I’m Admitted, Now What? Housing Part Three: Neighborhoods to Consider

This time of year, it seems like I have a conversation about housing at least once a day. The truth is, the Boston rental market is one of the most competitive in the nation, due in large part to the vast numbers of students who live in Boston (more than 150,000 students, two-thirds of whom don’t live in university provided housing). When you’re looking for housing in Boston, it can seem like you’re competing with every single one of those 100,000 students, and if you’re not from the Boston area, knowing which areas to look in can be extremely frustrating or confusing. This blog post is my attempt to help: these are the neighborhoods that I would recommend checking out if you’re moving from out of state (although keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list and is just based on my experiences and conversations with students).

If you don’t have a car:

Waltham. Starting off with the obvious here, Waltham is a popular choice for many students who attend Brandeis. Because it’s outside of the city limits, it’s more affordable than what you would find in the main Boston area, and it’s also relatively easy to find roommates among your fellow Heller students or even other Brandeis graduate students. There are plenty of buses and Brandeis shuttles to help you get around the area and to your classes.

Somerville/Cambridge. Porter Station in Somerville is on the same commuter line as Brandeis, making this a really convenient area for students without a car. Harvard Square, in Cambridge, is connected to Brandeis by a university sponsored shuttle, giving you a really affordable option to get to campus. The neighborhoods of Union Square, Davis Square, Winter Hill, Spring Hill, Magoun Square, Powder House and South Medford are all within walking or biking distance from either Porter Square or Harvard Square. These areas (especially Union Square and Davis Square) are all pretty desirable areas since there are great restaurants, shopping, and activities, so expect to pay a little more than you would in Waltham.

North Concord/Concord/Acton. Okay, I’ll admit: these are not the most popular places for graduate students at Brandeis to live because they’re further out from the city and don’t have as many apartment buildings, but I’m here to advocate for them as an option. These towns are also connected to Brandeis by the commuter rail and have a lot to offer in terms of culture. Because they’re atypical places for students to live, you can sometimes find really surprising deals.

If you do have a car:

Jamaica Plain/Hyde Park/West Roxbury/Roslindale. This cluster of neighborhoods south west of the city is a really popular place for graduate students and young adults to live in Boston. The Jamaica Plain are has definitely gotten more expensive over the years, but the neighborhoods surrounding the area are still affordable and give you the same access to the city as you would have if you lived in Jamaica Plain. Although not linked to Waltham by a major highway, it’s very easy to get to these areas, with commutes around 30 minutes.

Allston/Brighton. These neighborhoods, located just east of the city, are really popular places for students of all ages to live. You can definitely find some more affordable housing in this area, especially if you live with roommates, and you’ll be more in the center of Boston nightlife. These neighborhoods are right off of 90, so you can get to Brandeis in under 20 minutes with no traffic.

Arlington/Medford/Malden. Again, these are probably not the most popular neighborhoods for Brandeis students to live in, given that they are further out than the other options I’ve listed here. However, I would not ignore these places as an option: you can take Highway 2 to 95, which will take you right to Brandeis, so it’s actually very easy to travel from these areas to Brandeis, and you can usually get to these areas in under 30 minutes. They’re also relatively close to Somerville and Cambridge, which are great areas for dining, shopping, and entertainment, while having a lot of restaurants of their own, not to mention the natural beauty of Mystic Lake and Middlesex Fells.

Like I said before, this is no means an exhaustive list, and there are tons of neighborhoods and housing around Boston. But if you’re finding yourself lost as to where to start, take the time to explore some of these options and see if they might be right for you!

A Letter to My Past Self on Her First Day at Heller: Ariel Wexler

Ariel Wexler, MBA/SID22

Ariel Wexler, MBA/SID22

Dear Past Ariel,

I imagine right now you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious about what the next 2 years at The Heller School will hold. Right now, it’s a few months into the pandemic, and there’s so much uncertainty in the world. I know now that you will spend the first year of your studies telecommuting from Los Angeles in your childhood bedroom. Despite waking up at 6 AM for your Leadership and Organizational Behavior class, you are quite comfortable taking long walks to the beach, dipping your head in the water as you count your blessings and begin the journey that is graduate school.  You’re just a few months out of the Peace Corps, having been evacuated from Guatemala in your last month of service. The borders of Guatemala have been closed off to foreigners since March and it is unsure when the pandemic will subside…if ever. I know as you begin your studies you are worried about achieving academic success in a rigorous business curriculum and how you will adjust and reintegrate into US culture with your peers.

