MIT Experience

SCM Children. Stories heard and lessons learned.

This blog post was intended to show different perspectives on bringing families with children to Cambridge while studying. However, during its writing and discussion with classmates, we had a lot of good arguing going on behind the initial subject. We talked about role of men and women in families, the difference between moms and dads in children’s eyes, gender equality, and social perceptions of it, and so on.
Written by Elizaveta (Liz) Shafir


This blog post was intended to show different perspectives on bringing families with children to Cambridge while studying. However, during its writing and discussion with classmates, we had a lot of good arguing going on behind the initial subject. We talked about role of men and women in families, the difference between moms and dads in children’s eyes, gender equality, and social perceptions of it, and so on.

As I assume that the reader also may have questions about it, before you read this post, please read the author’s position on the matter. I personally believe in individual personality and that everyone deserves to pursue his or her dreams and ambitions regardless of gender or family status. Moreover, I believe that there is no such thing as a right or wrong decision when talking about families and children. Every decision is the right one as long as it works for the family.*

My story

Having two toddlers never stopped me from pursuing my professional and academic dreams. Completing the MicroMasters, applying to the Blended program, being accepted. All these happened in parallel with two children being born and raised.

The question was – how to make it happen during the on-campus semester.

We considered all options. I go alone, my husband stays with the children. I go with the children my husband comes to visit us every other weekend. We all go together.

I pictured all these in my head for some time. On the one hand, we were talking about just 5 months (blended program), and a 2.5-hour flight between Chicago and Boston. On the other hand, for Mika, my younger daughter, who was 20 months when the program started, it would be one-quarter of her whole life. That’s a lot.

I decided that I would not go anywhere without the children. Soon after, my husband made his decision – he wouldn’t stay without us.

Envisioning the workload at school and the difficulty for my husband (and any living person!) of being 24/7 with two toddlers, I also invited my mom to come here from Russia to live with us and help out.

So, all three of us resigned ourselves and came to Cambridge.

We have a lot of families with children in the class. But I’m the only mom with children here.

I don’t want to underestimate the role of dads in families, don’t get me wrong. But all moms will understand how hard it is to de-prioritize children in one’s life and focus on studying.

We applied for the MIT daycare (right after getting the admission letter), but never got places, as all the spaces were filled already in August-September, and it’s almost impossible to get a place during the year.

After a couple of months at home, my older daughter Alisia went to a daycare close to the campus for two, and later three, days a week to socialize and have a little more fun than at home. Initially we didn’t apply for daycare centers off campus, because we hoped to receive places at the MIT Technology Centers. We could have saved $150 (and also time) by applying to all the daycare centers on campus and near the campus at the same time before coming to Cambridge.

Lesson #1: If you come with children, especially for the blended program, mark all daycare options on the application, not only those located on campus.

As I knew that my mom would be here helping for some time, at least while we were settling, I didn’t apply for on-campus housing, thinking that living off-campus would be more comfortable. Though my current apartment has more space and is in better condition than any of the student houses, now, after all difficulties with the apartment search, lease signing for 5 months, prices significantly higher than on-campus, a longer commute, I wish we had stayed on-campus.

In addition, family graduate housing has play rooms, music, and other classes for children.

Lesson #2: Stay on campus if you can. It is not worth the time, effort and money for a short time (5 or even 10 months) invested in off-campus living.

Several random things about life with kids at MIT:

  • My husband got a spouse MIT ID and enrolled the whole family at the Sport Center. It costs around $180 to get family access to the swimming pool and other facilities. Definitely worth it.
  • We registered at the local public library: its branches have playrooms, books, events for kids, and much more.
  • The majority of museums are free for children under 2 or 3 years, and it’s possible to buy discounted tickets as well through public libraries or MITAC.
  • Though we have a car, we rarely use it, moving around Cambridge and Boston mainly walking, bicycling or using public transportation as parking is a big challenge, and distances are not that far.

Alisia, 3.5 years old:

In the morning: “Mom, don’t forget to come home!”

In the afternoon, I came back earlier than usual: “Mom, why didn’t you come back at night??”

