Here is an embellished email I sent to some of my future Language & Literacy buddies.
Congratulations on your admission! I remember around this time last year, I was so conflicted because as a California native, I really didn’t want to leave. However, once I decided to make this East Coast move, the next thing I had to figure out was … .. .. dun dun dun dahhhh: Housing. Where do I live?
Initially, I was supposed to live with two other friends from the West Coast, but just in case that fell through, I applied for both Cronkhite and GSAS housing. Well, my plans did fall through, but I qualified for Cronkhite housing! I love it. Not only do I get to mingle with people from HGSE, but there are students from the other grad schools as well (the Harvard Kennedy School, the Divinity School, the Graduate School of Design, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Law School…most likely in that order). The food is really good and the rooms are tolerable. The people are all great and you each get a single room. Furthermore, I’m really close to HGSE. It takes me 4 minutes, folks, to get from my dorm room to my class. (I walk fast, take shortcuts, and cut corners – it’s all about the hypotenuses.) Especially if you’re not planning to stay in Boston or are unwilling to sign a year-long lease, grad housing or Harvard apartments are great.
This is limited only to the options I saw my friends take. Most of them are at least a year-long lease. In general, try to live near the T (T=subway) or a regularly running bus. MBTA is your friend. I recommend getting a Linkpass (you’ll get an e-mail for a student deal. First semester I got the T+Bus pass, second semester, I only got the Bus pass because I didn’t use the T very often.)
When I was looking for housing, I only looked around Harvard, Central, and Kendall T-stops. That was a mistake. Apartments there are expensive and hard to find if you’re unfamiliar with the area (and if you’re on the other coast). In general though, keep in mind that Cambridge housing is not very cheap, so brace yourselves.
Watertown: If you live off Mt. Auburn Street – the main road running through Cambridge and Watertown – different busses go up and down about every 12-15 minutes (or more frequently during peak hours). It’s cheap too. Going from Harvard Square to Watertown square is 25 minutes tops.
Belmont: Different busses. Again, very frequent. An affordable area.
Porter/Davis Square (in Somerville): Red Line T. A lot of people I know live here. Some people bike. Some people take the subway. If you live off Massachusetts Avenue (the main road running through Cambridge and Somerville), you could take one of the many busses that go up and down that street.
Boston: Taking the plunge across the bridge? Just FYI: The Green line T can be really slow. I have a few friends in Brookline though, and their places are really nice. Really nice. They’re also planning to stay so they nested.
Other Places: I know of people who live as far as an hour’s drive away. They take the train or drive. So it’s definitely doable.
Are you worried about the walk? I’d say use google maps and click the “walk” button. Unless you know you’re a sloth, most likely, your walking pace will be faster than the pace Google uses to guesstimate time. Maybe anywhere within a mile is good? It snows but Cambridge is good about salting the streets so you won’t be slogging through snow. Also, you’ll have snow boots! They’re great.
Bikes are great too. I’m so envious of my friends with bicycles. Especially this year, it barely rained or snowed. I wished I’d had a bike. You’ll also want to invest in a good lock! Anyway, people bike from everywhere.
Public Transportation: I think the Linkpass is a good investment, especially if you’re new to the area and will be accidentally hopping on and off different modes of transportation. It also forces you to go out more and explore. However, if you foresee yourself not using it often, then just buy a CharlieCard. You can reload it as often as you want and you get a discount on the bus and the T! Lastly, most HGSE events end before the T closes, so even if you live farther away, you can still be involved with the community and get home more or less conveniently. Taxis are all right too.
I hope this helps, and if you’re familiar with the area, you should post comments on other suggestions, warnings, disputes, and disagreements! If you still have questions, just call the Office of Student Affairs.
Here’s the official HGSE Housing Tips site. Happy House Hunting!