Thanks to your hard work and dedication, you will successfully graduate in May 2022 with two masters degrees. Although the workload and courses were indeed challenging, you end up excelling in your studies and enjoying the process. When you started your program, you were interested in the possibility of integrating your interests in the intersection of international economic development and social enterprise as part of your experiential Team Consulting project capstone. You came out as a leader in your studies, and even planned a field research and discovery trip with your connections to the specialty coffee company Chica Bean for 9 students consulting with them over the summer of 2021. Even though the field trip occurs in your third semester of your studies, it will be in Guatemala that you meet members of your cohort for the first time in person. You have heard this countless times from friends and family: graduate school is about the network, and you will be elated to know that you make great solid connections with students from all over the world.  It makes the transition to being a student and to the US so much easier. Your second year residence in Waltham ends up being with a group of Peace Corps and Americorps alumni.

You will participate in the Heller Start-Up challenge your second year and win second place for a seaweed venture idea and go on to win first place in the Spark competition in February. Throughout this experience you will learn a great deal about entrepreneurship and be introduced to the business ecosystem of Boston. My advice to you would be to take a deep breath and enjoy every moment of the experience, and continue to invest deeply in education and people. Your hard-working and organized nature will continue to help you throughout your education. In addition to learning valuable skills you will progress in developing your confidence and better understanding your assets as a young professional. Continue to navigate the world with integrity and passion.

Good luck!

Future Ariel

Andy’s Team Consulting Experience Part II

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

The first time I heard about The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Belize and their partnership with the Belize Women’s Seaweed Farmers Association (BWFSA) was during the presentations at the TCP Fair. I lingered a bit in their breakout room during the Q&A portion of the event. As the President of BWFSA addressed our questions, I was immediately drawn in by the focus on female entrepreneurship and alternative livelihoods within the regional context of Central America. The immediate surge of excitement I felt was followed by abrupt hesitation. As much as I recognized the value of having a TCP option that complimented my professional focus in international development, I did not have an agriculture or environmental science background. I wondered, was it wise to take on a project outside my area of expertise? How would this project be relevant to my future career path? Would I have the right skills to contribute? At the end of the event, I decided to pursue my interest in other organizations, but The Nature Conservancy was always in the back of my mind. 

That was back in mid-March. Fast forward a month or so later and, at this point, it’s deep into Spring semester. I’m fully aware that the weeks left to choose a TCP team and commit to a TCP project are rapidly dwindling. 

There wasn’t really one moment that made my decision clear – it was the accumulation of several moments, both big and small, that reinforced one another. As I sat in class one morning, I reflected on these moments and realized I already had all the information I needed. I decided I couldn’t go wrong leaning into the incredible relationships I’d built here at Heller, and I knew I would regret not taking advantage of the space to explore and stretch myself professionally. Right there, at the start of our 10 minute break, I opened the “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet and wrote “Andy (1)” in the fourth space next to “The Nature Conservancy.” With now the minimum number of students signed-up, TNC Belize project was officially a TCP team! 

Like the Chica Bean TCP Teams before us, our group was able to secure funding to conduct field research and begin building relationships with our stakeholders in person. On May 16th, our team traveled first to Caye Caulker, one of Belize’s offshore islands, where we spoke with local entrepreneurs and professionals in the ecotourism industry. These conversations gave us an important perspective on the current business environment in Belize as well as the challenges facing marine conservation efforts. Next, we headed to San Ignacio, a town near the border with Guatemala. There we interviewed entrepreneurs who helped us understand the extent of Belize’s reliance on foreign imports and the implications this has on the production and sale of seaweed products in markets outside the country. In Belize City, we met with Saleem Chan, a Mariculture Specialist with The Nature Conservancy who is also serving as our primary facilitator. We met Saleem at the headquarters of the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA), whose staff are dedicated to the management of marine reserves. Saleem sat down with us and described the history of seaweed agriculture in Belize as well as the current landscape of stakeholders involved in the industry. After leaving Belize City, we headed to Placencia, where the BWFSA members live. We spent a week meeting with several of them and getting a better sense of the culture in Placencia. Our fieldwork culminated with a trip to Hatchet Caye, where we saw the seaweed farms firsthand and learned the basics of farm maintenance. 

