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MIT blogger Sabrina M. '21

Choosing Your Own Adventure by Sabrina M. '21

and other things you can do when you live off campus

Thinking of living off campus? Maybe not, maybe you just want to read about it. If you’re an incoming freshman or thinking of applying, this won’t apply to you just yet anyway, since all freshman are required to live on campus for their first year. But, maybe you’re thinking about it anyway, or just curious to see what it’s like. And lucky for you, I’ve got the scoop.

According to MIT, about 73 percent of undergraduates live in a dorm on campus, and about another 24 percent of students live in FSILGs,01 fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups which are mixed on-and-off campus. That leaves about 3 percent of people who just live elsewhere in non-MIT affiliated housing. There’s a lot of pros and cons to living off-campus,02 for the record, whenever i refer to off-campus from this point on, i'll mostly be referring to living in not mit-affiliated housing which you can weigh differently depending on what you’re looking for. But first, where do we begin?

How to Get Housing Off Campus

Finding housing can be a bit tricky. Luckily, there’s a lot of MIT resources for finding housing. You can email them for help on signing leases, knowing your rights as a tenant, navigating the market, and more. There’s also a separate website they have that has local listings.

I haven’t used these resources to find housing to be fair, but you can use things like Craigslist, Zillow, or even hiring a realtor. Rental properties for September leases usually go up around April/May, sometime earlier. You can also get July leases, but those are less common. It can be a stressful process, since there’s so much competition vying for properties, especially the ones that actually decent. But, you get the added benefit of being able to stay for an entire year, or more, depending on your lease.

The Good vs The Bad

How do you know if living off-campus would be good for you? It really depends on what you’re looking for out of school and your living experience. If you’re looking to be around lots of people all the time and really want to feel a part of a larger community, maybe a dorm is a good place to stay for your time here. Many people stay in the dorms for their entire undergraduate careers. However, if you’re seeking a bit more independence and separation of your school/work life, living off campus is a good option. Here is my list of pros and cons:

The Pros:
  • Separation between school and the rest of my life. Even though I’m not far from the Institute, going home feels a bit like “breaking out of the bubble”. I can balance my life far better when I’m not constantly surrounded by school, and other students who are constantly working. I don’t have to live, breathe, work, cry, eat, and sleep at MIT, which allows me to mentally separate that part of my life from the rest. I do work when I’m home,03 and i do some of those other things at mit but it feels more like I’m “working from home” and less like “this is my entire life”. It’s been hugely instrumental in making me feel like I’m not drowning, and letting myself live a life not entirely shrouded by looming stress.
  • Another pro for me has been the decreased amount of shared… everything. Although I do live with 6 people in what is essentially a cooperative living situation,04 we equally share groceries and chores and other expenses it is a lot easier to manage with 7 than it is with, say, 50. I’ve found that I can be really particular with my space, and that it can have pretty negative impacts on my mental health if there’s a lot of chaos. In my home, there’s just enough people that nothing ever feels too burdensome, but people mostly05 no one's perfect take responsibility over the space. I’ve had to live through too many dirty kitchens and messy communal spaces to go through that again. And I know that coordination and cleanliness can be nigh impossible to manage with so many people, like in a dorm or living group that doesn’t have maintenance staff.
  • You get to feel a part of a different, broader community. Being at MIT, you never really feel like anything but an MIT student. Sure, I still am a student, but I’m also a resident of Cambridge.06 it's on my driver's license! Events happen around the city and for once I don’t feel like an intruder or a tourist, but like someone who actually lives here.
  • The feeling of independence I get. I can have overnight guests every day of the week, every day of the year. No one can force me to get a dining plan. I don’t have to check my guests in. I can stay for the summer without applying again. I can have fire hazards all over my room.07 the huge banner covering up an entire wall of our living room? great! my collection of 10 candles? awesome! microwave in my bedroom? i won't, but i could I am absolutely free, except for what the things my landlord will find out and fine us for. Which leads me into the next list, the cons.
The Cons:
  • Boston’s housing is notoriously expensive. If you’re trying to live relatively close to campus, and in a home that isn’t literally falling apart, you might have to spend a bit. When you factor in other costs that MIT normally covers (furniture, household items), it can come close to the cost of housing on campus. But, if you’re smart, you can find something more affordable and comfortable for you.
  • Unfortunately, when you trade in one set of rules to follow, you get another one in return. So, while it’s true I don’t have to follow Institute rule, I do have to follow my landlord’s. This can be very variable in degree of outrageousness, from “no smoking in the house”08 reasonable to “no more than 8 people allowed at a time (in a house that has 7 bedrooms)”.09 pretty unreasonable
  • Living away from campus can be a con, if also a pro. While the separation is nice, you have to really commit to being “at school” because you can’t just go home and grab things like if you lived in a dorm. It’s all about the early morning checklist (notebooks? check. lunch? check. headphones? check.)
  • You’re a lot more limited in customizing your space. This one is really based on frame of reference though; coming from a dorm that let you install your own hardwood veneer, drill into walls, paint murals, and pretty much install anything you wanted, suddenly not being able to was a shock. Most apartments won’t let you make modifications to the walls or flooring, so my murals are limited to canvasses and papers that I pin up.


