Questions and Answers of Incoming (Graduate) Greek Students
This page is intended as a concise presentation of issues for prospective MIT students. It contains information and tips about applying to MIT and adjusting to life in Boston. We will try to update this page as often as possible, since facts change. The HSA is not liable for the content of this page. You should obviously exercise your judgment and collect information from many sources when making personal decisions. Prospective students should carefully read the material sent to them by MIT. The following websites also contain very important information:
The questions can be divided in the following categories
Application-Admission for Graduate students
Q:How do I apply?
A: The application procedure is quite lengthy. It is very important to realize that you apply to a specific department, not all of MIT or a particular professor. Most people apply for Fall admission. The application deadline is usually January 15th. The application typically includes:
Five-six pages of personal data
Personal statement (1-2 page long essay about your reasons for applying for graduate studies in the particular field and to the particular program)
Academic transcripts (grades) from previous studies
Three letters of recommendation
Passing TOEFL (for most departments, with a score better than 250 out of 300 in the computer based test). For information about TOEFL see http://www.toefl.org
For most departments GRE examination. For information about GRE see http://www.gre.org )
Application fee of $60.
For more information about the admissions process you should definitely visit the admissions webpage http://web.mit.edu/admissions/www/ or http://mitsloan.mit.edu for MBA, as well as the departmental webpages.
Q: What qualifications do I need to get admitted/ what are my chances?
A: As you can imagine this question can not be answered easily. It differs from department to department and from program to program. Points that count are (without any particular order):
Great undergraduate grades (ranked in 1%-2%)
Prizes, awards, scholarships
Research experience, publications
Good GRE scores (for the departments that require this test): 700+ for analytical and quantitative section
Good personal statement/ statement of objectives
Q: What different visas exist, which is better?
A: Most students from Greece come to the United States with either an F-1 or a J-1 visa.
F-1 is the standard student visa. After graduation you can stay in the United States for up to 12 months for practical training. The main disadvantage of this visa is that, if you are married your spouse cannot work. You are yourself limited to 20 hours of work per week ON CAMPUS ONLY.
J-1 is the visa married people normally prefer. The spouse can apply for yearly work permission. After graduation one can stay for 30 days only. Some professions from some countries have 2 year return restriction, i.e. after graduation you have to leave the US (return to home country) for 2 years. Whether or not this rule applies also depends on the source of funding (government etc.)
Q: What about my spouse/children?
A: Dependents (spouse, children) typically get F-2 or J-2 (when student has F-1 or J-1 respectively). The student has to show, that he/ she has the means to support the dependents. This is typically demonstrated by furnishing a bank account statement.
Q: Is the procedure difficult?
A: Until 2001 the procedure for getting a visa was quite easy. The International Student Office http://web.mit.edu/iso/www/ sends a form (FXXX for F-1 and I20 for J-1) to your home. A hint: ask for express sending (you 'll have to pay $10 for it, but it is worth it). Then you go to the American embassy (www.usembassy.gr , 91 Vassilisis Sophias Avenue, Athens 10160, Greece, Telephone: 30-10-721-2951) with some paperwork (passport, bank statements etc.) and $40 and they issue the visa in the same day. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the US government is taking up stricter measures, and you should definitely check with the International Student Office http://web.mit.edu/iso/www/. Among other things one has to fill out a new form, called DS-157 (check http://travel.state.gov/new157.html) with information including special skills, past travel, etc. What might be a problem for people, who have done their military service in Greece is question 15: "Have you ever performed military service? If yes give name of country, branch of service, rank/position, military specialty, dates of service". Most of this information is classified in Greece. HSA has contacted the International Student Office of MIT concerning this and we are waiting for a response.
Q: Am I allowed to work with my student visa?
A: In general only the work connected to the research or teaching assistantship is allowed.
Q: Is there an embassy/ consulate in Boston?
A: The Greek embassy is in Washington:
Embassy of Greece 2221 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. Washington D.C. 20008, Tel:202.939.5800, Fax:202.939.5824, email:firstname.lastname@example.org,
Massachusetts Consulate General of Greece and Greek Press and Information 86 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108, (617) 523-0100
Q: Can I renew my passport while in Boston?
