Deciphering Dining at Ohio State

Now that you’ve had a few weeks under your belt as a first-year student at Ohio State, hopefully, you’ve used your meal plan at least once or twice.

Have you finally cracked the code to the seemingly overwhelming mess of dining dollars, BuckID cash, swipes, and visit exchanges? Have you discovered the perfect way to use your swipes and dollars each week?

No? Still confused? Don’t worry, I like to consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to budgeting and dietary needs, but even I had trouble understanding at first. Luckily for you, I’m here to show you what I wish I had known dining at Ohio State throughout my first year.

First, the Basics: Dining Dollars, BuckID Cash, and Swipes

  • Dining Dollars can be used at any student dining services locations. They are intended to give you added flexibility in what you eat and where. By using dining dollars you get a 35% discount on your purchase. Even better, they roll over every semester you are enrolled.
  • BuckID Cash can be used at any merchant that accepts BuckID both on and off-campus. This is not just restricted to food purchases. Use your ‘Ohio State’ app to look at all the available merchants.
  • Swipes (all-you-care-to-eat visits) give you access to any of the three Traditions Dining locations (Scott, Morrill, and Kennedy).
  • Visit exchanges involve exchanging a swipe for a monetary amount. At most dining locations, it is $8 to one swipe, but at C-Stores it is $5 to one swipe. For example, if I were to spend $7.50 at Union Market, instead of using Dining Dollars or BuckID cash, I could use one swipe to pay.

Now that you know what each component of a plan is, how do you choose which plan is best for you? Gray 10, Scarlet 14, or Unlimited? 

  • Gray 10, at $2,025, will give you 10 swipes each week, $200 Dining Dollars, and $150 BuckID cash.
  • Scarlet 14, at $2,412, will give you 14 swipes each week, $200 Dining Dollars, and $150 BuckID cash.
  • Unlimited, at $1,976, will give you unlimited swipes to any Traditions locations, and $100 Dining Dollars.

When I was first deciding my meal plan, I scoffed at Gray 10, thinking that it could never feed me, so I chose Scarlet 14. A few weeks into the semester, I found myself routinely having at least seven swipes left at the end of each week. So, in my second semester, I decided to switch to Gray 10, which was much more suitable for my daily intake. The meal plan that will work best for you is just that – the meal plan that will work best for you. If you choose a meal plan you’re unsatisfied with, there is a grace period each semester where you can change it – you can’t drop down to a less expensive meal plan after the second Friday of the term, but you can always bump up to a bigger plan at any time.

Alright, you’ve learned about and chosen your meal plan, and now you’re absolutely dying to know what my top 3 dining locations are, right? 

  1. The MarketPlace on Neil. In my opinion, it has the best and most versatile menu. Anything from breakfast sandwiches and coffee to sushi to oven-fired pizza.
  2. Sloopy’s Diner. If you’re craving some late-night classic diner food, Sloopy’s has got you covered.
  3. Courtside Cafe. Located in the RPAC, if you’re looking for some versatile, healthier options after a workout (or anytime), this is your best bet!

Okay, but what about dietary restrictions?

Many students at Ohio State must navigate the dining services with dietary restrictions! Although common allergies and dietary preferences are posted on menus and in Traditions, in my opinion, the best way to view ingredients is to use NetNutrition. This web tool allows you to view updated menus, nutritional facts, and filter by allergies and dietary preferences.

Struggling to find balance or what works best for you nutritionally? 

As important as it is to simply understand dining plans, it’s also important to take care of yourself. If you feel like you need some additional guidance as far as meals and eating on-campus, the best advice I could possibly give is to check out the Student Wellness Center in the RPAC. They offer free, personalized nutritional education and coaching.

Hopefully, you’ve now mastered dining at Ohio State, and if not, trust that you will soon! It’s confusing, it takes time, and it takes practice. Luckily, you get to practice multiple times a day.

Eat healthy, drink plenty of water, and as always, Go Bucks!

Bus confusion? 5 tips and 5 routes!

It’s November and it’s about to get real cold, real quick. If you are anything like I was as a freshman, the only thing I knew about the buses was that the CABS was the Campus Area Bus System and the COTA had routes throughout Columbus…but I had no idea how to use them or the difference between routes.

CABS versus COTA

If you read nothing else, here are five tips for the bus system…

CLN versus CLS

For the CLN (Campus Loop North) and CLS (Campus Loop South), the North and South references the direction the bus travels on CANNON Drive. Since it’s a loop, it goes the opposite direction on College Road (the CLN travels SOUTH on College Road, whereas the CLS travels NORTH on College Road). They make the exact same loop–just opposite directions. Also, the CLN runs on weekends, but the CLS does not (be aware that the route is slightly different on the weekends–check the Bus app for details).

CABS bus

Requesting stops

CABS: The bus will stop at every stop (so no need to pull the yellow cord).

COTA: The bus will only stop if you pull the yellow cord around the perimeter of the bus to request a stop or if someone is waiting at that COTA stop to get on the bus.

Interior of COTA

Electronic bus tracking

CABS: You can get up to date bus information on the Ohio State mobile app or the OSU Bus app. The thing I really like about the OSU Bus app is it will utilize the location services on my phone to find stops “Near Me” and give me up to date information about how many minutes until the next bus will arrive!

