Student Life

Enjoy the most expensive city for a dollar or less…

Cambridge, MA is definitely one of the most expensive places on the planet. If you are wondering how to survive in this place on a student’s budget (aka low) and a student’s salary (aka zero), read along and you will be amazed how much is on offer. You will be surprised to realize that the true joys of life are indeed FREE!!!
Written by Param Iyer

Cambridge, MA is definitely one of the most expensive places on the planet. If you are wondering how to survive in this place on a student’s budget (aka low) and a student’s salary (aka zero), read along and you will be amazed how much is on offer. You will be surprised to realize that the true joys of life are indeed FREE!!!

Reaching MIT from Airport:

Figure 1: Route from Logan Airport to MIT
(Courtesy: Google Maps)

This is unbelievable unless you experience it yourself. From any of the terminals, you follow public transportation & look for Silver Line buses (SL1). It has a frequency of 10 mins most of the time. The bus is free and terminates at Boston South station on Red Line, and takes you past the fare gates. Take the train to Alewife, which has a frequency of 5 mins most of the time, and 4 stops later, you are at Kendall/MIT. You can even do it with usual luggage items. This is one of the best incentives any airport has created to reduce cars and promote public transport. Being able to reach MIT without cash, cards, local sim or Wi-Fi is an awesome way to ‘Go Green’!

MIT ID Card:

Your MIT ID card is free and it provides access to amazing places for free.

  • MIT Museum: Check out this geeky utopia any day of the week. The gestural engineering gallery marries art and science in a novel way and deserves a museum of its own. On weekends, look out for Idea Hub where on-hand science experiments await the young and the old. Other galleries keep changing now and then, so you are sure to see something new in every visit. Don’t miss the museum shop – it has cool nerdy stuff for your nieces and nephews, besides yourself. Entry is free with MIT ID, otherwise it costs 15$ for adults. As a bonus, you can also take one human being (who doesn’t have an MIT ID) for free!!!
  • Museum of Science: This nugget of knowledge and everything related to science is on a bridge to Boston. It is a pleasant walk from Kendall and also right on the Green Line (E) – but walking takes less time. Entry to the exhibit gallery is free with Student MIT ID (unfortunately Spouse MIT ID is not acceptable), otherwise it costs 28$ for adults.
  • Museum of Fine Arts: Enjoy an awesome collection of art galleries in an equally awesome building. Entry is free with MIT ID, otherwise it costs 25$ for adults. There are other free times worth checking out if you are visiting with friends and family. It is right on the Green Line (E), so you can take the Red Line from Kendall and change at Park Street.
  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A great place to visit for the art connoisseurs. It is a 5-minute walk from Longwood on the Green Line (E), so you can take the Red Line from Kendall and change at Park Street. Entry is free with MIT ID, otherwise it costs 28$ for adults. Of course, if your parents were wise enough to name you Isabella, you don’t need this tip!
  • MIT ID Card for your Spouse: If you are staying on campus, your spouse ‘needs’ the ID card to access the residence. This implies that they get MIT ID card for free (usually it costs 25$). Just submit the online application and wait for Grad Housing to verify the residential status and approve it before you go to Atlas Center.

MIT Account:

Your Kerberos ID and/or MIT email address provides access to many events for free.

  • Concerts: Look out for MIT symphony and other musical events in MIT event calendars. If you book them through your MIT account, access is free (usually 5$ for public).
  • Seminars and Speaker Series: Check out MIT event calendars for mind-blowing and mind-bending topics covered by professionals and academics. Most of them are free when booked through your MIT account, though some may require you to join some clubs (mostly for free) as a pre-requisite.
  • MIT Shuttles: Enjoy the nice and spacious vans with courteous drivers happy to move you around the campus and beyond. Use the MIT Mobile app to check routes, timings, live tracking & set alerts for arrival.
  • Tech Shuttle covers the entire campus during mornings and evenings. The route changes slightly in the afternoon, as it skips Kendall & turns at Ames St.
    • SafeRide Shuttle is another version of Tech Shuttle with reduced frequency after evening hours. There is also an on-demand version when it is really late.
    • Grocery Shuttle is available during Sundays. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods beyond west end of the campus are covered multiple times every Sunday. Costco and Target (at Everett) are covered twice during first three Sundays every month
    • For those venturing out of campus regularly, there are more shuttle options – check out or Shuttles menu within MIT Mobile App.

Costco Card Loan:

Graduate students can borrow a Costco card from MIT Copytech office (in Main Building basement 11-004) for free. Only catch is the availability – you can check before going there, but they won’t hold the card for you. If you take it on Thu/Fri, you need to return it on Monday. Fines are steep, so make sure you don’t splurge the savings on lack of discipline.

MIT Medical:

Your basic student health coverage is part of tuition fee and gives you access to non-emergency services at MIT Medical (Building E18). Here are some additional free services you may not be aware of:

  • Tea/Coffee at entrance
    • Safe sex supplies on 3rd floor
    • Health checkup mandated by school for your kids
    • Immunizations mandated by school for your kids

MIT Recreation:

Access to most of the sports and recreation facilities is free for the student (families need to pay a separate fee). You just need to enroll and sign the liability waiver. You can access the services at Z-Center and Alumni/Wang Center.

