Living on Campus vs Renting an Apartment

By Hoss Nasseri, Class of 2014

If you are asking yourself whether you should live on or off campus when you come to MIT, my story might help you with your decision.

I didn’t get a housing assignment in the MIT lottery, so I ended up with a position on the wait list in the high 200’s. I didn’t get a housing assignment until the end of September, so from August to end of September, I lived in 2 on-campus sublets and one rental apartment, where I broke my lease to move on campus.

My original reason for on-campus housing was convenience. Given that I was in Cambridge, MA for only 10 months, I didn’t want to go through the hassle of buying/acquiring and transporting furniture. Not only that, but I also didn’t want to worry about my furniture at the end of year. But then as I stayed on campus and compared it to the one month that I lived off campus, I became confident that I had made the right decision.

On-campus Options

Furnished (desk, bed, rolling chair, dining table + chairs, sofa)

Ashdown House courtyard.
Ashdown House courtyard.

I lived in a 2-bedroom in Sidney Pacific (“Sidpac“) and had one housemate. Sidpac was my favorite, but I’d also recommend Ashdown and Warehouse. These buildings are within a block of each other, and you can get a studio with kitchen, 2-bedroom, or 3-bedroom with a shared bathroom and kitchen. There are also options for kitchen-less/fridge-less apartments where you can use the common kitchens and shared fridges on each floor. The other option is Tang Hall, which is an older high rise building and in somewhat shabby condition. I can’t talk much about Tang, but haven’t heard good things from classmates who lived there.

So all you need is kitchen stuff and personal belongings. I also had to buy a light for my room to make it brighter. Throughout the year, many students move and leave their items behind to be picked up on a first come first serve basis. They usually send out mass emails to people in the building, so it is very easy to acquire almost everything you need in the first month of school for free.

Unfurnished / Married Housing

Edgerton offers unfurnished apartments and is close to Ashdown and Warehouse. It is possible to inherit furniture from previous residents. On the first weekend of September, there is a large yard sale at Edgerton where you can furnish your apartment for very cheap. The apartments are good and usually cheaper than furnished ones. Westgate and Eastgate offer married housing. The free stuff acquisition apply to these buildings as well.


I thought living on campus would be more expensive but if you add everything up, it isn’t. To live in an on-campus apartment with a kitchen and your own room, or in a studio, costs $1000 – $1300. This price includes all utilities, and you never have to worry about your high speed internet or hot water; also you’d never get a complaint about high water or AC usage either. Moreover if anything breaks, you can submit a request online and it will be fixed within 72 hours. This price is even cheaper (~$800) at Tang or with a kitchen-less apartment, but I wouldn’t recommend either.

Around Cambridge, to get a room in a 2- or 3-bedroom apartment you should expect to pay over $800, and they are almost never furnished. You also have to add in the cost of utilities, especially in the cold winter months ($100 – $300/month). Most older buildings don’t have AC units or good insulation unless you want to pay $1500+ for a bedroom in a building with newer construction. Leases are usually for one year, so you’ll be on the hook after graduation for a couple of months, and landlords usually take some of your security deposit for various reasons at the end. With on-campus housing, you can terminate your lease in June. In addition, listing agents charge YOU a few hundred dollars (if you use them)! It’s easy to see how off-campus housing can easily cost you over $1000/month.


If you live on campus, you can catch a shuttle anytime from 6am to 2:30am on weekdays and 5pm to 2am on weekends. I can’t emphasize how convenient it is to walk out of the building and get on the shuttle right outside your door. During peak hours (6am to 10:30am and 4pm to 7:30pm), EZ-Ride shuttles run every 10 minutes, pick you up right at your dorm, and drop you off at Kendall Square, the main SCM Program lab and offices, or MIT’s Student Center (there are other stops, but these would be your most desired ones). Outside peak hours, shuttles run every 30 minutes with almost the same routes. THIS IS HUGE WHEN IT IS SNOWING/RAINING WITH BELOW FREEZING TEMPERATURES. There is an MIT app to see the exact schedule and real-time location of each shuttle at any given time and to plan accordingly.

Social Events / Free Food

Sidpac's monthly brunch offering.
Sidpac’s monthly brunch offering.

