Getting started at MIT: a practical checklist

Written By: Luiz Gosling and Vitor Miceli, SCMr Co2019

After being admitted to MIT and celebrating with your friends and family, it is time to prepare to move to Cambridge and plan for the SCM program. If you are coming from a different country (as we both did), some tasks can be tricky and several elements will be fairly new.

However, you should not worry, as we are here to help you out with a checklist for the coming months. This post will cover six things we wish we knew before moving to Cambridge, and hopefully will provide you some new information for the journey ahead.

First things first: Financials

Let’s talk about money. We are already in April and the next class of SCMr students are likely planning the details of their trip to Cambridge. One important constraint is often budget. MIT provides a set of estimates that pretty much nail the average cost of living and studying in Cambridge (check this and this). From our perspective, you can expect to spend between $1,900 and $2,300 monthly, depending on where you choose to live and lifestyle preferences. Joy Zhao and Hao Wang wrote a great post about enjoying life at MIT without breaking the bank. Make sure to check it.

If you are coming from abroad, you will likely need to open a bank account in the US. There are several different options and a simple Google search will reveal them. However, most of the banks will require you to be in the US to open the account. If being able to open account before coming to Cambridge is an important factor for you (as it was for us), MIT has a banking arm called MIT FCU, which allows you to do this.

Home sweet home

Our classmate Ge Li has already covered in her post all the key aspects of MIT housing, the lottery process, the pros and cons of each option, and our collective opinions on our apartments. You should definitely check it out. Choosing the right place to live is one of the most important decisions you will face during the moving process and we can’t stress this enough. The first fundamental aspect is choosing between living on- or off-campus. Living on-campus simply means living in an MIT-owned building near the school (see the map below with some points of interest). While living off-campus might mean having a larger space or spending less on rent, it might impact your weekly routine. So, plan ahead! Quick tip: walking to/from Tang Hall to E40 (where CTL is located) takes about 20 min. From SidPac, about 15 min.


MIT Campus map (“the triangle”), on-campus residential buildings (in blue), relevant academic buildings (in red), and two important campus references (in black)

Sweat it out

MIT students are not just focused on classes and homeworks. They also like sports (a lot, if you ask the two of us) and the campus and the Z-Center (see map above) offer a multitude of options to have fun and exercise. These options range from typical activities like basketball and tennis, to “things that you must try at least once in your life and then tell the story” like VR golfing and a full bow and arrow shooting range. Cambridge is also a great place to exercise outside, run, or jog (by our sampling, 140% of the Greater Boston population jogs). The indoor facilities are open nearly all day and are free to use. It is also possible to register for group classes like crossfit and hip-hop dancing, but these are mostly paid for.

Stay Connected

Probably the first thing you will do upon arrival is getting your phone online with a mobile plan. You are probably aware of the major carriers in the US (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint) and the plans do not differ widely. As a reference, you can expect to spend around $50/mo. for a single line with a prepaid plan. A plan that is a bit different from the rest and worth mentioning is the Google Fi project (check it out here).

Health Plan

All MIT students are required to have some kind of medical coverage during the academic year. MIT tuition already covers a basic medical plan, yet the State of Massachusetts requires  additional coverage. Every student needs to get this (it’s state law), and MIT offers an option called “MIT Extended Health Insurance” (the common choice among our classmates). This coverage is not cheap (they never are), so do your homework and compare options before deciding. In any case, don’t wait until August to address this topic as most plans require immunization and copies of medical records for new members, which could take a while due to some mandatory vaccination intervals between shots. If you have kids, you’re probably already behind schedule, so hurry up. (:

Time flies!

After all this planning exercise you will soon start to picture yourself in Cambridge. To help you with that, we would like to paint a brief picture of what our typical weeks looked like in our first semester:


Our average week-hours breakdown during the Orientation (August) and Fall semester

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