Alisia is at the MIT Museum – super proud of her construction

Mika, almost 2 years old:

Just starts talking: “Mom, mom, hoooome!” a lot of giggles following. Rare day – I came home before their bed time.

Mika – young MIT-inspired engineer

I’ve asked some of my classmates about their experience of bringing children to campus.

Param, Blended class, India; son Rajat, 12yo:

Six months is a short period of time to move the whole family, but too long at the same time to stay away from each other, especially at this important teenager age. It’s critical to stay together as a family. So I moved together from India with my wife and a son. We concluded that it’s more destructive to be apart than together.

My wife took a break from her job and we all enrolled in this adventure. I was going to get the best education in the world, and I wanted my son to be exposed to the best learning opportunities as well. It was very easy to get enrolled in the school, we came 3 weeks before MIT classes started, and arranged everything. We chose the nearest school: it’s a 15-minute walk from Eastgate. Also, having children there gives you access to family graduate housing, which is good.

The only difficulty we faced was with immunization records for Rajat. Documents were not properly prepared and we had to get additional immunizations to get enrolled in the school and pay for them, around $200.

Lesson #3: Check immunization records carefully before coming to the US

Vrushali, Blended class, New Zealand; daughter Ramita 4yo:

We are a tiny nuclear family of three. Around one and half years ago, we moved from India to New Zealand. We arranged a house, car, school, daycare, and both I and my spouse found new jobs. I was on the third MicroMasters course then and MIT was still a distant dream. Fast forward a year and we got an admission letter. We didn’t have the heart to move again across the globe and then move back after 5 months. But we did several things to make it work. My husband worked out a flexible work arrangement with his company. I worked out phone meetings with my daughter’s school and daycare. We kept money aside for any emergency travel as well as my travel to New Zealand during spring break. We worked out the best time for daily family Skype calls. It was touching to see the support from our work and social circle in NZ. I am now less than 6 weeks away from finishing my program and traveling back home. When my degree comes in June, it may have only my name on it, but all three of us will have earned it!

Kristof, Blended class, China; children Noah, 4yo and Bo, 7yo:

I decided to go to Cambridge alone, as bringing my wife and kids to the US would have meant that my wife would have to give up her company and that my son would have to give up the good primary school he finally got accepted to as well as the nanny we had for our second son. Not having my family at MIT means I can focus more on my studies and on building relations with my classmates. Since the blended program is relatively short, I want to get the most out of it and disrupt the life of my family as little as possible. However, the 12-hour time difference is a big hurdle for us. If the distance was closer, I would have gone back for spring break. And I believe my wife and kids would have loved to spend some time here in Cambridge. But considering the 20-hour flight time and all other things mentioned, we decided that it’s better this way.

Sunkanmi, Residential class, Nigeria; son Tito, 2yo:

I believe not many people would be in my situation: the story is the following.

Before coming to MIT, we had lived separately for a while. So coming to MIT together was an opportunity to stay together after a long period. I was particularly interested in being an ‘available father’, so we had to come together. It’s a bit pricey for a 10-month period, but it’s a fair price for family unity, after a long-time separation.

The decision to come with family comes with financial implications which might require more years of savings to shoulder the expenses. But if the financial situation and other factors are favorable, it is a good experience to be with one’s family.

Lesson #4: The most important thing is insurance here. From experience, some states have basic coverage for children, but that’s not the case here in MA. There is an online resource: Massachusetts Health Connector. It provides good information on the providers and the coverage options. Worth checking out.

Lesson #5: Apply for daycare as early as possible. We applied I think in April or May and didn’t get confirmation until September.

Tito driving his Mercedes-Benz near Charlie river
Tito enjoying time with dad

Antonius, Blended class, Singapore; children Alexander, 5yo, Leonardo 2yo:

One of the first decisions that I had to make once I got admitted to MIT was to decide whether to relocate my whole family (wife + two toddlers) to come with me to Cambridge. I sat down with my wife and we listed the pros and cons of moving as family.