A: Yes you can, at the consulate. You will need your old passport, two photographs, approximately $20, Greek ID, Army Discharge paper if male.
Funding and Degree related issues
Q: Do I need a Masters/ to finish the Master's to pursue a PhD?
A: In some departments you get it along the way, in some you first have to do masters and in some you don't do at all. So check with the department you are interested in.
Q: Will I pay the tuition or will I get paid?
A: In general, most graduate students at MIT have full funding, which means that tuition is paid and they also receive a monthly stipend in the order of $1400-2100. The amount differs from department to department. In general it is higher for PhD programs than for Masters. This stipend is taxable (see also tax section). Some departments don't actually guarantee funding , but it is quite easy to get some Teaching or Research Assistantships. There are exceptions where one has to find his own funding, especially in the case of foreign students: (e.g. MSCEP in the department of Chemical Engineering, MEng in civil Engineering, MBA, MS in Political Science). Check http://web.mit.edu/gso/financialaid/index.html for graduate and http://web.mit.edu/finaid/ for general information.
Q: Am I better off to get external funding?
A: If one comes with an external stipend, departments normally give a bonus. Also if the stipend comes from outside the US it is not taxable under some tax treaties. In the case of external funding there is also often more flexibility (e.g. to choose the project you are interested in, as opposed to a funded one). A downside of outside funding is that in some cases there is a visa restriction (see also visa section).
Q: What are the responsibilities in the case of research/teaching assistant (RA/TA)?
A: In theory the commitment is 20 hours per week. The time commitment and the responsibilities differ from department to department and from professor to professor. Some TAs are only responsible for photocopies, others have to design projects and exams, or correct homework and exams.
Q: What is the procedure for picking an advisor?
A: This differs from department to department. Don't worry though, there are enough good professors at MIT, and once you come here it will be easy to find one.
Q: Where do I pay taxes?
A: If you get funding from the US (e.g. in the form of assistantship or fellowship), you have to pay/ file taxes in the US. Depending on your age, your income and your total wealth you might be obliged to file taxes also in Greece.
Q: How high are taxes in the US/ what kind of taxes exist?
A: The amount of taxes depends on many factors, such as income, tax treaties, deductions. There are essentially two taxes
State tax = Massachusetts -tax. (about 5.6%). It is waived if you have a scholarship (but not if you hold a TA/RA appointment). Check http://www.dor.state.ma.us/
Federal Tax (about 14%), check http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/. For the Federal Taxes there is a treaty between the US and Greece. You can check it: http://www.irs.gov/faqs/display/0,,i1%3D54%26genericId%3D13330,00.html http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-trty/greece.pdf or from http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/ search treaty.
If you have income in the US you will need a Social Security Number, which is like the Greek Arithmos Forologikoy Mitroou. Be sure to obtain it AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Don't miss the opportunities given by the International Students Office, see http://web.mit.edu/iso/www/.
You can check everything about on-campus housing in: http://web.mit.edu/rlslp/residences.html
Q: Do dormitories have internet access?
A: All in campus dormitories have unlimited internet access through MIT's network for free.
Q: What is the procedure/ what are my chances to get on-campus housing?
A: For incoming students: You have to apply by the end of April (separate applications for family and single housing). You give 4 preferences. Your name comes into a lottery. Then people are offered housing according to their lottery number. When you get an offer you have 2 days to accept or reject it. Even if you accept the offer, you can withdraw later on from it. Chances are relatively good for incoming students.
A: For continuing students there is lack of housing, that means in general one can stay in campus for only 1-2 years. New dormitories are under construction, so that the situation is changing.
Q: What is the available housing?
Depending on the family situation there are the following possibilities
Single: furnished small independent apartments ($700+/month), furnished or unfurnished room in 2-4 bedroom apartment (300-700 $/month) , furnished shared rooms (300-600 $/month)
Married without children: unfurnished efficiency ($800+/month), one bedroom (950+$/month)
Married with one child: unfurnished one bedroom (950+$/month), two bedroom
Married with more children: unfurnished two bedroom
Q: Are there laundry machines in the dormitories ?
In all dormitories there are washing and drying machines. The current cost is $0.75 for washing and $0.75 for drying.