Because I lived in a cook-for-yourself dorm previously, I kind of had the whole “survival” thing in the bag. But, I understand it can be daunting to sort of cut yourself off of the MIT lifeline. Unfortunately, since where you live off campus is so variable, there’s no way to make a universal guide to food. Everything depends on your location, budget, and needs. But, I can at least talk about my experience.

While I don’t have a formal budget, I do try to limit my expenses as much as possible. I’m nicely situated between Cambridge’s Inman, Central, and Harvard Squares, so I have a plethora of take-out and sit down options that I don’t really take advantage of. But, living in this area also makes me much closer to what has to be the greatest supermarket I have ever encountered in Boston: Market Basket. It is huge, cheap, and very convenient to get to. My roommates and I have a communal grocery system in place, so around 1-2 times a week, we get a big haul of essential staples, and anything else people request in between. Usually, this comes out to around 20 dollars a week, and lasts for the whole week. I’m a big fan of a system like this not just for affordability, but also for reducing food waste. Although, this isn’t limited to living off-campus, and something you could definitely set up in a dorm or FSILG. I also live close to a Whole Foods and HMart, and Trader Joe’s isn’t too far of a trek.

I cook around 3-5 times a week, depending on how busy I get. Since I live a relatively short walk from campus, I usually walk back home to eat lunch if I have a 2-3 hour gap between classes. It’s nice to get a break in the middle of the school day where I can truly relax and cook myself something nice. Even if it means I have slightly more work to do later (since I waste time walking to and from, and then cooking), I value that moment of respite, so I’m going to keep doing it as long as it’s sustainable. Otherwise, on days when I just have half an hour to eat, I pack leftovers from the night before and eat it in my course’s lounge. And remember, snap-sealed or screw-lid Tupperware is essential for any commute. You don’t want to spill soup contents all over your backpack.


My commute to school so far hasn’t been bad. Thankfully, it’s only fall, and the weather is bearable, so I can get by just walking to class. Even though it’s only been a month, I walk using just muscle memory, so it’s like an extended 15 minute daydream where I’m also tuning back out every once in a while to make sure I don’t get hit by a car. But, maybe you don’t live at my address, or walking isn’t your favorite thing to do, or it gets really cold out, as it does in Boston. Then what?

Lucky for you, there are a lot of other options! Since the semester has just started and the weather has been reasonable, I haven’t had to open my Mental Logbook of Options just yet, but I’ve got it ready. So let’s get into it.

Public Transit

First up, there’s the MBTA.10 which stands for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or Boston's public transit system This system includes the T,11 the local subway system the busses, and even some trolleys here and there. MIT is pretty centrally located for a lot of public transit, including, but not limited to, the T’s Red Line via Kendall Square, and the 1 bus.

