The five years I spent as a student at BYU hold some of my greatest memories. I met lifelong friends, the love of my life, and learned so much. It truly was an experience I look back on often, and I wish hadn’t gone by so quickly.
My little brother just found out a few days ago that he was accepted to BYU, and I was SO excited to hear the news. He’s worked so hard to be able to get admitted and that hard work has paid off. I’m so excited for all the adventures he has ahead of him next fall (though we are going to miss him so much!)
I started writing this post almost a year ago, and I never got around to finishing it! Since I know there’s a lot of high school seniors who just got the news that they got into BYU, I thought this would be the perfect time to publish it. This is a little guide to BYU (geared toward freshman, but hopefully others can find value in it as well.) I don’t know everything about BYU, but I did spend a lot of time there. I’m sure things have changed even since I graduated in April of 2013, but hopefully some of this tips are applicable!
To start, I thought I’d share this little meme I saw awhile back that kind of made me laugh:
While some of these are a bit exaggerated, I think anyone that went to BYU can relate. Regardless, it is a great school, and I’m proud to be an alumna of it. Before I started BYU, I joined a group on Facebook called “BYU Freshman 2008,” where I was able to connect with a bunch of other incoming freshman. To this day, some of the people in that group are still my friends, and it helped me to get so excited about the new adventure I was about to embark on. I don’t know if groups like that still exist, but I think it helped me make the transition to college life much smoother. Because of that, I feel like it’s so important to have some kind of guide or mentor when starting school, no matter where you are at!
As I mentioned, I was at BYU for five years (I got married and had a baby during that time, so give me some slack), and I feel like I got to know the campus and campus life fairly well. My freshman year was one of my favorites, and I think it often is for many students. Without further adieu, here are a few tips!
This post turned out to be much longer than I initially anticipated, so I split it into different sections. Here are the different sections, as well as what they cover, in case you want to skip around:
Part One: Housing and Food
Part Two: Classes and Paying for College and Jobs
Part Three: Fun and Entertainment/Freebies and Deals
Part Four: Studying, Spiritual, Transportation, and Miscellaneous Tips
On-Campus Housing at BYU
I highly recommend staying on-campus during your freshman year. While this isn’t always an option for some, I think it’s one of the best ways to adjust to college life and meet new people. Most people in on-campus housing are new students, and they are mostly eager to enjoy college!
(This section was recently updated May 1, 2020 by my brother, Michael, who is currently a Senior at BYU)
I stayed at Heritage Halls my freshman year, and I was really impressed! It honestly felt like I was staying at a hotel, minus the maid service. They are apartment style, rather than the traditional college dorm layout. This is especially nice for people who enjoy cooking, as there is a complete kitchen in every apartment.
There is also a living room, which is the perfect size to hang out with friends of both sex (as long as it is within the curfew hours). I have some fun memories of movie nights and game nights in the living room while staying at Heritage Halls!
All of the buildings are within 15 years old, with the newest ones being completed this year. So, these are basically the nicest apartments that you will stay in while attending BYU!
However, one thing to keep in mind is that some of the Heritage Buildings are super close to the other buildings on campus, while others require quite a walk. I lived in Building 15, which was right in the middle of Heritage Halls.
I stayed at Helaman Halls once during EFY, and it was fun. Most of my friends from high school stayed here, and it’s where I initially signed up for housing. It’s definitely the traditional college experience – you usually have one other roommate but a whole floor full of people to mingle with! Your room is smaller – usually it has a sink and two beds in it (unless you are in a share suite – then you will share a bathroom with another room.) It leads out into a long hallway.
Everyone I know who lived in Helaman really enjoyed it. You definitely are forced to get to know people, but that can be fun! Your only options for eating is at the Cannon Commons Center (or at another place on campus), which might get kind of old…but if you make friends with people in Heritage, maybe they’ll let you use their kitchen. I believe that they have an oven in the basement that you can use sometimes.
There are some great common areas downstairs which are good for hanging out with people, especially of the opposite sex. I believe there are visiting hours where the opposite sex can be in your room, but I’m not sure what they are!
As I was looking at the on-campus housing website, these are only available to people who have turned 19 before January 1st, 2015. They are considered “on-campus” even though they are further away from campus than a lot of off-campus housing! They used to be married housing apartments, but after Deseret Towers was demolished several years ago, they were converted to single student housing.
These are definitely nice apartments, and they are less expensive than other on-campus housing options. However, it comes with the price of living further away from campus. There is a kitchen, and the option for a private room. I believe they also have a shuttle service available through a third party company.