Off campus housing
Boston and especially Cambridge has very high rents. Living alone in an efficiency or one-bedroom means rents of at least $800-1200 monthly. Sharing an apartment is far less expensive ($400-800 monthly). MIT has a limited number of partially subsidized apartments. You should start searching at least one month in advance of your moving date.
Real estate offices charge a whole month's rent.
There are some webpages like
as well our own http://web.mit.edu/hellenic/www/apts.shtml, where you can also post an advertisement
If you want internet access you usually have to arrange on your own. MIT offers off-campus access for a monthly fee, but you can get better deals from private companies (called Internet Service Providers or ISPs).
Traveling and Transportation
Q: How can I travel to Boston?
A: Since September 11, 2001 there is no direct flight from Athens to Boston. So we have to travel either through some European city (Frankfurt, Zurich, London,..) or through New York. The price for return ticket ranges from $500 to $1500, depending on the company and time of booking. You can also check http://web.mit.edu/cao/www/travel.htm for some discounts for MIT-affiliates.
Q: How is the public transportation system in Boston / do I need a car?
A: Having a car in Cambridge is problematic. The public transportation is considered good for US standards and also safe. The public transportation is comparable to Athens (Boston's size is also comparable to Athens). A one way ticket costs $0.75 for buses and $1 for the subway. A basic monthly subway pass costs $37, but MIT subsidizes it to $17.5 for the underground. The price of other passes (e.g. bus only) is similarly subsidized. Parking costs are about $300/ year within MIT and about $150/month privately.
Q: What about transportation around MIT?
A: The main buildings are easily accessible by public transportation. Some remote buildings (including dormitories) are a 15 minutes walk away. There are shuttles (small buses) that circulate around MIT: Check http://web.mit.edu/parking/saferide.html or http://www.masscommute.com/tmas/crtma/schedule.html
Q: Can I use my EU or international -Driving License / is it hard to obtain a MA-license?
A: For one year it is allowed to use an international license or in some cases also a national license. After the period of one year, a Massachusetts license must be obtained. One has to take both the written and road tests to obtain this. No driving lessons are needed though. The total cost for taking the exam is currently $83, not including the cost of the car. Check http://www.state.ma.us/rmv/ for details. Both the written and road test are quite easy. In the written exam you have to answer 14 out of 20 questions based on a booklet,which you can download for free, or obtain at the Registry for Motor Vehicles. In the road test you will typically have to show the following things:
Three point turn
Drive in small roads
How to park in an inclination (turn the wheel and put the correct gear and hand-break as described in the booklet)
The biggest problem for the road test is that you have to provide the car and if you don't have an international driving license a sponsor. There are three possibilities:
Go to a driving school and ask them to sponsor you. They will charge about $80 and they might recommend to do one or more lessons (approximately $30/ lesson).
Rent a car. In this case you will need an international driving license and a letter from the rental company, that they allow you to drive their car to a road test (most rental companies will refuse to issue the letter)
Have the owner of a car be your sponsor. He has to come with you to the exam.
Q: Can I use a bicycle for transportation?
A: Riding a bicycle is also an alternative. You must be a good biker or use alternative means of transportation in the winter, when there is snow. Although the situation for bikers is not as good as in some European countries, it is much better than in Athens.
Cost of living and initial expenses
Q: What are typical monthly expenses?
A: The expenses vary greatly and depend on your type of housing and life style. Boston is very expensive. Minimal estimates (living in campus) are:
for a single approximately $1000-1500/month
for a couple approximately $1500-2000/month
Q: Initial expenses/ how much money should I have with me?
A: The amount initially needed depends on many parameters, some of which are:
Type of funding: some fellowships are paid at the beginning of the semester for the whole semester, while assistantships are paid at the end of the first month.
Type of housing (furnished vs. unfurnished)
In the case of a single student with furnished apartment $2000 is a good estimate for the initial expenses. In the case of a couple with unfurnished apartment the initial expenses can easily exceed $5000. Check also the banking section.
Q: What banks are there in Boston / which one should I choose?
A: There are many banks around MIT, like Fleet, Cambridge Trust, Citizens Bank, Sovereign Bank. There is also an MIT-owned bank. There are lots of issues when choosing a bank like:
Interest the bank will pay
Fees you have to pay
Location of branches and ATMs
Credit/ debit cards they are issuing
Most banks have fairs for incoming students in September. You can check with them to see what they offer.
