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Study in USA: Boston

by Claudia G. Martinez

Choosing where to study | Boston | Connecticut | San Francisco | Philadephia | Los Angeles | Texas : Austin | Washington D.C. | New York City

Our nation's capital may be in D.C. but the student capital of the U.S. lies a short distance up the coast in Boston, Massachusetts. Boston offers some of the nation's most prestigious universities. However, don't mail out that tuition check just yet. Know what to expect so you don't regret your move for the next four years or however long it takes to obtain that degree.

To begin with, you have a total of 69 colleges within the Boston area to choose from. Two examples are Harvard University and Boston University. According to Morgan Lim, an international Harvard Alum and Cultural Consultant who has spoken to Boston students and students across the U.S., the difference between Harvard and BU is prestige and academic focus.

True, both are private institutions with lots of money. The variation is that Harvard's undergrad courses are strictly liberal arts based. 60% of students major in government, economics, social studies, biology, English and so on (although computer science is gaining ground). Except for its Ivy League reputation and graduate offerings - like business school, law school, Kennedy School and language schools-- most international students might not gravitate towards Harvard. "Most international students want to study something practical such as business admin, engineering etc.," Lim said.

Nevertheless, a liberal arts education allows students to immerse themselves in intellectual interests. Lim added that he likes the interdisciplinary aspect. Harvard emphasizes critical and analytical thinking about the world and prepares students for graduate school. Plus, students are highly competitive, the resources are enormous-- Harvard is the richest school in the nation with an endowment of $18 Billion dollars-- and it has a need blind admission.

BU, on the other hand, is more vocation oriented. It offers undergrad degrees in business administration, engineering, information systems and mass communications. "Imagine a private school with a state school offerings," Lim said. In addition, BU is a school well known for courting international students. Lim calls it developing international friendship. "BU is a great school except that it is overshadowed in Boston by Harvard and MIT which is unfortunate because they do have some great programs and the students are very diverse (internationally). [It's a] great place to prepare for a global economy," he added.

You can find extra preparation through an internship with one of the many high tech, bio tech and finance companies in the vicinity

As for actually living in the Boston area, let's start with how to get around. First of all there's no need to have your vehicle shipped out with your belongings. This way you won't have to deal with sky high car related expenses and scarcity of parking. For 35 dollars a month you can ride the T the transportation system. The buses and trains are clean and safe. The only drawback is that they don't run into the morning like they do in New York. The best bet for those who "like the nightlife" is a roommate with a car.

As far as roommates go, consult with the school and don't automatically expect them to set you up. Every semester, more and more students find themselves without arrangements due to mix-ups or shortages. The web is an excellent resource if you find yourself in this type of situation or if you just plain want to search on your own. Try our apartment search, it's free. If you prefer to live alone, be forewarned that housing is tight, competitive and expensive. Rent runs over 800 dollars for single occupancy, plus the cost of utilities-- which rises above a hundred dollars with heating costs.

Popular areas with diverse student populations are Cambridge, Somerville/East Somerville, and Brookline. These are smaller cities within 15 to 30 minutes from the center of Boston. They have comparable amenities but cheaper rent. If price isn't an issue and you're looking for gay friendly or generally open minded, the recently-gentrified South End within Boston and the slightly more reasonably-priced Jamaica Plain are good choices. But they don't draw huge student crowds. Another interesting Boston neighborhood is Back Bay where you'll always see young musicians walking around with their instruments toward the famous Berkeely College of Music. There are also Charlestown, a picturesque accessible neighborhood with quiet appeal, and Beacon Hill, Boston's blueblood neighborhood--home to the touristy "Cheers" bar which inspired the famous tv show.

Once you find a place, you'll need to go shopping. You'll need to decorate and furnish. In addition, Boston is cool even in the summer so you'll want to upgrade your wardrobe with items made especially for Bostonians.