Foreign Language Housing
Know a foreign language and want to get even better at it? The Foreign Language Housing might be the place for you! These apartments aren’t just for freshman – returned missionaries will often live here. But they can definitely be a fun experience. There are certain pre-requsities to be in the housing (so if you don’t know the language at all, you probably won’t be accepted.) however they have housing for Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Russian, Italian, German, Chinese, and Japanese.
FLH isn’t too far from campus – it’s close to the Provo Temple.
Off-Campus Housing at BYU
Some freshman choose to live off-campus. It may be because they signed up too late to get on-campus housing, they want to live with an upperclassmen friend or relative, or they just don’t want to live on-campus! While I highly recommend living on-campus during your freshman year, you could have a really fun experience off-campus.
There are tons of different options for off-campus housing – from the cheapest of the cheap places, to your own private room in a brand new facility. Forrest lived in University Park when he first returned home from his mission. It was super cheap, but it was also really close to campus. I lived in the Riveria my sophomore year, and I really enjoyed it. I think the key is having good roommates. I always wanted to be closer to campus, so that was a key factor in finding off-campus housing for me. Ask around as well – some complexes have different reputations (bad landlords, partiers, cheap rent but high utilities, etc.) You can search for vacancies on the BYU off-campus housing website.
What You Need to Bring
This will depend on where you live!
Because I lived in Heritage Halls, we needed a lot more things to equip our apartment (since we had a kitchen.) A smart roommate of mine came up with a signup list of all the different items we might need. I thought this was such a good idea, so we didn’t each show up with a toaster and no plates. I put this into a Google Document in case you want to use it with your future roommates (just press file and make a copy).
On the “Moving In” page on the On-Campus Housing website, there is a section that tells you what you need to bring. I’d definitely look that over before you start packing up.
When I started my freshman year at BYU, I really wanted to just kind of start new. I had a lot of friends who were going to BYU (and I ended up living with several of them my sophomore year), but I just wanted to live with people I didn’t know!
When I looked for housing, it told me a few things about potential roommates (such as when they went to bed, type of music they liked, etc.) At first, I chose a roommate in Helaman Halls. However, after feeling uneasy about that situation, I ended up switching to an apartment in Heritage Halls, and that was the best decision!
Not everyone is going to have roommates they love. That’s okay! Just make the best of the situation you are in. Do your best to get along with your roommates, and remember that there are so many people at BYU. If you clash with your roommates, you can find other people to hang out with. However, give everyone a chance – sometimes it just takes a little time!
There is so much good food around campus (and often, there is even free food!) I would highly recommend getting a meal plan as a freshman student. I personally think it’s just easier/less stressful to know how much money you are getting each week, and to be able to use it pretty much anywhere on campus. If you don’t have a car, it’s especially helpful!
When I lived in Heritage Halls, they required that you purchase a meal plan. I am not entirely sure if that’s required anymore, but if it’s not, I still highly recommend one. If you live in Helaman, you have to buy one. Here is a description of all of the meal plans.
I personally had a plan that was similar to the EZ Dining meal plan. It offers a monthly allocation of a certain number of “dining dollars” which can be 100, 150, or 200. You can use the dining dollars at just about any dining services location on campus, including vending machines and the Creamery (where you can buy groceries.) You also get a discount in the Cougar eat after 2 PM Monday through Friday, and all day on Saturday. I personally used the $200 plan. Any unused money rolls over to the next month (unless it’s the end of the school year.) I think this is a great option for those in Heritage because of it’s flexibility.
As far as the other plans go, I’d definitely look through them and see what fits you best. If you plan to primarily eat in the Cannon Center, and you want to eat there as much as you feel like, the Open Door 7 might be a good option – you can eat there as much as you want while it’s open, and you also get $275 per semester in Dining Dollars that can be used elsewhere on campus. If you don’t want to be tied to the Cannon Center for all your meals, Dining Plus may be a better option – you get $12.25 a day to spend at any Dining Services location (and you can get discounted rates at the Cannon Center.) Definitely take some time to see what you can afford, and what you feel might best fit your needs! I remember all my friends in Helaman always had tons of extra money on their cards, but most people in Heritage used their allotted amount
Places to Eat and Shop
While the Creamery is most well-known for it’s delicious ice cream (if they have Graham Canyon, get a scoop in my honor), it’s also where you’ll buy your groceries (if you are relying on your meal plan to buy groceries.) If you are living in Helaman, you won’t probably buy nearly as many groceries as you would if you live in Wyview or Heritage, but it’s still a good place to go to groceries, toiletries, etc.