Q: What about currency exchange?
A: Unlike Europe most banks will not exchange money unless you are a customer. This is very important for the initial expenses. Be sure to have some cash dollars, traveler checks, credit cards etc. when arriving.
Q:What about transferring money from Greece?
A: The transfer from Greece is quite quick and within a couple of days you should have your money (minus a fee).
Q: How quickly can I open an account?
A: In one day. BUT: the bank will take about a week to issue a debit card. Also the bank will initially issue only temporary checks without your address imprinted. Most stores will not accept those checks, which is very problematic at the beginning. In order to obtain a credit card usually 6-7 months of solid credit history are required.
Q: Do I need an insurance?
A: By law you need a medical and a hospital insurance both for you and your dependents. Through the tuition for MIT the medical insurance is covered for the student. The hospital insurance for the student is about $900/year. A married couple has to pay about $2500/ year for insurance.
Normally medical insurance, including the MIT insurance does not cover dental expenses. An interesting alternative is the BU-dental plan: http://dentalschool.bu.edu/patients/no_insurance/no_insurance_main.html
Q: What about phone calls?
A: On-campus housing renting includes local telephone (for free and timely unlimited). In general local phone calls are free for a monthly fee of $10-30. An estimate of the minimal price for phone calls to Greece is 0.10-0.15$/minute, which is approximately half the cost of calling from Greece to the US. For long distance calling you can either use a long-distance provider, or use calling cards. If you live off-campus you have to choose your local and long-distance providers and arrange for a connection. You can usually do this over the internet or using a pay-phone. When arranging for a connection or buying calling cards be sure to read the small-print: there are often hidden fees!
Facts about Boston
Q: How big is Boston?
A: The term "Boston" has two meanings. The exact meaning is the City of Boston and capital of Massachusetts. "Boston" is also used for a wider area consisting of many cities and towns, such as Boston, Cambridge, Watertown and Newton. The population of Boston itself is approximately 400,000, while the wide area has a population of approximately 2,500,000.
Q: How is the weather in Boston?
A: Bostonians say: "If you don't like the weather in Boston, wait for five minutes and it will change", that means the weather changes a lot. Boston is much colder than Greece. Snow and a frozen river are not uncommon. So bring warm clothes or be prepared to buy some. But don't worry: for the outdoor activities of HSA there is guaranteed good-weather!
There are many shops in Cambridge and the greater Boston area and you can find anything. If you check the homepage of Westgate (a married dormitory) you will find a useful (but not perfect) list of shops: http://web.mit.edu/westgate/wginfo.html
Many students ask about the greek supermarket in Watertown, called "Nikki's Garden". Their phone number is 617-489-1371 and you can call them for directions. You can get there by bus from Harvard Square.
Restaurants: Boston and Cambridge in particular offer a wide variety of dining options. However, eating out is considerably more expensive than in Greece ($10 per meal is considered cheap. $20/meal is normal for students).
There are also many opportunities within MIT, like concerts, theatrical plays, movies etc. Most of them are cheap or free of charge. Check for example http://events.mit.edu/
Boston is a lively city with many theaters, movie places, clubs, etc. Check for example http://boston.com/
MIT offers a variety of sports facilities for recreation or competition. Check http://web.mit.edu/athletics/ for more information. Classes are offered every quarter (half-semester) and students can enroll for free.
Greek community in Boston
Many people of Greek origin live in the greater Boston area. There are several Greek restaurants, diaspora cultural organizations, etc. A yearly parade is organized in downtown Boston to commemorate Greek Independence. Two points of reference close to MIT are the Greek Institute (http://www.thegreekinstitute.org/,) and the Hellenic College (http://www.hchc.edu/ ).
Computing at MIT
Q: What is the operating system?
A: The MIT computing system is UNIX-based. Some departments and laboratories have PC (MS-Windows) and MAC computers as well.
Q: Do I need my own computer?
A: All students get a computer account and can use the computers throughout campus. Nevertheless many people have either a desktop or a laptop of their own. Before buying a computer you might want to talk with students in your department, because often advisors or departments pay for a laptop.
Check also http://web.mit.edu/mcc/www/