I’ve got a few options, too. I could walk a few blocks away and take the 64 or the 68 bus to Kendall, walk to Central Square and take the T or the 1 bus, or even take the 91 to Central Square to then take the bus or the T, and more I’m sure I’m missing. It all may sound very intimidating, just numbers and routes that are hard to memorize all at once, but they are just as easy to get used to as remembering the numbers of every major or building at MIT.

I like to use the Transit app to do the legwork of figuring out public transit for me. It works in every major city I’ve been in, and is all around a great resource to have. All you do is put in the address you’re starting from, where you’re trying to go, and how you want to leave. You can set three options: if you want to leave now, if you want to leave at a specific time, or if you want to arrive by a specific time. So, if I was trying to go to MIT for a meeting at 3PM, I’d put in the building’s address, say I want to get there by 2:55PM,12 i like to be a little on the earlier side and bam! It tells me all the different ways I can get there, how long each would take, and when I would need to leave the house.

In addition to being a transit-integrated navigation system, Transit also just gives you so much information. You can see what busses and train stops are near you, and how long until the next one arrives, with regular live tracking. It’ll warn you if a route is changed due to construction, or seasonal schedules, or for anything else. You can even see the locations of Blue Bike stations nearby, and how many bikes are available to use at each. I also used it when I was traveling in Montreal, and it made navigating the French-Canadian public transportation a breeze! I could rave about this for hours, but it has seriously saved me from so much pain of having to learn Boston bus routes, and I’ve used significantly less rideshare apps since downloading it.

MIT will also subsidize 50 percent of any monthly T-pass card, which is a huge save if you are going to be regularly commuting. You can purchase them by the month, or save even more by purchasing a semester’s worth at once. This T pass can cover just buses, the bus and the subway, the commuter rail plus the bus and subway, and more. This is also a great option even when you’re not commuting; it’s a lot easier to be motivated to explore the Greater Boston area outside of MIT when you have unlimited rides within the city.

MIT Shuttles

MIT also has a few shuttle services: a campus TechShuttle that drives around campus during the week, a daytime Boston shuttle that drives from campus to Back Bay, an area where a lot of MIT’s off-campus fraternities and sororities live, and a nighttime shuttle service that routes to locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. All of these services are free for students. Because I live in Cambridge, the most effective way to me to get to campus during the day would be to use public transportation available. But, I’m sure that as the days get colder and the nights come earlier, I’ll be using the SafeRide shuttle service to get home, since it drops off right near me.


Biking is also a very popular option for students who live off campus, for ease and cost. I personally don’t like biking in cities, but I’ve had roommates who would bike or skateboard to MIT as their form of personal commute, and it seems efficient! Even now, though none of my roommates are currently students at MIT, some of them still bike to get to their jobs now. Boston and Cambridge both seem to be pretty bike friendly in comparison to a lot of other cities.

Much like with the T-pass, MIT also offers a subsidized Blue Bike membership, if you’re looking to bike without having to deal with the purchase/maintenance/storage that comes with owning a bike.


Like I mentioned before, I mostly walk. I love walking. Even when I worked in Somerville, I trucked along rain or shine or snow, walking along. It’s my personal favorite form of getting anywhere in Boston,13 given, it's within 1.5 hrs and the weather is alright and I like that it gets me moving, even if it’s only for about a cumulative 45 minutes a day. It’s also totally free, doesn’t involve any waiting,14 except for traffic lights and I like seeing the sights around the city while I do it.

Now that it’s getting colder, I’ve brought out my gloves and sweaters and thicker jackets to prepare for my walks. To be honest, I’ll probably be walking to class until the temperatures reach below freezing, if I even stop then. But, who knows until it comes?

So now, are you ready to spend a few minutes in my shoes? Here’s a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure styled game where you can simulate it, down to the minute details. Try and choose your own path, and try not to look ahead at different sections. Cool? Or, if you just want to skip to my final thoughts, click here.

Right now, say it’s 9:10 AM. You have a 9:30 AM class in Building 5. Can you make it to class on time?

