My freshman year of college, I lived in a dorm with five other girls and one bathroom. It could have been a disaster, but by a stroke of luck we lived together incredibly well. Not everyone had such a fortunate random draw—one friend from down the hall still talks about the “mold farm” her roommate cultivated in the middle of their common space, and another’s roommate had a rotating cast of loud, uninvited (ahem) ‘guests’ in their shared room nearly every night of the week.
When deciding to go to grad school, I knew that living with roommates in a house that felt like home would be important. I was prepared to live with strangers, but didn’t want to gamble on a possible mold farm in my front room.
How could I avoid the stranger-danger risk? Easy. I asked questions. A lot of them.
But first – finding your people
Before you can ask any questions, you have to find a person who’s willing to answer them. As a student, you quickly learn that resources at MIT are very decentralized. This quirk can make finding roommates tricky. I connected with several possible roommates through admitted student events or student-created resources (e.g. listings in Google sheets) before I found my roommates on the MIT/Harvard Facebook Housing Group. Because these roommate-finding resources are a bit scattered, it can help to reach out directly to current students in your program, who may know where to find them. This post also gives more info about the logistics of finding housing and roommates in the Boston area.
Is it a good fit?
Though it may seem like the interrogation is a bit much, asking lots of questions helps to find roommates that share common goals, which are crucial to a good living setup. I’d encourage you to have a conversation with potential roommates early on (ideally before moving in!) about norms and expectations. Maybe you’ll touch on your hopes and dreams. At the very least, you’ll want to talk about what you want--and what you definitely don’t want--out of a living situation.
Here are some of the questions my roommates and I discussed before co-signing our lease:
- How would you want to share housework? How clean do you like to keep your home? I am a neat freak, which can make it hard to live with me--I aired this right away!
- How do you typically address conflict in a housing situation? I wanted to make sure that my roommates were comfortable with raising tricky but important topics, like questions related to finances and shared resources. Passive aggression doesn’t help determine who should buy the next batch of toilet paper, or whether you’re okay with sharing food.
- Do you want the housing set up to lean more towards roommates-as-friends, or roommates-as-roommates? While some people enjoy living in homes where everyone maintains separate lives and spends most of their time at home alone, we were looking to build a home that had a stronger sense of community and friendship.
- What do you think is the thing about you that’s hardest to live with? I love Alain De Botton’s suggestion that we should talk about our flaws up front. I’d highly suggest asking this question so there are no surprises--but you have to be ready to share your own flaws as well! Besides being particular about cleanliness, I’m also a stickler about recycling and composting. By asking this question, I learned that my roommates were too! After this discussion, I knew these quirks wouldn’t cause problems in my living situation.
- What’s your budget and where do you want to live? If you’re a great personality fit but they only want to live in Beacon Hill and you’re committed to Cambridge, it may not work out.
- What are your top priorities for a house? While you may be most interested in having a home close to campus, your potential roommate may want their own bathroom or prefer a managed building to the classic triple-decker.
So you’ve found a roommate--yay! Once you’re confident they’re a good fit, you can begin to consider some of the many other factors that affect your housing search:
- Affordability: What’s your house’s full budget? Don’t forget to discuss how you plan to split shared expenses like a broker’s fee.
- Location: What neighborhoods allow you to get the things you each prioritize? I chose to live off-campus, but many graduate students take advantage of on-campus housing and enjoy being so close to classes. If you’re interested in on-campus housing, be sure to check out this guide as well.
- Walkability and transit: How will you get to campus and around town? Is your home close to a convenient bus line, T-stop, or bike share dock that will allow you to travel easily and quickly to your common haunts? If you prefer to walk, how many minutes does it take to get to your school, lab, or job?
- Food options: Do you typically buy your food at a specific grocery store? Is there one nearby? If you never cook, are there plenty of fast-casual options? When I go to the grocery store, I like to go to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, so I looked for a place that had these two stores close by.
- Things to do: You won’t be in school all of the time… are there things nearby that you can do for fun? When I moved to Boston, I rededicated myself to running and have enjoyed living close enough to the Charles to take advantage of the waterside paths.
Considering these factors ahead of time helped me to land in a happy home with two new friends—and all I had to do was launch a minor inquisition!