The Off-Campus Option

For a lot of reasons, undergraduates are often scared off from moving to apartments in Cambridge, Boston, or Somerville. Finding an apartment is a significant investment of valuable time and there are more unknowns than living in dorms or FSILGs — how much will utilities cost? How will I get to class? What’s a security deposit? But with the right strategy and the right attitude, moving off-campus can be financially, socially, and developmentally well-worth the risk.

Despite their industrious and entrepreneurial spirit, many MIT students lack that same adventurous spirit when it comes to housing. Living in dorms or FSILGs is easy — heat, electricity, water, maintenance, internet and sometimes food are taken care of by offices at MIT or your living group. But, as is always the case with real life, there are tradeoffs. Dorm life restricts individual freedom through the enforcement of housing policy and regulation and can force occupants to live with people they may not want to live with. And though it is not unique to MIT, dorms rarely offer an abundance of personal living space.

None of these restrictions are particularly onerous, and none of them make the dormitory option a poor choice. But finding your own place is not just a matter of getting a bigger living room or having the right to keep pets, halogen lamps, and hot plates in your room. It is also an unparalleled opportunity to grow as an individual. The process of finding and successfully leasing an apartment asks a student to take responsibility for where they live and ultimately how they go about their lives. It means you’ll have to figure out how to pay bills and how to fix leaky faucets and plan your commute — and these are important things to know! By living in a dorm or FSILG for your full four undergraduate years at MIT, you’ll learn how to go out and change the world, but you won’t know how to live in the world.

When it comes to learning the skills necessary to live on your own, there’s no time like the present. Most MIT students are full, legal adults, and there’s no reason to assume the legal and civic responsibilities that come with turning 18 while neglecting to take on more personal responsibilities. And if the prospect of not having MIT coddle you until you’re 22 sounds scary, that’s all the more reason to take the plunge and find your own place. The same philosophy inspired the MIT “fire-hose” education style — if it seems easy, then you’re probably not learning much from it; if it’s tough, you’re learning things that will stay with you for life. And, at least in terms of the practicals, living in a dorm is very, very easy.

But what about the financial risks of moving off-campus? To be sure, some apartments in Cambridge and Boston can be very expensive. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone — splitting a multiple-bedroom apartment with friends can often lead to significant savings over the costs of living in a dorm. If you move in with friends, you’re also almost always guaranteed a better square-foot-to-dollar ratio than what dorms at MIT offer, plus full kitchens and other amenities your dorm or living group might not offer. To save costs, you would also need to manage your utilities more wisely than you would in a dorm (which is also better for the environment), though budgeting heat, water and electricity expenditures is another skill that’s not too hard to learn but something MIT will never teach you. Furnishing your place doesn’t need to be expensive either, especially if you’re a do-it-yourself type.

Still, off-campus living may not be for everyone. But the campus community and the MIT administration should consider the opportunities that off-campus living might provide to students, and to that end should work towards making off-campus living a more attractive option for undergraduates. MIT students are fully capable of managing the challenges of moving to off-campus apartments and those who choose to do so would be rewarded with lower costs for equal or better living conditions than the MIT dormitory standard in addition to the value of the experience. All it takes is an assumption of responsibility, which is what makes the off-campus option simultaneously challenging and rewarding.