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College Guide to Spending Thanksgiving Alone

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Thanksgiving break is right around the corner! Most empty nesters (AKA parents) have been looking forward to their children’s return from school since, oh, Move-in Day, but some collegians will be staying put and spending Thanksgiving on campus for one reason or another.

If you fall into that category, our College Guide to Spending Thanksgiving Alone will help prevent you from boo-hooing into your dining hall turkey.

Drumroll … Thanksgiving Break is Here!

For most college students, Thanksgiving break is honestly a break—the opportunity to take a breather from classes and studying. Students who are living on campus or in off-campus apartments generally return to their parents’ or families’ homes for the November holiday. From the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through the Sunday (or even Monday) after, it’s perfectly acceptable to do little more than stuff yourself silly on turkey and pumpkin pie, watch football, visit with friends and family, and hit the Black Friday sales for some hardcore holiday bargain shopping. Oh, and eat plenty of leftovers. Let’s not forget the leftovers!

Primarily celebrated in the United States and Canada (although on different days of the year) some international students stay on campus because their cultures do not celebrate Thanksgiving.

Other students who would like to go home are simply unable to make the trip for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Home is just too far away, making the drive too long for a mini-vacation so soon before the semester’s end
  • Gas prices are too pricy to justify a road trip
  • Airline ticket prices tend to skyrocket during the holidays
  • A last-minute emergency pops up, making the trip impossible

Celebrating Thanksgiving at School

Classes are cancelled on most college campuses during the week of Thanksgiving. Some schools do close their residence halls as well, but if you’re allowed to stay on campus and find yourself needing to do so, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself.

A lot of people experience a bout with the winter blues, and the holidays can be a stressful time of year. But if you don’t feel bummed out that you’re spending Turkey Day at school—some people don’t have families or don’t get along with their families—that’s okay, too.

Whatever your situation may be, here are some tips and tricks for spending Thanksgiving alone:

First and foremost, make sure you’re allowed to be on campus. As mentioned above, some schools do close the residence halls, requiring students to go home or find alternative living arrangements during Thanksgiving Break.

Find out if food will be available on campus. Even if the dorms are accessible, the dining halls might be closed due to lack of employees. But if you attend a large state university with multiple cafeterias and food courts, there’s a chance that something will be open. Just be sure to find out ahead of time, or you could wind up eating ramen in your room.

Decide what you’ll eat for Thanksgiving Dinner. If you’re able to eat on campus—and you have no qualms about eating college cafeteria food for Turkey Day—there’s not much to worry about. Some colleges even offer Thanksgiving buffets for students who are staying on campus. But if you’d prefer something a little better, you’ll need to make alternate arrangements. A few ideas:

  • Pick up a ready-to-go meal from a supermarket or restaurant. Even though it’s a big holiday, some grocery stores and some restaurants will be open. Many supermarket delis offer pre-cooked holidays meals with turkey, mashed potatoes, and all the usual favorites; many restaurants offer traditional Thanksgiving meals, too.
  • Cook your own meal. Many modern residence halls are complete with full kitchens for student use. If you’re not the only person who will be staying in the dorm (or even if you are, and you don’t mind cooking for one) you could cook your own food at school. It may not be as good as Mom’s or Grandma’s, but it’s probably better than nothing.
  • Eat with local friends. Chances are you have at least a few friends who live in town and commute to school. If you’re friendly enough—translation, you have spent time together outside of class on several occasions—you might be able to score an invite to their family’s Thanksgiving festivities. Being annoyed by someone else’s relatives is almost as much fun as being annoyed by your own! Don’t forget to bring a (grocery store) pie to score big points with the host.

Make Your Non-Food Plans

There’s more to Thanksgiving Break than food. Even students who claim they’ve got massive amounts of studying to do will wind up with some down time before classes start again.

If it looks like you’ll be alone for most of the holiday—your hall mates will all be gone and you don’t have any local commuter friends—you could always volunteer at a shelter or church. And if that’s not your thing, that’s okay, too. If the weather permits, you could do a bit of sightseeing in your “new” hometown. If your wallet permits, you could even do a bit of Black Friday shopping.

Going home after all?

Prepare Yourself: 10 Things to Expect During Thanksgiving Break


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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