Let’s start off easy, do you want to listen to music on your walk? Here’s two, short playlists of things I’ve been listening to lately, you can choose whatever, or just choose to listen to the sounds of the city, if that’s more your thing.

If one of these sounds good to you, or would rather walk in silence, click here. Keep reading if you want to keep looking.

You keep looking for more music, uninspired by the options presented to you before. Maybe some older hits will resonate more with you.

Regardless of how you feel, you realize you’re taking too long to decide this, and you really should get going. You could listen to whatever, endlessly skipping through until Spotify recommends something better. Or, you forgo music altogether, ready to listen to the wonderful sounds of the world. (3 minutes)

Keep reading to start walking.

Finally, you leave the house. You walk down your street, with its uneven sidewalks and trees that seem to swallow the path you follow. Autumn has just begun, so leaves begin to litter the ground. If you chose to walk in silence, you can hear them crunch under your shoes.

a sidewalk surrounded by trees, and a close up of leaves

You reach the familiar juncture between your street and Broadway. You know the way to MIT is left, but you can cross the street and walk on the opposite side, just to get a different view. To cross now, click here. To stay on this side and just turn left, keep reading.

You stayed on your side of the street, and just turned left. Good choice, that crosswalk can get kind of scary with cars zooming in from the left and right. The first thing you notice on your side as you walk along is a tribal rug store. At this particular rug store, every day is a sale, somehow. Some are hung up along the brick facade with worn out signs with percentages pinned to them. With the front door open, you take a quick glance inside the sprawling space, a wide room with low ceilings and carpets rolled up in every corner. It smells like… well, it smells like carpets. You know where to go whenever your trusty carpet finally gives in.

a picture of carpets hanging on the wall

Further down, you pass by a restaurant that you didn’t realize was a restaurant for ages. The facade is a simple and unassuming; white brick with the name in black. Above, there are apartments. A version of their menu (apparently they rotate every few weeks, only using seasonal vegetables and other ingredients) hangs in the small, rectangular window. It’s hard to tell what’s going on in there, and you’ve never been inside.

a picture of the restaurant, bondir

Ahead, the street becomes pretty residential on this side, but you can see what’s across the street; architecture firms and corner stores and even what looks like a community garden. There’s a building on this side under construction, so as you walk down the street, you get to a point where you’re under scaffolding. On particularly hot or rainy days, it’s nice to have the extra protection from the sun or rain. Plus, depending on the time, the light filtering through the end of the tunnel looks very beautiful.

a picture of the scaffolding tunnel, and a close up of a light in the tunnel

Now, you’re at Windsor Street. You have two options: turn right on Windsor Street, or keep going down Broadway. Both routes will take you to MIT, but which one will get you closer to where you need to be? To turn right on Windsor, click here, and add (1 minute) as you wait for the light to cross. To keep going down Broadway, click here.

You cross the street before turning left. You’re gonna have to turn right eventually, so might as well be on the right side early. As you walk, you start to take in some of the familiar scenery. The first notable thing you pass is a Montessori School (the first of many). On some mornings, you can see a chain of very young children in Safety Yellow vests being herded into the small building. Today is not one of those mornings.

The next thing you walk by is the local plant store. With windows that go up to the ceiling, and white interiors contrasted with bright green plants in every corner, this place looks straight out of a catalog.

a sign that says “aloe there! we are open” and a picture of the plant store

Next, is your local craft brewery slash breakfast taco place. Since it’s still relatively warm out, their front facing wall is open, letting the sounds of people chatting come through in the air (that is, if you can even hear them). Some of the people look busy and sip their coffees. And, even though you’ve walked by here hundreds of times, you’re always surprised at how even at 9AM on a weekday, there’s always at least one person drinking a beer, laptop in front of them. The sour smell of beer wafts through the air.

a sign that says Metric Systems

Just a few steps ahead, you notice a dog sitting by the large, industrial barrels! You’ve seen him there on occasion, other times at different businesses on this street. You don’t really know who he belongs to. To keep walking, click here. To take a picture of the dog, keep reading.