Let’s start with the obvious cons. Cambridge is a relatively expensive place to live with an estimated monthly living expense of ~3k USD for a single student. A family of four will easily double or triple that expense: childcare cost is ~2k USD per child per month and additional monthly insurance for the family of four will be ~1k USD. Another con was that our eldest son had to leave his kindergarten (and his friends) to come with me in Cambridge.

Then we discussed the pros, and it was very clear that we wanted to have the family stay together. I worked as consultant and sometimes I did not get to see my family during weekdays. Hence, I wanted to use this opportunity to spend more time with them. Another strong point was that we wanted to enroll our eldest son in a US school as this would be a great adventure and learning experience for him.

Hence, we decided to come here as a family. The process of enrolling our elder son was very seamless as CPSD (Cambridge Public School registration center) helped ensure our son got into school within one week of registration.

Lesson #6: For future students who want to enroll their kids in school: make sure you visit CPSD as soon as you arrive. And don’t be worried if you haven’t got a school for your kids before your arrival.
So that’s the journey of me studying at MIT and my son studying at Fletcher Maynard. Now, four months into the program, our family of four are enjoying every moment living here in Cambridge!

Photo of Alex on first day of school

Photo of Leo at CTL

Lance, Blended class, Hong Kong; daughter Angel, 4yo:

Since I start taking the first MicroMasters course back in 2016, my wife Polly had been very supportive of my desire to pursue a master’s degree from MIT. We already had discussions what would happen if I got admitted when I passed the CFx with good grades and prepared the application package.

Balance between financials and time with a family was our key discussion. I had to take a no-pay leave as I just rejoined Maersk less than a year before, and my wife also needed to give up a reasonable income if she came with me to Boston. We finally agreed on a balanced solution: my family was not coming for the whole 5-month period, but we would find some time to get together and make it feel shorter than 5 months.

Tips: I have 2 daily video calls with my family back in Hong Kong.

The decision turned out to be a good one. I could be more focus on my studies, working 7 days a week with long hours. This is especially helpful in the last phase of the capstone project. On the other hand, I spent my spring break back to Hong Kong, as a full-time dad who stayed at home. My family will visit me for 3 weeks at the end of term; that means we also could spend some valuable time together traveling around the East Coast, whereas being a working dad it is hard to arrange a 3-week trip.

Lesson #7: The Spring Break trip is really worth the effort. It was a long flight of 16 hours nonstop (and pricey) but worth the money spent.

Gaurav, Residential class, India; children Amaira, 4yo, Yuvaan 2yo:

In the race between the mind and the heart, the heart usually wins!

My family and I have been moving around the globe for the last 10 years or so. We have lived in 5 countries and travelled to almost 25. So, while we did have long discussions around whether or not to move to Boston as a family, gauging the financial, emotional, professional impact of each choice, in the end it all boiled to one line: “Let’s go together; this time will not come back”. Ten months down the line, I don’t regret our decision at all. Rather, the support you get from the family during this period is priceless. I won’t hesitate to say that I did crash a few times with the stress, pressure, and apprehension during the program and had Vinny (my wife) not been there to talk me out of that, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have today. She sacrificed more than I did, leaving her career, raising kids (with minimal contribution on my side) and still staying strong. So, the decision to move with family is more of your partner’s decision than yours. If you are able to support it financially (we were able to, thanks to our 10 years of savings that I fully invested in these 10 months), moving with family makes sense. Today, when I look back, I wonder why I even thought about not coming with family because the time that you spend with your kids while they are growing cannot be compensated for with any amount of money you will save by staying apart. Plus, my kids got to experience their first snowfall in Boston!

Lesson #8: If your heart says to go with your family, you are probably right and you should make it happen!

Yuvaan, Amaira and us enjoying the first snowfall in Boston!!

celebrating Mika’s 2nd birthday at the Franklin Park Zoo, Boston


Do I feel that I’m missing something in my kids’ lives, even though they are here with me? Yes, I do.

Do I regret enrolling to a program pursuing my dreams, even though it may be difficult for a family and especially for children? Not a single day.

Liz Shafir

SCMb 2019, class president







Lance So


This is the first of the starting your MIT live series. And congratulate everyone that received the SCM offer so far. (May 9 SCMb 2nd round result is yet to announce)