Now that you’ve been welcomed to the HDS community, you may be wondering, “How do I live in this expensive place on student loans?”
The graduate student dorms and apartments are a great option if you’re looking for communal living and proximity to campus. However, if you want to live alone or in a more house-like setting, you’ll want to look farther afield. Craigslist is probably your best option. Be aware that, for most spaces in the Boston area, you’ll be expected to pay the amount of four months’ rent up front: a full month security deposit, first and last months’ rent, and the amount of a full month’s rent as a realtor fee (the last of which you won’t get back). You can seek out no-fee and reduced-fee options, and small-scale landlords will often have lesser deposits, but those places are a bit harder to find. You can start looking now, but openings for August 1 or September 1 will probably not show up in great numbers until June.
My first year in Cambridge/Somerville, I lived just on the Somerville side of the border, in Inman Square. (As DC measures neighborhoods in circles, the Boston area measures in squares, which are definitionally never, ever square). Inman Square is a great neighborhood, a mixture of students (including MANY div students) and young families, with a number of great bars and restaurants nearby. I paid around $900 for a small bedroom in a nice three-bedroom house. I generally walked to school (10 minutes) or biked (5 minutes).
My second year, I wanted a space of my own. I looked at studios and one-bedrooms in Cambridge, but $1300-$1500 for a single square room was more than I was willing to pay. I moved a bit farther, to Union Square (Somerville), which is a neighborhood in which you can find Brazilian, South American, and East Asian grocery stores and hipster coffee shops. I pay about $200 more to have a one-bedroom in a somewhat less-nice (but perfectly comfortable for me) building. I go to the grocery store and the gym in Porter Square, a 20-minute walk away. The main obstacle between me and school is that the deeper you go into Somerville, the steeper the hill. I bike when I can (15 minutes), walk occasionally (30 minutes), and take the bus (the 86 goes direct from Union Square, through Inman, and straight to Harvard Square past the Div School, and is always full of Harvard folks) when the cold or rain makes me grumpy.
A final note on having a car. You probably don’t need one, but you may want one. I have never mastered the art of urban grocery shopping (one heavy thing per trip, not five), and I wanted the ability to escape the city whenever I wanted. I didn’t pay for a campus parking permit, as they’re super expensive, and for me not worth it. My first year, I parked on the street ($30 annually for a Somerville parking permit). I never had trouble finding space, but I paid regular parking tickets for forgetting to move my car to the correct side of the street for street sweeping ($25 ticket) or snow emergencies ($100 ticket and a $300 towing fee). This year, my building offered a parking space for $50 per month, and that has been absolutely worth it given the amount of snow we’ve had this year. Most people use Zipcar or car rentals when they need a car, but I love my Prius.