Jun 14, 2018
Guide to MIT: Choosing a Dorm
This post is the second in a series of Guide to MIT posts. Check out Guide to MIT: Academics here.
GOOD REASONS TO CHOOSE A DORM
CULTURAL FIT: I cannot emphasize this point enough. No matter how (in)convenient the accommodations are, you will not be happy in a dorm that doesn't have your people. Sometimes, you’ll find your best living group on only one floor or lounge of a dorm, and it will be your family. Here are some tips to figure out where you’ll fit best:
- Ask multiple residents about their experience with the dorm during REX and CPW.
- Watch the dorm i3 videos on mitguidetoresidences.mit.edu
- Visit all dorms. Even if you’re absolutely certain where you want to live, it’s helpful to discover different places at MIT and make new friends.
- Don’t stop at the first impression when making your decision.
- Ask if the floors or lounges of the dorm have different sub-cultures (e.g. in East Campus or Simmons), or if the dorm is pretty uniform in culture (e.g. Maseeh).
- Explore as much as possible within the dorms. Even within East Campus, there are some halls I wouldn’t fit in as well as mine.
The different dorm cultures make the Institute unique, and often define students’ MIT experiences, so prioritize cultural fit to find your best space.
PRICING: MIT has three tiers of dorm pricing, but be careful when looking at the pricing chart. For example, McGregor has mostly singles, so its actual cost for an average freshman is higher than, say, Maseeh, which is at a higher pricing tier but will likely provide a triple or quad in the first year. Note also that living in any dorm with a dining hall will add a significant additional charge to your cost of living (though you can purchase a meal plan while living in any dorm).
DINING: this one is a major addition to the bill and an experience that may or may not suit your nutritional needs. For me, having a meal plan freshman fall was a major hassle and unhealthy experience. As I’ve blogged before, you can get away without a meal plan even if you can only use a microwave, and still save money and time. However, a meal plan is also super convenient to many, such as those who require more food in a day than I do—if you’re an athlete on just anyone on a high-calorie diet, you’ll probably benefit from the unlimited plan. You might also want the social experience of bumping into old friends in different dining halls. Think carefully about what dining arrangement works best for you, and don't worry about your cooking skills. If you want to learn, there’ll be plenty of upperclassmen to help you, but you can also avoid the learning entirely.
NUMBER OF ROOMMATES AND FLOOR STRUCTURE: Although I believe that almost anyone can survive with a roommate, the number of roommates or suitemates is certainly an important factor to consider. I love living in a single now, as all East Campus residents get to live past freshman year (there’s a historical reason for this!), but I would never forego the experience of living with a roommate freshman year. Whatever your preference, think about the living arrangement in the dorms carefully. For example, for singles, try MacGregor, and for more roommates, check out Maseeh. Consider whether you want to live on a floor (e.g. Random or Maseeh) or in a suite (e.g. Burton Conner). The way rooms and lounges are arranged affects the social experience greatly, so tour all the dorms and see what feels most appealing to you.
NOT-SO-GOOD REASONS TO CHOOSE A DORM
CONVENIENCE: I’ve heard the phrase, “I want things to be convenient my freshman year” a lot, usually referring to the presence of dining, “niceness” of the building, and closeness to campus, and I want to counter that with the importance of cultural fit. You will find that humans, especially in college, adapt to anything. In fact, I was a bit horrified of my freshman room in East Campus at first, but now I have a cozy heaven. You will also find that it’s actually pretty easy to feed yourself, and that the lifestyle of a dorm farther from campus is not bad. So, if you’re still worried, stock up on frozen meals from Trader Joe’s for easy dining (you’ll have freezer space in your residence!), get a bike, skateboard, roller skates, or hoverboard for an easy commute, and wait to get used to the different accommodations. You can do this, I promise!
[note to parents] PARENTS’ WISHES: if any parents are reading this post, please don’t sway your child towards a certain dorm. If you want them to be happy and live healthy lifestyles (emotional health is just as important!), let them choose where they feel best and be supportive of that choice.
FRIENDS: don’t pick a dorm because your friends are going to live there, but rather pick a dorm because you can make friends there. Later on, when you establish a community, you can certainly move to live closer to your friends, but there is also merit in visiting friends in other dorms.
REPUTATION: during REX, when my roommate and I mentioned we lived in East Campus, people’s faces would often change. Some would even say, “I could never do that. It’s too intense.” And that can be quite demoralizing—I have personally heard freshmen say that they are unhappy with East Campus because of the reputation. People from other dorms have had similar experiences as well. As Fernando H. '20 wrote in the comments below, "I kept hearing people during CPW and REX saying that Simmons was very isolated, or the classic 'people there have more windows than friends.'" (I highly recommend reading his full comment below). If you've had similar experiences, please don’t let that phase you. You will be happy as long as you fit into the dorm.
LOCATION: I lived in the closest dorm to classes for four years, but I would not recommend it to everyone. In fact, location, importantly, is not a good reason to pick a dorm, and I’m not the only one who thinks that—almost all of the students I talked to for this post mentioned location as a not-so-good reason as well. That’s why I’m adding it as a separate factor from convenience. A friend of mine moved farther to get a better school-life separation, and people from nearby dorms have reported getting too comfortable waking up 5 minutes before class time. Many people even move across the river to live in fraternities, sororities, or independent living groups and take the MIT shuttle to get to campus. So don't worry about living too close or too far. There are drawbacks to each lifestyle, but you won’t notice them if you find the right fit.