MIT Libraries:

While access to libraries is something everyone knows about, here are some special tips:

  • No one needs an MIT ID to enter the library or read anything within the library.
    • Your spouse’s MIT ID can be setup for library access for them to issue books.
    • You can select books across the MIT libraries and have then held at one closest to you.
    • You can order books from partner libraries (via BorrowDirect service).
    • You can request case studies to be ordered online for you (via Illiad service).
    • You can access 24×7 quiet study spaces (you will need MIT ID to access).
    • You can book rooms for self-study or group study (access controlled by MIT ID).


IS&T provides free access to many OS, utility and productivity software of your choice.

Atlas Center:

This place is not only for getting your MIT ID. You can also get free tea/coffee/hot chocolate inside waiting area. You also have access to hardware/software support services here for free. Make sure to enjoy the 3-D printed model of entire MIT campus on display.

MIT Tunnel Network:

This is a life-saver during the harsh winters of north-east. The tunnel network covers most of the main building area and goes east till E17. It is easy to navigate once you have the map: While under the Infinite Corridor, you might be lucky enough to see the glass blowing lab in action.

MIT Compton Lounge:

You can enjoy this innovation in stress-relief managed by UnderGrads (in Building 26-110). You need your MIT ID to access the room, which is full of Legos, tea/coffee, craft material, and bananas!


MIT Furniture Exchange is a non-profit setup run by women at the far west end of the campus. You can pick up some great deals on furniture and kitchen items, as long as you bring your MIT ID. The table at exit contains amazing stuff such as books, crockery, chairs, etc. that you can take for free!

Movies at MIT:

LSC organizes movies which are free at many times of the year. Check out their website for showtimes:

Around Cambridge neighborhood

Cambridge Public Library

Cambridge Public Library Stone Building Image Courtesy: CPL Website

You need a proof of residence to become a library member for free. MIT ID is not enough, but Housing is happy to give you a letter that serves the purpose. Here are some useful tips:

  • No one needs a card to enter the library or read anything within the library.
    • You can issue as many books as you wish as long as you can keep track of them.
    • You can request books anywhere in the Minuteman network to be held at the library closest to you.
    • You can avail free/discounted passes/coupons to attractions in Cambridge/Boston.
    • You can access free Wi-Fi throughout the vicinity of the library.

Cambridge Public School District

If your kid is 4 years and above, you can enroll them in free public school starting at Pre-Kindergarten. All public schools within the district are grouped together and you can access them in your preferred order. Make sure to get the immunizations in order, and have relevant documentary evidence during registration. For proof of residence within Cambridge, you can request Housing to issue a standard letter. School bus eligibility depends on travel distance, and is free if provided. Breakfast is free for students.

CambridgeSide Shuttle Service:

The CambridgeSide mall is home to many retail outlets and restaurants/food court. While it is a short walk to the mall, the free shuttle service from/to Kendall square is much appreciated during bad weather or hands full of shopping bags.

USS Constitution:

USS Constitution Ship
Image Courtesy: US Navy Website

Charlestown Navy Yard is home to the USS Constitution ship that you can visit for free. Make sure to carry your State ID or Passport (MIT ID will not suffice) to enter the ship. Guided tours by Naval officers are really worth waiting for. You can also check out the USS Constitution Museum nearby which has lots of fun activities for kids. Access to museum is free if you book an online pass via Cambridge Public Library. Otherwise, you can enter for free and donate what you can afford.

What you could get from Harvard

Harvard Semitic Museum:

This boutique museum set in a three-story house and covers history of Israel, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Entry is free and it open on Sundays. You can park your MIT ID card to get an iPad loaded with some of the interactive features within the galleries.  You also get free Wi-Fi within Harvard campus once you register.

Harvard Art Museums:

This represents a collection of three museums in the Harvard campus. Entry is free if you have a student ID (such as MIT ID) or you have a Cambridge residence proof, otherwise it is 15$ for adults.

Harvard Museum of Natural History

This museum is sure to charm the young and old alike as long as they stay curious. You can see lots of amazing exhibits in a very small space (one would wish they had twice the display space). Entry is free on Sundays if you enter between 9am to 12 noon as long as you have Cambridge residence proof; otherwise, it is 15$ for adults.

Inside the Widener Library. Photo Credit The Harvard Crimson

Harvard Library:

MIT student could visit the Widener Library’s privileges office for a Harvard library card. You could enjoy the environment of oldest university libraries in North America.

Going to Boston:

There are two bridges (Longfellow Bridge near Sloan & Harvard Bridge near MIT little dome) connecting Cambridge to Boston that are very close to MIT. Depending on which part of the campus you are at, a walk along the bridge is your free ride to Boston.

Boston Children’s Museum:

OK, this museum is not really free, but if you go on Fridays after 5PM, it costs 1$. For all the fun you can have with your kids till 9PM, I would say it is a wonderful deal. Remember that you need to enter with a kid, otherwise you need to deposit your ID at reception.

Hope you make the best of your time at MIT & Cambridge, while enjoying the good life for free!