Studying in Boston – A Guide for Postgraduate Students
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Studying in Boston – A Guide for Postgraduate Students

Written by Sarah Hastings-Woodhouse

Once nicknamed the “Athens of America” for its profound political and cultural influence, Boston, Massachusetts, is a historic city which has become one of the most popular student hotspots in the USA.

If you choose to study in Boston, you’ll join 250,000 students across over 50 universities, and find no shortage of sporting events, live music, theatre and nightlife to keep you entertained between classes!

We’ve covered everything you need to know about studying in Boston, including living costs, top universities, career opportunities and more.

Why study your PhD in Boston

Here is a snapshot of what’s on offer for postgraduate students in Boston:

  • A rich intellectual tradition: William Tudor, co-founder of the USA’s oldest literary magazine, once called Boston “perhaps the most perfect and certainly the best-regulated democracy that ever existed”. The city quickly became known as a hub for progressive thought and refuge for European academics in exile. It was also the hometown of founding father Benjamin Franklin. Studying in Boston will be an opportunity to join this long intellectual tradition and help shape the ideas of the future!
  • Travel further afield: Living in Boston offers many opportunities to tick locations off your study-abroad bucket list. You could spend a summer lounging on the beautiful beaches of Cape Cod, or exploring the streets of New York City, both of which are within a few hours of Boston.
  • Top universities: Many of the USA’s most well-renowned universities are located in or around Boston, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), both of which rank amongst the top five in the world according to the Times Higher Education 2023 Rankings.

Top universities in Boston for postgraduate study

#1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MIT, also located in Cambridge, is best known for its courses in engineering and physical sciences, but also offers degrees in a broader range of fields including arts and humanities.

Since it was established in 1861, MIT has been at the forefront of scientific and technological progress, with its researchers achieving major breakthroughs including the first chemical synthesis of penicillin and the discovery of quarks.

MIT is also home to a thriving international community, with around 40% of postgraduate students hailing from overseas.

#2 Harvard University

Harvard University is not technically located in Boston itself, but in the neighbouring city of Cambridge, within Greater Boston. This a mere hop, skip and jump away across the Charles River, and many students studying at Harvard commute from Boston city centre.

A member of the prestigious Ivy League, Harvard University is the oldest higher education institution in the United States, and reliably ranks within the top five universities worldwide according to the Times Higher Education, QS and Academic World Rankings.

Harvard has no shortage of distinguished alumni, including eight former US presidents, as well as countless Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

#3 Boston University

Masters and PhD students at Boston University can choose from over 400 courses and will join a community of 15,000 postgraduate students from more than 130 countries.

The Times Higher Education and QS World Rankings for 2023 rank Boston amongst the top 100 universities worldwide. Along with Harvard and MIT, Boston University is a member of the Association of American Universities, an invite-only group of 71 leading, research-intensive institutions in the USA and Canada.

Living costs for students in Boston

Boston is one of the more expensive US cities to live in, but there are ways that you can cut down on costs, such as living in shared accommodation with fellow students.

Here are some examples of typical expenses in Boston, using crowdsourced data from Numbeo:

Student Cost of Living in Boston - 2024
Monthly rent (1 bedroom apartment, city centre) $3,081
Monthly rent (1 bedroom apartment, outside city centre) $2,297
Restaurant Meal $25
Cinema ticket $16
Monthly travel pass $90
Monthly utilities $226
Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.

The above figures display prices for renting an entire apartment. Most students choose to stay in shared accommodation, which can be much cheaper. For example, the MIT Office of Graduate Education estimates that a postgraduate student sharing an on-campus apartment with one flatmate will spend around $1,543 per month on rent.

Working during your degree in Boston

There are quite a few restrictions on working in the USA for international students. During your first year, you’ll be able to work up to 20 hours per week in an on-campus role. You can work off-campus in subsequent years, but only in a role that is related to your field of study.

There are two types of employment that are permitted for international students – Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). You can find out more in our full guide in working in the USA as a student.

Things to see in Boston

There’s plenty to explore in Boston on your days off, from public parks and nearby beaches to art galleries and trendy bars.

Boston is home to the USA’s first botanical garden (Public Garden), which is located right next to its oldest public park (Boston Common). The botanists or natural science students among you can admire over 80 species of plants, from canna lilies to sogo palms. You can also take a ride on the Garden’s famous Swan Boats, which have been in operation for over 100 years. Boston Common’s Frog Pond is open for a refreshing dip in the summer or ice-skating in the winter.

Its coastal location makes Boston the perfect city for beach-lovers. Revere Beach is a short train journey from the city centre and is the oldest public beach in the USA. It also hosts an annual sand sculpting festival every July. Singing Beach, so named after the musical sound which is said to emit from its sands, is just an hour from the city and features a stunning rocky landscape along a half-mile stretch of coast.

Boston’s many bars and clubs are a staple for its student population! These range from trendy venues such as Mariel, a classy cocktail bar, restaurant, and hidden underground club rolled into one, to historic taverns including the Green Dragon, which was a secret meeting spot for revolutionaries in the run-up to American independence.

To take in Boston’s unique history and culture, you can visit one of its many galleries or museums. These include the Institute of Contemporary Art, which houses the city’s largest collection of modern painting, sculpture, film and photography, and the Harvard Museum of Natural History, a glimpse into the university’s botanical and zoological research.

Graduate careers in Boston

Although the USA does not offer a post-study visa for international graduates, you may be able to stay in the country after completing your degree by extending your Optional Practical Training (OPT) for up to one year (or three years for certain STEM graduates). After this, you’ll need to apply for a temporary or permanent work visa.

There are a range of industries open to skilled graduates in Boston. By far the largest industry in the city is health and social care, with many of the country’s leading teaching hospitals located there. Other prominent sectors include finance, government and education.

Find a Masters in Boston

Keen to make Boston your study abroad destination of choice? Browse Masters degrees/ PhDs in Boston on our website. For some real-life inspiration, you can read our interview with Postgrad Awards runner-up Siddesh, who relocated from Nagpur in India to Boston for his Masters.

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Last Updated: 08 January 2024