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Expenses of Living in Boston as a BU Undergrad (Part 1)

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Hello hello! I’m Cate, one of the teachers and co-founders of Thrive English!

A little about me: studied English and Linguistics at Boston University from 2013-16. It was a general Bachelor of Arts degree with a double-major, which is easier to do in the US. I knew I wanted to go to a large school instead of a small school, and wanted to live somewhere very different from my hometown, San Diego.

I knew that living far from home would teach me to be independent–not just in character, but also financially. I worked every summer in high school, earning about $10 USD/hour ($300 NTD/hour), plus tips. I was proud to have received a generous scholarship, but quickly realized how much work I had left to do. Once I realized the exorbitant (exaggeratedly high) cost of university, I had a small heart attack.

In 2013, when I started college, reports estimated that one year of “room and board” (what Americans call living expenses, specifically rent and food) in Boston cost around $15,000 USD, or $450,000 NTD.This is a LOT! I’d never had to pay my own rent–even my four summers of work before college wouldn’t cover basic living expenses for just one year. I was determined to save as much as I could, and spend as little as possible.

I lived in dormitories for my first two years. My dorm, Shelton Hall (renamed Kilachand Hall), was just a five-minute walk to Fenway Park/Kenmore Square! (This is where the Boston Red Sox play baseball, at the oldest baseball stadium in America!) Because I was in a special program, I didn’t have a choice of where to live for my first year. Some undergraduate programs require all first-year students to live on-campus or with their cohort. Most schools are flexible on this rule, especially for graduate students!

I absolutely loved living on Bay State Road. Close to the Esplanade (a greenway/bike path along the Charles River), having access to study halls on the first and top floors open 24/7, and just across the street from my dining hall, I was quite lucky to live in East Campus. This is the “quieter” side of campus–romantic, green, and beautiful. I still go back to visit this neighborhood every time I visit Boston. (Bay State is only loud on Friday and Saturday nights at the Harvard/MIT fraternity houses! Apart from these parties, you’re more likely to see grandmas and grandpas strolling the sidewalks to see the lovely flowers and foliage.)

It cost an average of $9,000 USD ($270,000 NTD) for the academic year, September - June. Compared to similar locations and apartment styles, paying less than $1000/month USD ($30000 NTD) for rent was a great deal! Looking back on it, I think it was expensive, but worth the cost for all of the many benefits.

My second year in Boston, I stayed in the same dorm, this time with three friends I’d met from church and school clubs. The set-up was a “suite,” which meant I shared a room with one girl, and two other girls shared another joint room. Together, the four of us shared a private bathroom. I was glad to live with friends! We supported each other through tough seasons, and shared jokes, food, and laughter together. I strongly recommend living with other people–it might not be the most “convenient,” and you might have to wait in line for the bathroom, but these shared living experiences have been some of the best seasons in my life!

Before you pass on, and say, “I’d rather live on my own,” consider this: sharing your room cuts your rent in HALF. Paying 50% of 100% is a great way to save money! Of course, I recommend spending time looking for a solid roommate! If you don’t want to live with close friends, then meeting friends of friends, or mutual acquaintances is a great start. My classmates shared how they rented a two-bedroom apartment for three people (this was before the pandemic), and had the third roommate stay in the living room to cut down on rent. You don’t have to do this (keep reading to find out why), but the general principle remains: the more roommates you have, the less you’ll pay for rent.

After my sophomore year, I stayed in Boston for summer classes, but didn’t do summer housing through school. I tried to find the cheapest places I could, in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill. In 2015, I paid around $700 USD ($21,000 NTD) per month, not including utilities (water, electricity). I shared a large basement with 2 other girls from BU. There were 8 girls total in the house, most of whom attended MCPHS, a pharmacy school, or Northeastern University. The house itself was comfortable and had a great kitchen! Was grateful for this opportunity to practice cooking.

However, we had several complaints: according to the Facebook advertisement and when we first inspected the room, the basement room was fully furnished with beds and furniture. However, on the day we moved in, all the furniture was gone! We felt a bit cheated when the other tenants changed the terms of the contract after the previous renters moved out. We still stayed, because it was only for the summer, and we wouldn’t have been able to find housing on such short notice.

Still, I recommend confirming whether your room will be furnished (includes furniture) or unfurnished (no furniture) before you move in. Another challenge we faced was splitting utilities with so many people. Some people used the A/C all day in the summer, but we didn’t need one, since we were in the basement. We also had to count days when people left for vacation; they shouldn’t have to pay for the time they weren’t home. All in all, I was grateful for the relatively cheap summer housing, but would have chosen a different place to live with friends I trusted.

TIP: Most US housing is unfurnished. If you’re moving to Boston, and hope to save money on furniture, you can find free second-hand furniture at “Allston Christmas,” a week at the end of August/beginning of September. Many students move out that week, as yearly leases start with the beginning of the academic year. I would be careful in selection! It won’t be new, but you’ll find tables, chairs, sofas, and even mattresses around Allston, “free for the taking.” Whatever isn’t taken, Boston will clean up within a week. If you need help with your grad school application, sign up our 20-minutes FREE consultation.

If you want to practice/improve your English speaking, come and try out our conversation class for free for one week.

Have a nice day!

Cate Shubat

Private Tutor at Thrive English Language Center

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