The locals and tourist brochures will recommend Filene's Basement at Downtown crossing for a one of a kind experience. Unlike the Filene's chain stores--to which it is not affiliated other than geographically--Filene's Basement carries Armani jackets, Ralph Lauren sheets and other designer household items at marked-down prices. If an item has been in the store over two weeks it'll have an extra reduction. As you shop keep in mind that small retail purchases are tax free anywhere in MA. These are great discoveries for students on a budget.

At Downtown Crossing you can also walk over to Filene's Department Store, Macy's, Sam and Libby, Marshall's, the Sprint Store, Staples and countless others. While some'd rather opt for the Cambridge Side Galleria, the more upscale Prudential Center or even trendy Newbury Street (home to shops like Louis Boston and the Armani Café), downtown has the most colorful allure. You'll hear several different languages being spoken by pedestrians on any given day. You can even buy fresh raspberries from street vendors or flowers on a street corner. And, yes the fruit is safe once you wash it.

For furniture avoid department stores. Your best bets are all the futon and thrift stores along Mass. Ave. in Cambridge. You can even get some nice common area furnishings from places that have repossessed from failing dotcoms.

For grocery shopping, there's a store on nearly every corner. Pricing is almost the same as in any other U.S. city. However, if you have special dietary need you can shop at Bread and Circus. It's pricey, but carries organic foods.

Those who can't or don't like to cook, can settle for the dining hall or eat out. Some options are Fanueil Hall or Quincy Market (at the Haymarket T stop). Fanueil Hall is an outdoor shopping area with adjoining historical landmarks and nice sit down seafood and Italian restaurants. However, its sampling of stores is generic.

Quincy Market is a nearby a food court type place. It's inexpensive, but don't expect a great meal. For example there's a place called El Paso Enchiladas that's supposed to be Mexican food. They disguise Indian food with store bought taco shells. Need I say more? The truth is that no matter what the locals tell you, there is no such thing as good Mexican food anywhere in Boston.

Now, if you're into Italian, the North End, near the waterfront, is home to Boston's Italian community. There are dozens of restaurants, cafes and bakeries run by actual Italians. For Chinese, visit Chinatown's surplus of restaurants. And, for the best Thai food I've ever tasted anywhere in the U.S., there's the South End. You'll find a restaurant aptly named Best Thai. If you don't care about the food so much as atmosphere, Back Bay along the Prudential and Newbury street are always buzzing.

After eating, you can head to Boston Common in the center of town for a rest. This foliaged haven provides a delightful contrast to the angry urban concrete in other sections of downtown like the financial district. Also visit the Charles River, where you can rent sailboats and canoes, or watch college crew teams practice and race. You can even bike or inline skate along the side paths. Or go to the Cambridge side of the river and enjoy the view of the Boston skyline. If you want to get away from MA, there's always the easily accessible NYC and Canada.

Then again, if you're just looking for people and a hangout, north of the river in Cambridge, Harvard Square is a big draw for a young crowd seeking unique clothes, rare albums, books and people. You'll also find students swarming around Tower Records (which boasts to be the largest in the U.S.), Urban Outfitters, J.P. Licks ice cream and other area shops on Newbury and Mass. Ave.,. Boston University dorms and MIT frats also cluster around here, so don't be surprised to feel the pumping of music as you stroll by.

For arts and culture, there's the South End's theatre district. For sports, there's Fenway Park. During the day, you can opt for a Red Sox game or souvenir collecting. At night you can go clubbing on the infamous Landsdowne Street, a strip of dance clubs right outside the baseball stadium. The covers are pricey and the music is watered down. And of course, like most other public places in Boston, they're filled with smoke. Hey, but it's better than dancing outside the MIT frats.

Yes, Boston is home to MIT, Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, Emerson, Northeastern and many others. It is a city where one of four people is in college during the academic year. And if you decide to join them, hopefully you'll find it's a city well equipped to handle your educational and everyday needs. Finally, a few parting words: the locals, like the weather, tend to be cold. Just ignore them.


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