COTA: If you are riding the COTA, I have found the easiest way to know when a bus is coming is to utilize the Google Maps app, and then click the icon for public transportation. It will give directions of exactly where to pick up the bus, what time it is scheduled to come, how many stops to take the bus, and where to walk once I get off the bus to reach my destination. However, this information is not updated if a bus is running behind schedule, it only gives a rough estimate based on when it is scheduled to come!Bus App Screenshot

What to bring when you ride

CABS: Nothing.

COTA: Swipe your BuckID at the front of the bus OR pay $2

Always thank the bus drivers!


…and here are five routes to know…

CABS: CLN (Campus Loop North)

Where it goes: North on Cannon (by Morrill and Lincoln Towers), left on Woodruff to the Carmack parking lots, back east on Woodruff (by Knowlton and Traditions at Scott), turns right down College Road (heading south), to the Union, and then turns right down 12th Avenue (by Baker East/West and then down past Kennedy Commons), turns left on Neil (goes by Marketplace), then turns right on 9th Avenue and travels around the perimeter of the Med Center and back up Cannon.

When it runs: All day everyday! (Less frequently during at night and on weekends)

CABS: CLS (Campus Loop South)

Where it goes: Same route but opposite direction as the CLN!

When it runs: Mon-Fri, 5:30 a.m.-midnight

CABS: NE (North Express)

Where it goes: East on 17th Avenue (the street just North of the Oval), turns left on College road (north), left on Woodruff (heading west) out to the Carmack parking lots, then comes back down Woody Hayes/Woodruff (the street name changes!), and then turns right on Tuttle Park Place down to the RPAC plaza and then back up 17th again!

When it runs: Mon-Fri, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

COTA: #2 (#21 at night)

Where it goes: This bus runs up and down High Street. The different letters after the number 2 distinguish how far north and south it will go. This bus comes about every 9 minutes. The 21 is the “Night Owl” version of the 2 and comes about every 30 minutes.

When it runs: #2–everyday! #21–Thu-Sat, 7 p.m.-3 a.m. (depending where you are on the route)

COTA: #52

Where it goes: This route is the OSU Airport Express and runs a special route on peak travel days from campus to the airport. It has 6 stops around campus and then goes to the airport. Be aware that it only runs certain days of the year!

When it runs: Check this schedule for dates and times.

CABS Routes

Food For Thought

Campus dining plans at Ohio State seemingly change every year, and this year is no exception. Though the new plan may be confusing to novice users, I am going to go through each component of our current plan and share with you what I think are the best possible ways to use it!

Weekly Traditional Visits

Ohio State has three “traditions” dining facilities on campus. On South Campus you have Kennedy Commons, on North Campus you have the brand new Scott Commons, and one on West Campus is Morrill Commons. These are buffet-style facilities where you can eat as much as you want for as long as you want!

You cannot take food out of these places. You must eat inside the building. This is where you can use your Traditional Visits that you are allotted each week! Your Traditions Visits reset every Sunday night at midnight.

Your Traditional Visits can also be used at the market places on campus! We have three market places: MarketPlace (South), Union Market (South), and Curl Market (North). At these market places you can trade a traditional visit for a “market meal exchange”, which gives you your choice of select sandwiches, salads, sides, and a fountain drink…a great option if you are looking for a quick grab-and-go meal. This will save you from having to do a “$5 Exchange”, which is not cost effective at any dining location with the word “Market” in its name.

$5 Exchange

Different meal plans are comprised of different amounts of Weekly Traditional Visits (5 to unlimited). If you find that you are not using them all in a particular week (before they reset), you have the ability to exchange one for a $5 purchase at any non-traditional dining location (like Mirror Lake Creamery).

Dining Dollars

Personally, I think Dining Dollars are super cool and I wish we had them when I still had a meal plan. Dining Dollars can be used at basically all of the dining facilities on campus. Places like Sloopy’s, Oxley’s, 12th Ave. Bread Company, accept Dining Dollars as a cost efficient way to pay for your food (you’ll receive a 10 percent discount for all food purchases made with Dining Dollars). The coolest part of Dining Dollars is that they stay on your BuckID card FOREVER…well, at least until you graduate. They keep rolling over! Unlike BuckID cash, however, Dining Dollars cannot be added. If you use all of them during the semester, you cannot get more until the next semester you have a meal plan.

BuckID Cash

BuckID cash is cash that is on your BuckID that you can use at off campus locations. You can use it like a gift card, but you can always add more money on to it. Most off campus locations accept BuckID cash like Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, and even the Kroger on High Street! Some clothing stores accept it also like Pitaya! (Ladies, go to Pitaya. It is great!)

Suggestions for maximizing your dining plan

Find the deals

In my first year on campus, Kennedy Commons would have chicken finger Fridays, and my friends and I–without fail–went to every chicken finger Friday. The Traditions facilities have great food! Take advantage of it!

Try every Campus Dining location

I lived on South campus and never ate anywhere on North. The first time I ever went to Oxley’s was my sophomore year and found out how amazing it was! I no longer had a meal plan so I was never able to eat there again unless I paid for it myself.

Appreciate your meal plan!

Speaking as a senior who has had to buy her own groceries and make her own food, I can personally tell you that meal plans are the best. There is such a wide variety of food on campus and you can truly find healthy options–take advantage of all of it!