Now, it’s summer semester and we are officially moving full-speed ahead with our project! I am so grateful to be working alongside my brilliant teammates Gabi Rufo, MBA/SID’22, Beck Hayes, MBA/SID’22, Douglass Guernsey, MBA’22, and Shiko Rugene, MBA/MPP’23. All of us bring a unique set of skills and a nuanced perspective to the project. Thanks to the generosity of the Heller Enrichment Funds and the Office of Graduate Student Affairs, we have already laid significant groundwork for this project. We’re confident that we will come out on the other side with useful and relevant recommendations for the BWFSA and an unparalleled experience for our professional growth.

Quiz: Which one of our programs is right for you?

What color are you? (Purple) If you were a pizza topping, what would it be? (Olives) What gemstone fits your personality? (Emerald) As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with taking personality quizzes. From Buzzfeed to Seventeen magazine, there wasn’t a quiz that I wouldn’t take. Well, the time has come for me to make my own quiz to help you decide which of Heller’s programs is the best fit for you. Like any responsible quizmaker, let me get a quick disclaimer out of the way: this quiz is just for fun, so don’t take your results too seriously. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, grab a pen and paper to write down your answers. At the end, the letter you chose the most will give you your results. Ready? Here we go!

Which classes sound the most interesting to you?

a) Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in Social Policy; Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing;  LGBTQ+ Justice: A History of Pride, Prejudice, and Policy in the United States

b) Social Justice, Management and Policy; Managing the Triple Bottom Line; Leadership and Organizational Behavior

c) Principles of Ecology for Development Practitioners; Environmental Justice and the Human Effects of Climate Change; Gender and Development in the Context of Neoliberalism and Globalization

d) Development, Aid and Coexistence; Kingian Nonviolence and Reconciliation; Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding

e) Intersectionality and Bioethics; Microeconomics in Global Health; Management of Health Care Organizations

f) Foundations of Social Theory: From the Early Twentieth Century to Critical Race Theory; Economic Theory and Social Policy

Which of these words most appeals to you?

a) Strategy

b) Influence

c) Growth

d) Balance

e) Health

f) Research

Which job(s) would you most like to have?

a) Director of Communications for a local politician; Program Manager for a non-profit that benefits LGBTQ+ youth; Town Administrator for your hometown

b) CEO of a sustainable athletic line; Senior Analyst for an impact investing non-profit; Sustainability Consultant for a for-profit company

c) Director of Development and Operations for an NGO; U.S. Foreign Service Officer;  International Trade Advisor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

d)  Associate Reporting Officer for the United Nations; First Secretary for an Embassy; the Communications and Operations Manager for an international NGO

e) CDC Public Health Advisor; Program Analyst for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Immunization Technical Consultant for an International Vaccine Access Center of a hospital

f)  Scientist for a research institute at a college; Director for a Center for Policy Research; Director of research for a thinktank

How would your friends describe you?

a) Analytical, practical, driven

b) Entrepreneurial, innovative, energetic

c) Creative, adaptable, passionate

d) Patient, empathetic, good listener

e) Problem solver, responsible, systematic

f) Thoughtful, dedicated, methodical

What reading would you find most interesting?

a) The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

b) Changing Business from the Inside Out, by Timothy J Mohin

c) Ten Reasons Not to Measure Impact –and What to do Instead, by Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan.

d) BIASED, Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, PhD.

e) When Things Go Wrong: How Health Care Organizations Deal With Major Failures, by Walshe & Shortell,

f)  Qui Bono? – Explaining – or Defending – Winners and Losers in the Competition for Educational Achievement, by llen et al .

