While some universities work on a meals-per-week plan, GW’s system is a little different and much more convenient. At the beginning of the semester, freshmen and sophomores must purchase a meal plan, which works as a declining debit card. Freshmen are required to use a $1,700 a semester plan. This plan includes a $1,000 credit to spend at any on- or off-campus venue that accepts the GW Colonial Cash meal plan. There is then $700 mandatory dining dollars—more commonly referred to as J Street money—to be spent in a few specific dining venues, primarily the J Street food court in the student center. Non-food items can be purchased with the $1,000 of Colonial Cash at participating stores like the GW Bookstore and CVS. Any extra mandatory dining dollars are carried over from the fall semester to the spring semester, but not from the spring to fall. Remaining money from the $1,000 can be carried over to the following year.
Although students like the convenience of GW’s non-mandatory part of the meal plan—no one tells them what to eat or when to eat it—what gets the most protests from students is the fact that they are required to spend $700 per semester in a food court that they get sick of very quickly. The University is frequently attempting to address the problem, adding in new options and offering more variety. J Street, the large food court in the Marvin Center, offers Chinese, pizza, pasta, burritos, Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, and more. For students who quickly tire of these greasy fast food restaurants, the food court offers a sandwich bar, limited juices, grocery items. There is also J Street Café, a pay-by-the-pound dining venue with rotating hot entrées, a salad bar, fresh fruit, and a few kosher options. Perhaps because of the variety offered, students usually complain about the quality of the food as well as the price, even though the Colonial Cash exempts students from DC’s 10 percent sales tax at on-campus locations. The ease and convenience of GW’s meal plan is a perk that many transfer students coming from a university with a single cafeteria enjoy, even if most GW students gripe about the lack of variety, healthy options, and price.