You fumble to take your phone out of your pocket, accidentally dropping it onto the sidewalk. No worries, you’ve got a pretty hefty case, so there’s no damage. You pick it up again, resume what you were listening to, and take a picture of the dog. (1 minute)

a picture of the dog among beer barrels

Keep reading to continue along.

You keep walking down Broadway, smiling to yourself as you remember the dog. You pass by more familiar sights; the Dry Cleaning place where you can see the owner busily sewing away from the window, the corner store that you haven’t been in once, and the barber shop that always has people chatting up front. Even more ahead, there’s a community garden to your right, and the ever recognizable brick building with its huge white lettering.

a close up of the barber shop logo, and the building that reads Squirrel Brand Company

You keep walking. Now, there’s an elementary school you pass by every day. The first thing you see is the giant abacus they have installed in the front (or is it the back? you can’t really tell), that you wonder if anyone’s ever used.

a picture of a giant abacus

You now reach Windsor Street. You can either turn right here, or keep going down Broadway. Both will take you to MIT, but will they take you where you want to go? To turn on Windsor, click here. To keep going down Broadway, keep reading.

You keep going down Broadway. This is the most straightforward path there, so you can just mindlessly walk forward without thinking too hard about where you’re going. As you walk along, you notice the most vibrantly magenta house you’ve ever seen. It almost seems to glow surrounded by whites and beiges and pops of green. You can only wonder about the people who live in here, and the kind of courage it must take to decide to paint your home in a color that always stands out.

a picture of the magenta house, with a close up of leaves

Ahead and to your right is a Dunkin’ Donuts. The smell of coffee, hot chocolates, and frozen donuts being thawed makes your mouth water. You try to blink away your last remainders of sleepiness, but they fight back. Do you go in and buy something sweet for a jolt of energy? To keep walking, click here. To go in and buy something, keep reading.

You go into the Dunkin’ to buy something. You really need that last boost, and you promise to yourself that you’ll be quick about it.

There are two people in line in front of you, and you know this shouldn’t take long. You peruse the options on the menu while you wait, and one of the people in front of you pays for their order and moves to wait for it. The next person in line starts… no, it can’t be, not now. Not when you’re pressed for time. You know as soon as you hear the words “pumps” and multiple numbers being thrown around that you’re in for it: the overly complicated coffee order. With a heavily modified breakfast sandwich thrown in.  You didn’t even know such modifications were possible at a Dunkin’ Donuts.

You can’t afford to waste any more time here, but you’d be damned if you didn’t at least get something after having already waited. They finally finish ordering, and you basically throw your credit card and yell your order as soon as you reach the register. They give it to you and you run out the store, almost forgetting to grab your card. (4 minutes)

You keep walking, and you feel the anxiety of being late start to wash over you. Not that it’s that big of a deal, but you hate the feeling of interrupting a lecture that’s already started. Your stride is quick and steady, so you shouldn’t be walking for much longer. The area around you becomes much less residential as you keep going, the buildings getting taller and taller as you go along. You’re close to Kendall Square.

a photo of a “little free library”- a box filled with box that passerby’s can just grab or add to

You pass by another coffee shop, a local Boston chain. Immediately after, you reach the Garment District, a used clothing shop that sells a seriously wild amount of colorfully patterned button-ups. You can also get some clothing for 2 dollars per pound (1 on Fridays!) here, it just requires a bit of digging.

Soon enough, you cross the railroad tracks and you’re in the Kendall area, surrounded by tech companies, and the occasional building owned by MIT. You turn right on Ames Street, and you can finally see where you’re going just ahead. In just a few yards, you’ll be on MIT’s campus at last.

a picture of railroad tracks, and a geometric building

But uh oh! You’ve made a mistake. You’re on the East Side of campus now, but Building 5 is all the way by Lobby 7, on Mass Ave. You quicken your pace now, and wind through Building 66 into Building 56 into Building 16 and climb the stairs up to reach the Infinite Corridor. You stride through here, dashing between people as you hurry along. Finally, you reach Lobby 7, and you are just steps away from class. (25 minutes)

Click here to see if you made it on time.