Sidpac and Ashdown have weekly coffee hours (on different nights) where they serve fresh fruit, guacamole, chips, deli meat and a few other snack items. Technically the food is supposed to be consumed during the event, but there are usually extras up for grab. You can get 3 – 4 days’ worth of fruit and veggie consumption for free between these events every week! Sidpac and Ashdown also have a monthly brunch where they serve LOTS of pancakes, omelets, eggs, sausage, bagels, pastries and fresh fruit. Again, you can take some home and enjoy it for a couple of days after each brunch. Tang Hall also has a few brunches throughout the year.

Take advantage of the abundance of free food.
Take advantage of the abundance of free food.

Besides these regular events, each building has a speaker series and other social events (Pi day celebration, dessert night, CoSi discussions, Chinese New Year, etc.) where you get to socialize with students from various departments and enjoy free meals. At the beginning of the year, there are tons of BBQs for an entire month in each of these dorms.

Amenities / Location

Every dorm has a gym, though Sidpac has the best; they have cardio machines as well as weights. It is very convenient to work out for half an hour at the beginning or at the end of the day when the gym is a few steps away from your room. I was on the treadmill literally less than 3 minutes after waking up every morning. With our busy schedule, this was very valuable for me to maintain my health and energy.

Most dorms have music rooms with pianos. All the dorms (except Tang) have study rooms on every floor where you can study by yourself or with friends. They’re away from your bedroom but still close enough to grab your cup of tea or fruit whenever you want.

Sidpac, Ashdown, and Warehouse have entertainment rooms where you can play ping pong, pool, foosball, air hockey or even Xbox or PS for free! You can check out the pads or ball at the front desk anytime during the day. Also these dorms have a lounge with a large screen TV on every floor where you can watch TV or a movie. Every lounge has a DVD/Blu-ray player. You can watch your own movies or check out a movie from the front desk for free (their inventory is huge and the list is online).

The dorm music room.
The dorm music room.

Every dorm also has a laundry room with about 20 washers and dryers. You can use TechCASH on your MIT ID or quarters to pay.

Sidpac, Ashdown, Warehouse and Edgerton are less than 5 minutes walking distance from Shaw’s supermarket, which is a large grocery store. The store is open until midnight and the neighborhood is very safe, even late at night, to walk around.

Misc Advantages

  • In the dorms, you don’t have to shovel the snow on the sidewalks, but some landlords of off-campus apartments require you to do it.
  • The dorms are part of the MIT campus and are SUPER SAFE – security guards do rounds every few minutes at night but apartments are usually in a different neighborhood north of Main St. – not as safe.
  • In the dorms, you are central to everything and can easily interact with the greater MIT community.
  • In the dorms, your mail is safe but some apartment buildings have simple boxes just outside the building.
  • In the dorms, you are on MIT’s internet network which is reliable, safe, and you can access everything.
  • In the dorms, you leave your garbage at the door and it is picked up EVERYDAY – they even give you a fresh garbage bag, every time they pick up your trash.
  • At Sidpac, you can check out bikes on daily basis for free.
  • In the dorms, you can check out vacuum cleaners and/or ironing board.
  • Many of your classmates live in the dorms and are readily accessible.
Living on Campus vs Renting an Apartment

3 thoughts on “Living on Campus vs Renting an Apartment

  1. […] Something that never gets old about studentship is procrastination. Once the initial excitement faded away, I started thinking about job opportunities and brushing up on my study skills. We had some assignments to complete before the first day of classes in August and I also wanted to research the recruiting companies in order to better prepare myself for interviews. However due to procrastination, I fulfilled only a small portion of my plans in the three month gap between admission and first day of school. Moving to Cambridge in July was a story in itself; you can read more on it in my other post about housing. […]

  2. XLL says:

    Hi Hoss, I was wondering if you could comment on how strict the front desk staff at the Warehouse are about grad students having guests, my S.O. might be living there and I would be in and out of the building very frequently and also would stay overnight frequently. Are they stringent about that? Any comment is much appreciated!!

  3. Hoss says:

    Hi XLL. Sorry for the late response. You probably have figured out your answer by now but from my experience the staff are not stringent at all. Technically you are not supposed to have guests staying over a week and even for that period the guests must be signed in. However I had friends staying over for a few days and even my parents stayed with me during graduation week without any inquiries by the staff.

    That being said, I am not sure about someone actually living there with you! I think the bigger question is how comfortable your housemate(s) would be with the situation. As long as they are OK, I don’t think the staff would notice it. But that is against the contract that you signed with MIT housing and if you get caught there are consequences.

    I hope this helps.

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