back in my days as a gallery assistant, we always joked about the “eaters” who showed up at our openings for free food and wine. And trust me, there were a number of people who never even bothered to look at the art!

3 Craig September 22, 2008 at 1:52 pm

I’ve never heard of free food days at restaurants, but clubs is definitely the place for free food. I would go to meetings even when I wasn’t hungry. Another great place for free food are tailgates. I went to a big sports school that had the best tailgates in the country for football games. We would always small talk with the older people next to our spot and they would always offer us some of their delicious food, which was usually a lot better than our standard burgers.


4 Doctor S September 22, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Great post! Becoming a regular at a place is a very underrated idea. What college student’s sometimes do not realize is many small food shops love to meet new college students and build friendships with them. I had a little pizza place in college that I at least stopped by every single day even if I was not eating. They will always appreciate someone coming in and talking to them. Stuff like that is underrated in college and it makes you feel good when you look back! Great list. Be easy

5 UK Insurance News September 26, 2008 at 3:02 pm

I’m amazed at how I lived off next to nothing when I was in college. We’re talking lots of potatoes and mac-n-cheese. Went from having 6-pack abs to 60 pounds-o-flab in about 5 months!

Ok, this may not exactly be a tip but hey, this is what I did during the school breaks (until the semester started again). I may regret saying this but….I had a Texaco card and would literally buy my milk, bread, whatever crap they had in their freezers til I got my student loans a few weeks later to pay the balance. I’ll never eat a gas station burrito again!

6 Value For Your Life September 27, 2008 at 6:24 pm

The year my husband was away at school in England, he lived in an international student residence that also doubled as a B & B and meeting centre. When he and his classmates would return home from classes, they would hang out in the lounge next to the conference rooms, and as soon as the meetings were over they would sneak in and grab all of the leftover goodies before the staff could come in to clean it all up! I think those sandwiches, pastries, and drinks were the only way they survived in the midst of all of the bland cafeteria food they had to eat :)

7 Mary@SimplyForties September 28, 2008 at 8:43 am

At my son’s college all the on-campus church groups or centers offer a free meal one night a week for their fellowship night. The nights are usually staggered so, theorectically, you could have a free dinner almost every night of the week. Seems like it would be a good way to meet some people, too.

8 Vickie October 23, 2008 at 10:43 am

This blog illustrates an American approach to the same concepts we attempt to establish. Our blog is also composed of underlying principles that serve as a guide to one’s experience as a first year at university.

9 Amy Pattison-Emms October 24, 2008 at 1:10 pm

This blog shares similar characteristics to my South African university blog in an indirect way. Its focuses on money and the way in which students can handle this specific issue while our blog deals with varying issues. I really enjoyed reading this blog as it deals with issues in a way in which the reader knows that it’s written from personal experience. It addresses different issues by connecting the issues to money saving tips. I agree that those money saving methods are effective and being at university is the only time when you may use these methods and not be shunned and considered a cheap-skate. These tips are written in a humorous way similar to our blog’s writing style. If you’re interesting in this sort of entertaining information then my blog is the place to visit.

10 Monevator December 4, 2008 at 4:22 pm

The best place to eat for free in college is when a company comes to town recruiting. If you’re at a fairly prestigious place and can bluff a bit, I think you could go without buying dinner for three nights out of five through December. Obviously you’ll have to pretend to be interested in everything from oil services to stockbroking to get your hands on the canapes. Plus you have to have no shame!

11 Ron Simon March 29, 2009 at 5:03 pm

I actually wrote a book called How to Get Free Food in College (which sold very well), almost 10 years ago..same stuff and more ..check it out on Amazon, barnes and noble etc……

12 FreeFoodatOU September 1, 2009 at 10:56 am

Stop paying for food. Free Food at OU is a resource for Oakland University students to find events on campus that offer free food. Oakland University is located in Rochester Hills, MI.

13 Greg February 3, 2011 at 3:41 am

Another great way to find free food at college is through this website: http://food-bot.com. It has an automated computer program which uses AI to find free food events in emails and posts them on the website for college students to enjoy!

14 Mei Nga March 11, 2011 at 9:38 am

ultimate smoocher.

15 Diane October 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

Good to know I did not know it was possible to get free food there were plenty of nights me and my roommate ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. Great post!

16 in hoa don November 24, 2011 at 9:54 am

I once saw a guy in our cafeteria fill up an empty 1 jug at the milk dispenser. haha.

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