 

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Mostly As: Master of Public Policy

Mostly Bs: Social Impact MBA

Mostly Cs: MA in Sustainable International Development

Mostly Ds: MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence

Mostly Es: MS in Global Health Policy and Management

Mostly Fs: PhD in Social Policy

Graduation Day with Ariel Wexler

It was 97 degrees in late May and a heat advisory warning was in effect for the greater Boston area. Having completing dual degrees in a MA in Sustainable International Development and Social Impact MBA, I was about to graduate from The Heller School. Professors, staff, friends, family, and colleagues were all seated together in a large tent on the great lawn where we withstood the heat to listen to inspiring words and cheer on the names of the graduating students. Although it may seem ironic that the one day of extreme temperatures coincided with graduation, considering our studies were achieved during already unprecedented times, it seemed quite fitting.

We had commenced our studies shortly before or during the pandemic and became accustomed to remote and hybrid learning.  While sitting and listening to my peers’ speeches, I was humbled and reminded of the different paths that we each took to lead to the present moment, the completion of our graduate studies at The Heller School. I felt the immense privilege to have been granted the opportunity to study higher education, a right that not everyone can access due to factors such as financial, political, and religious barriers.

When I reflect on the past two years, I have made many incredible friendships with students from all over the world that came to study at this esteemed university. Although it feels surreal that I am graduating, I feel gratitude and accomplishment. From a young age, I struggled with comparing myself to my peers and never having the self-confidence to think that I could achieve success in my career. It was not until completing my undergraduate degree in 2015 that I decided that achieving a Master’s degree would be a future goal. Growing up, my educational journey was difficult, and I had to work twice as hard or more than my peers. Despite being a hard worker and achieving many academic accomplishments, I was not immune to imposter syndrome.

During my 2-year Peace Corps service in Guatemala, I began to feel more confident in my skills and ability to engage deeply with stakeholders and design and manage projects to scale. I had successfully co-designed and formed 3 women’s beekeeping groups, and it was through this experience that I became interested in social enterprise.  I knew that pursuing a Master’s degree would provide me with the skills I desired as a leader. l became passionate about how entrepreneurship could be used as a tool to bring about economic development in rural global communities.  The Heller School aligned with my interests and provided me with the opportunity to complement and develop my skills in social impact management and international development.

Once the ceremony finished, I quickly walked to the shade under a beautiful tree nearby to take photographs.  Happy that my family made the journey to New England from Los Angeles to celebrate with me, I was overjoyed to be surrounded by the people that had supported me these past two years. Following graduation, my parents and I toured New England, traveling to Rhode Island and Maine. I am so grateful and lucky to have graduated from The Heller School, although my studies have come to an end I know the relationships that I have formed will remain. Now onto the next phase…

My Team Consulting Project Experience

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

On May 16, 2022, with a mind full of questions, a heart full of hope, and a suitcase full of island clothing, I boarded a plane with four of my MBA classmates. Destination: Belize City. This wasn’t the start of a “hot girl summer” vacation trip (though we made sure to fit in some much-needed beach time!). Our purpose in Belize was to conduct field research with The Nature Conservancy and the Belize Women Seaweed Farmers Association – two organizations at the forefront of the growing sustainable seaweed mariculture industry in Central America – as part of our Team Consulting Project (TCP). 

Instead of a thesis or practicum, Heller’s Social Impact MBA program culminates in a summer-long capstone project where MBA students form groups and provide consulting services for a client organization looking for support addressing a real-world management issue. This process started months before our plane departed Boston Logan Airport. It actually began mid-way through spring semester when the MBA Administration, headed by Carole Carlson and Larry Bailis, reached out with a survey asking for us to indicate industries and organizations of interest. What started off as a 50+ long list has been whittled down to 5 TCP groups serving 5 dynamic organizations. The selection process officially began with the TCP Fair, a two-hour evening event where organizations pitched themselves and their specific management challenge. From there, our cohort talked amongst ourselves, set up small group meetings with clients of interest, and obsessively monitored our ever-shifting “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet (created by the lovely Laura Burroughs!). 