You turn right on Windsor. Immediately, you notice the sidewalk is painted with differently colored animal tracks of some sort. As you walk along the elementary school, you approach a sign that explains it. Can you run like a cougar? it reads, and you take a look at the blue cougar prints again. They’re pretty far apart, so no, you don’t think you can run like a cougar.

a picture of colored paw prints on the sidewalk, and a sign that says “animal tracks: wow! let’s check out these cougar tracks!”

Soon enough, you’re besides the school’s playground, where, depending on the time of day, you can hear children screaming as they play. You reminisce about the concept of recess, and the joy of being a child with not a significant care in the world. The memory makes you feel old. You keep walking.

Up ahead is an authentic Puerto Rican restaurant, Izzy’s, one of Cambridge’s gems. The smell of food drifting out of their windows is magical and makes you loathe your simple breakfast. At this place, you can get some amazing slow roasted pork with rice and beans, or empanadas, or plantains, and more. This part of Cambridge is known as The Port, and there’s street art up ahead to show it.

a picture of Izzy’s restaurant, and the Port mural that is on the street

You’ve got a steady rhythm of walking by now, glancing at things as you go by but not stopping for too long. There’s the clinic on your right, the plaza to your left, and homes all the way in between. This one door stands out to you, contrasted against the incredibly worn out building.

a picture of a geometric light in front of a home, and a worn out door with a sign that says “love” on it

You keep walking along, either jamming to whatever song is playing now, or listening to the sounds of Cambridge come alive. You reach Main Street, which hosts a few different restaurants (Royal East, Cuchi Cuchi, Bertucci’s, Craigie on Main, to name a few), but you keep going straight down Windsor. As soon as you cross Main, you can smell chocolate in the air coming straight from the Tootsie Roll Factory on your left.

A few blocks down (and a few business later), you finally reach Massachusetts Avenue. MIT is just to your left, so you turn left and keep going, not stopping to check the time. Flour Bakery is on your right, filled with people grabbing coffee before their classes or jobs. On your left are two fast casual restaurants that you haven’t bothered to check out yet.

Finally, you cross Albany Street, and everything ahead of you is the familiar campus of MIT. The Student Center, Building 9, and at last, Lobby 7. You climb up the steps and head inside. Building 5 is right off of Lobby 7, so you are just steps away. You arrive to your class quickly. (20 minutes)

Keep reading to see if you made it on time.

Typical MIT classes start 5 minutes after they’re technically scheduled, so you should be in class by 9:35AM. Total up all of the minutes you saw on your path, and add it to 9:10AM, your starting point. Did you make it to class on time?

Start Over?

All in all, I love living off campus. Not only did it feel like the natural progression, since I was coming off of two years of work and going back to school, but it helps me balance my life in the ways I want to. Plus, it means I still get to live with my friends who’ve graduated, instead of having to meet a whole new group of people in a hall. I still feel like I get the benefits of being in a dorm, since we all still feel a sense (if small) of community. It’s just nice to be able to tune out every once in a while.

  1. fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups back to text
  2. for the record, whenever i refer to off-campus from this point on, i'll mostly be referring to living in not mit-affiliated housing back to text
  3. and i do some of those other things at mit back to text
  4. we equally share groceries and chores and other expenses back to text
  5. no one's perfect back to text
  6. it's on my driver's license! back to text
  7. the huge banner covering up an entire wall of our living room? great! my collection of 10 candles? awesome! microwave in my bedroom? i won't, but i could back to text
  8. reasonable back to text
  9. pretty unreasonable back to text
  10. which stands for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or Boston's public transit system back to text
  11. the local subway system back to text
  12. i like to be a little on the earlier side back to text
  13. given, it's within 1.5 hrs and the weather is alright back to text
  14. except for traffic lights back to text