I don’t think they always have the best prices, but it’s convenient, and the products are decent quality. I believe the milk is a great price, and I always found cheese and meats to be reasonably priced as well. They also have a grill which offers a variety of different options (the cajun french fries with a grilled turkey avocado panini was one of my favorite options), as well as all the ice cream your heart desires. I also really liked their bakery items (as unhealthy as they are, the mint chocolate brownies are to die for.) There are three Creamery options – one near Heritage, one near Helaman, and one near Wyview – as well as a Creamery outlet.
Other On-Campus Options
There are plenty of places on-campus to eat! Not all of them are very good…but there are some awesome options. Here are a few of my favorites
The Cougar Eat is where the majority of food options are on campus. If you have a meal plan that allows you to spend money outside of the Cannon Commons, you’ll probably buy something here! They have a bunch of different options and most of them are decent. Be warned though – it can be crazy busy on the hour, especially during lunch areas (11-1 or so.) I always tried to go on the half hour if I could.
Here are a few notes on the options in the Cougar Eat
- Chick-Fil-A – this actually didn’t make it’s grand appearance until I graduated, but we lived in Provo for over a year afterwards and went there a few times. It’s probably a good thing that it wasn’t there – may have actually gained that Freshman 15!
- L&T Salads and Wraps – usually has a long line but easily the best food in the Cougar Eat. I absolutely love their BBQ chicken wrap! Yum!
- Subway – It always has a really long line, though it typically goes pretty fast because they have two lines going, and the workers are fast. They don’t
- Freschetta – This place sells pizza, calzones, some desserts, and a few other things. It tasted fine whenever I had it, but it wasn’t my go-to option.
- Cougar Express/Grab and Go – The Cougar Express has a wide variety of options – it typically has selections from some of the other restaurants in the Cougar Eat (such as Subway, Jamba Juice, Freschetta), and other random fare. Forrest always loved getting the baked potato and chili. He thought it was filling and fast, and it was also pretty cheap. I believe they have soups, chips, sandwiches, etc. The line usually goes pretty quickly.
- Taco Bell – As my big brother put it, I ate more Taco Bell in my life during the time I was at BYU than any other time. Why? They have a ton of cheap options, and they could produce it quickly. Not the healthiest option, of course, but you gotta do what you gotta do! They apparently have a secret menu, so if you are into things like that, you can figure it out for some interesting combinations!
- Cougar Cafe – This is where you go for all things sweet. They do have sandwiches as well, but they are mainly known for donuts, delicious pastries, hot chocolate, and a selection of ice cream from the creamery.
- ScoreBoard Grill – I think I went here once, but I think that’s because the prices always seemed kind of high. They are one of the only places in the Cougar Eat open for breakfast.
Other Places to Eat
The Creamery – I have already mentioned the Creamery, but it’s worth mentioning again. It was kiddy corner to where I worked, so I would often have eat it for lunch or dinner.
Jamba Juice – this place is usually always packed and popular. It’s right at the entrance of the Wilkinson Center. I always liked getting one before I went to work, or when I just needed a pick me up.
The MOA Cafe – This is one of my favorite places on campus, though I didn’t go there often. It seemed a bit more expensive than other options, and it was usually pretty crowded…but boy, was it delicious! It’s located in the Museum of Arts, and it has a wide variety of delicious entrees and soups. I always loved the curry chicken salad. This is a great place to take someone on a date, I think. It’s only open during certain hours though (usually earlier on in the day.)
Legends Grille – Legends is located by the Smith Field House and Richards Building. It mainly serves burgers, sandwiches, and pizzas, and a lot of people will watch sporting events here. I think I ate here once, just because it was kind of out of the way…but it was good! We ordered pizza from here a few times my freshman year (because they took our meal plan cards, of course!)
The Skyroom – I actually never ate here, but it’s kind of a higher end buffet. They have different themes every day for what kind of foods they serve, and from what I’ve heard, it’s pretty good. I think it was a little expensive, but you can sign up for their birthday club and get a free meal on your birthday. I signed up for it, but I never actually redeemed it! I wish I had.
The Wall – This place was added around the time I was leaving BYU. It’s located in the basement of the Wilkinson Center, and it’s often where different sporting events are broadcast. I don’t believe you can use your meal plan money here, but it looked like a fun place to hang out whenever we went by it. They have a lot of different events that go on (such as speakers, karaoke, etc.) and lots of food! They mainly serve sandwiches and burgers, salads, and desserts.