My experience in the Heller Start-Up Challenge and in the SPARK Business Incubator program inspired an interest in working with early-stage entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color. As a result, I originally gravitated toward the Boston Impact Initiative. At the same time, my prior experience working with Syrian refugees and job-seeking immigrants piqued my interest in the Massachusetts Immigrants and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Then again, as an RPCV and current student in the dual Social Impact MBA & MA in Sustainable International Development programs, I was eager to use this capstone project to further my experience working with local organizations in emerging markets. I was pulled in so many directions!

Around that time, I learned about a group of (at the time) second year students who had met with their TCP client, a women-owned coffee-centered social enterprise called Chica Bean, on the ground in Guatemala the prior summer with the support of funding from the Heller Enrichment Funds and the Office of Graduate Student Affairs. I was excited to learn that this was a possibility, but was unsure of what international organizations might be a feasible option. 

As the weeks went by, potential teams formed, collapsed, or reshuffled. At times, I felt super excited and hopeful about the upcoming TCP experience. Other times, I felt lost and overwhelmed by all of the options. Sometimes I was anxious. Would I make the right decision? Would I choose poorly and have an awful experience? I knew I had to be strategic, but did that mean prioritizing a project in an industry I had experience in or branching out into something new? I wasn’t sure if it was possible to have it all- the best team and the most epic project – so I zeroed in on identifying solid teammates. 

As I mentioned earlier, that spring I was also participating in weekly workshops with SPARK, an on-campus business accelerator for students who successfully pitched prize-winning start-up concepts at the SPARKTank competition. I was really impressed with the creativity and thoughtfulness of the five MBA cohort members who had also earned a spot in this incubator program. It was easy to imagine conducting a successful TCP project with (some combination of!) these classmates. However, based on our sprawling “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet, each of these classmates was interested in a different organization. Would there be a way for us to come together and agree on a project that suited everyone?

Tune in to my next blog post to see how our team finally formed and how we chose an organization to work with!

Moving to Boston? Put these on your to-do list

The location of your graduate school can play a huge role in your experience, and in my (perhaps slightly biased) opinion, the Boston area is a great place to be during graduate school. There are tons of cultural events and attractions, and there’s never any shortage of things to do, both in the city center and the neighborhoods and suburbs surrounding Boston. Here are my top five picks of places to visit once you move to Boston:

1. The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum

Every time a friend or relative visits me in Boston, this is at the top of my list of places to take them. It’s unlike any museum I’ve ever been to— the lush courtyard in the middle surrounded by beautiful Venetian architecture as well as it’s unique blend of Asian, European, and African art make it feel completely separate from the rest of Boston. As an added point of interest, it’s also the site of the largest art heist in history. In 1990, thieves stole $500 million works of art, including pieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt. As you explore the museum, keep an eye out for the empty frames that the museum has left hanging.

2. The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

This museum may not be as well known as some of the larger museums on this list, but I consider it a hidden gem. I hadn’t visited it until I started working at Heller, but it soon became one of my favorites. It’s the site of America’s first factory, and the museum holds artifacts of the industrial revolution from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and provides insight into Boston’s role in the Industrial Revolution, as well as a look into Waltham’s history.

3. The Peabody Essex Museum

While not strictly in Boston, the Peabody Essex Museum is one of my favorite museums to visit in the area. They have an eclectic collection featuring artists from around the world and often have immersive, experiential works that make visiting it worthwhile during your time in Boston. Currently, you can view their collections of Chinese, maritime, Oceanic, African, and Native American art, including photographs, sculptures, paintings, and jewelry. Fashion aficionados will also appreciate the Alexander McQueen dress on display— there really is something for everyone!

4. The Boston Common and Public Gardens

While this isn’t a museum, it’s certainly worth a visit while you’re in the Boston area as an important historical site. The Boston Common was originally founded as a common grazing area for cattle (hence the name), but eventually developed into the first public park in America. Over the years, it has been used for numerous protests, from the American Revolution to Black Lives Matter protests, and both Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II have delivered speeches here. Across Charles Street lies the Boston Public Garden, which is part of the Emerald Necklace string of parks designed by  Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed Central Park in New York City). During the spring, tulips lining the walkway to the George Washington statue and blooming cherry blossoms make for an amazing photo opportunity.

5. Brandeis’ Rose Art Museum

I would be remiss if I didn’t feature Brandeis’ very own Rose Art Museum. They always have thought-provoking exhibits, but I’m particularly fond of their permanent collection, The Undisciplined Collector. It’s a wood-paneled room filled with artifacts and artwork that’s meant to evoke the feeling of stepping into a 1960s living room. If you’re a fan of mid-century furniture or design (or maybe just really liked Mad Men), be sure to check this one out.

BONUS: I asked my co-workers where their favorite places in Boston are, and here’s what they had to say!

Hannah Locke, Associate Director of Admissions: I recommend getting out of Boston to check out the various New England islands in warmer weather – Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, MA; Block Island, RI; and Deer Isle, ME.

Jill Maley, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions: Although I don’t get into Boston often, I love to visit the Andala Coffee House (which is technically in Cambridge) for a strong cup of coffee that’s perfect for either sitting in the cheerful cafe, or wandering around Cambridge.

Ellen Driscoll, Admissions Coordinator: On a sunny day, I enjoy walks along Boston Harbor from South Boston, to the Waterfront, and to Charlestown. And don’t miss our newest park, the Greenway, which rests atop our tunnel through downtown Boston and connects the North End neighborhood with Quincy Market and the Financial District.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Preparing for your Program

Students come to Heller from all walks of life:  in one Heller classroom, you could find a forty-two year old father of two sitting next to a twenty-five year old who has just returned from her time in the Peace Corps, and sitting next to her could be a thirty-six year old Nigerian doctor who has brought her husband to the United States with her. The funny thing is, is that if you were to talk to each of these imaginary students in the months before their program began, I bet they would all tell you that they feel really unprepared for graduate school. The father of two may be worried about how he’ll balance being a parent and being a student, or worry that he’s been out of school for too long; the twenty-five year old may be concerned that she lacks the life experience of her classmates and doesn’t have the financial stability to be successful in graduate school; the thirty-six year old might fret about different academic standards in a new country or that she’s never taken a statistics class.

All of this is to say that if you’re worried about entering graduate school, you’re definitely not alone. The good news is that at Heller, you have a lot of support to make this transition, and today I’ll be talking about two of our stand-out programs: The Summer Institute and the Summer Career Academy.

The Summer Institute

The Summer Institute is an online platform built by Heller faculty for incoming students to meet, prepare for courses, and share support resources. It’s free to enroll and is available starting June 15th to all incoming students who have accepted their offer of admission, made a deposit, and created a Brandeis email account. Through the Summer Institute,  students can take a Professional Writing Course with Heller instructor Evie Sessions, guide themselves through a self-paced learning opportunities tailored to your academic program,  meet your future classmates, take an Avoiding Plagiarism refresher tutorial, and get information on DEI initiatives at Heller like the near-peer mentorship program. From quantitative tutorials to learning how to cite something in APA formatting, the Summer Institute will give you the building blocks to get you ready for graduate level coursework.

Summer Career Academy

The Summer Career Academy is 4-week, self-directed, online career preparation program designed to give students the opportunity to jumpstart their career planning and preparation, to access career resources, and to learn more about themselves, resumes, and networking tools among other career essentials. Like the Summer Institute, it is available to all graduate students who have accepted their offer of admission, made their deposit, and created a Brandeis email account. Starting the week of July 25th, students will gain access great lessons on Career Development Center Resources, Self-Assessments, updating your resume, how to effectively network, and how to leverage LinkedIn.

I know the transition to graduate school can be really overwhelming, but taking on a few extra things now can help you build up your confidence and ensure that when fall does come around, you’ll be ready.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Avoiding Housing Scams (for 2022!)