Tomassitos – So, last I was there, this place had been moved to another location on campus. However, when I was looking at the list of options in the Cougar Eat on their website, it was still there. So if it’s still there, yay, and if not, hope that they still have itt! This was one of Forrest and mine’s favorites. The lines were never very long, and the prices were reasonable. Our favorite deal was the pasta with two sides and a drink for about 3.50. I usually would my pasta with half alfredo sauce, half meat sauce (trust me, it’s delicious), with the side salad and breadstick. This is one of the first places I’m going to go next time I’m in Provo!
Off Campus Food
Provo has become quite the food mecca over the past several years, and it’s honestly one of the things I miss the most about the area. There is so much good food, and so many different varieties. If you don’t have a car, you probably won’t have the opportunity to go off-campus for food too often, but when you get a chance, here are a few of our favorite places.
El Salvador – This place has special meaning to me, since it’s where Forrest and I went on our first date, and before we got engaged. However, it really does have delicious, inexpensive food that is to die for. If you’ve never had a papusa, you need to get one. Basically, it’s a stuffed corn tortilla, usually filled with cheese and meat. Forrest is a big fan of their plantains with crema and black beans (which we actually have a copy cat recipe for over here.)
Zupas – This is one of the first places I went off-campus at BYU, and it was definitely an instant favorite. It’s definitely a place I wish they had in Colorado, and I always tell Forrest we should open when we are rich and famous. haha. They have tons of different soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts! My personal favorite is the chicken enchilada chili (click the link for a copy cat version). I always love dipping the bread in it. Forrest and I always would share the “Pick two” special, which was plenty for us.
Pizza Pie Cafe – This is an all-you-can-eat pizza, pasta, and salad buffet. We went here all the time, especially after we graduated, because they often had “moms eat free” or “dads eat free” nights. They often have different promotions and prices going on, and it’s a fun place to go with your friends. They have gluten free pizza and pasta if you need it! And their dessert pizzas? So good. If you haven’t guessed already, I love making copy cat versions of restaurants we like, so, of course, I made a copy cat version of their potato pizza. Seriously, so good.
Slab Pizza – I actually haven’t gone here in awhile, but when it first opened, I couldn’t get enough! It’s pretty close to campus, and it’s really good. The pizza slices are huge, and they have some of the most creative toppings!
J-Dawgs – I’d probably get lynched if I didn’t mention this place, because it’s definitely a favorite of many BYU students. And for good reason – they have delicious hot dogs and polish dogs, with their signature J Dawg’s Special Sauce (and you guessed it, that link is to a copy cat recipe!)
India Palace – This is a bit more pricey, but it’s another one of Forrest and mine’s favorites. They have great service and great food. I believe there is a good lunch buffet special as well. If having your water filled up seconds after you take a sip of it, then this is the place for you!
Black Sheep Cafe – Another somewhat expensive option, but I still love it. It’s located in downtown Provo on Center Street, and they serve southwestern style foods. Their Navajo tacos are to die for!
Swig – This place offers cookies and all sorts of drinks. It’s rather popular for students, and for people in Utah in general.
Frozen Yogurt – I’m pretty sure Utah County is the capitol of frozen yogurt. It seems like there’s a new shop that pops up regularly. Provo has quite a few scattered across the city. They always seem to disappear as quickly as they pop up, though, so I can’t give a solid recommendation (because it might not be there anymore!)
Sub Zero – This is a really neat ice cream place you have to try at least once! They have on at the Provo Towne Center Mall, as well as at Brigham’s Landing on University Parkway. They make the ice cream if front of you using any number of basis, flavors, and toppings as you want. I love it! We enjoyed going here because Jack could get dairy free ice cream and have it still taste good.
Cocoa Bean Cafe – This is a fun little cupcake and drink cafe. They have delicious assortments of treats and drinks. The cupcakes are huge though, so I recommend sharing them!
There is almost always free food somewhere. If it’s being given outside, be prepared for long lines! I personally never stood in line for 30 minutes to get a hot dog, but people get desperate! There’s always some kind of club, organization, or class that has food, so keep your eyes peeled – especially if you are running out of money on your meal plan! I would sometimes sign up to volunteer at something just because they would feed volunteers.
Click here for part two
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Katie is a Colorado-native, BYU graduated, and most importantly, wife to one and mother to three beautiful boys. She is passionate about sharing her experiences with others – especially about pregnancy, breastfeeding, cooking, and crafts. She is currently training to be a Certified Lactation Educator. She loves spending time with her family and helping others find joy in family life.