I’m following up on my recent post on finding housing while in graduate school with a special post about avoiding scams while looking for housing. According to a recent survey conducted by College Pads, approximately 15% of students encounter a rental scam when looking for housing— unfortunately, it’s much more common than you would think! Although some scams are easily weeded out with just a little bit of investigation, others can be quite convincing, so it’s important to do your homework and keep these tips in mind.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Before you fall in love with a 2,000 square foot studio apartment with sweeping views of the Charles for only $500 a month, ask yourself if the price lines up with the other apartments you’ve viewed. Although there are certainly good deals to be found, Boston real estate is notoriously expensive, and anything significantly less than the average for the area should be treated with caution. With roommates, you should expect to pay between $500 and $800 in rent in the Waltham area, and between $600 and $1,000 in Boston or Cambridge. If you’re looking to live alone, most studios in Boston start at around $1,600. Anything significantly lower than that should be treated with caution. You can check average rental rates on websites like rentbits.com.
  2. Do a grammar check. Once you start communicating with a landlord or realtor, pay special attention to the emails you receive. Poor spelling, incorrect grammar, excessive punctuation, or language that seems overly “robotic” should all be red flags that the listing may not be legitimate. If the signature of the realtor contains a company website, check that out too; company websites should also look legitimate and use correct grammar and punctuation.
  3. Make Google your best friend. Always, always, always, do a search on the person or company you’re dealing with. If a scammer is targeting you, chances are that it’s not the first time they’ve done this, and you can usually find negative reviews and comments online. Remember that people can pay for positive reviews and delete negative comments on their websites, so look for third-party review pages (like Yelp or GoogleReviews) and look past the first few comments. If there are multiple people complaining about their experience with the landlord or real estate company, treat that as a red flag.
  4. Know your rights. In Boston, landlords are not allowed to charge you an application fee, a credit check fee, or a fee to ‘hold’ the apartment. If they ask for any of these, that should be a huge warning sign. Once you sign a lease, you may be asked to pay first, last, and a security deposit on an apartment, but you should only do this once you’ve signed a lease or seen the apartment at the very least. You can find more information about your rights as a renter on the City of Boston’s website.
  5. See the apartment if at all possible. For students coming from across the country, or even internationally, this may not be an option, but if at all possible, try to see the apartment. If you’re not able to visit the apartment, see if one of your roommates or another close friend in the area can visit it on your behalf, and ask them to take a video of their walkthrough of the apartment so you can see it. This is slightly complicated by the current pandemic, but most landlords are now showing apartments; at the very least they can do a video walkthrough for you (ask to see the apartment from the outside to verify the address and ask them to state your name or the date so you can verify they’re not showing you an old or out-dated video).

In addition, here are some tell-tale signs that the person you are speaking with may not be legitimate:

  • refuses to speak to you on the phone
  • asks for your social security number or other personal information
  • says they are out of the country
  • asks you to pay a deposit before you see the apartment, or
  • asks you to wire money. Also avoid using PayPal’s “My Cash.” It does not protect you from scams.

Unfortunately, if you have been scammed, it’s often difficult to get your money back, so if possible, pay with a check so your money can be traced and you can cancel the check if something goes wrong. The good news is that if you follow these tips and use good judgement, you’ll be able to weed out the vast majority of rental scams. Happy apartment hunting!

 

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Housing Part 1 (for 2022!)

For the latest in the “I’m Admitted, Now What?” series, I’d like to talk about some steps to take after you’ve made your decision and sent in your deposit. Some students may live close enough to Brandeis to commute, but for many, a new graduate program means a new city! I myself moved from Atlanta to Boston for graduate school, and I remember the mixture of excitement and nervousness that comes with taking this next big step. Here are some things that I learned along the way, along with some Brandeis-specific tips, that I hope will help you in your journey:

Location, location, location. Most Heller students choose to live in Waltham, because they prefer to be close to campus; it’s so convenient to be able to walk back to your home in between classes to grab a textbook, have a snack, or (let’s be honest) take a nap. Waltham is a great historic town right along the Charles River, and there are a ton of great restaurants along Moody Street (I love Moody’s Delicatessen for a quick lunch and Sweet Basil for a special-treat dinner). Waltham is also less than half an hour from Boston, so getting into the city is really easy, but rent in Waltham is generally a little more affordable than in Boston or Cambridge.

However, if you are looking to move to Boston or Cambridge because you want the experience of living closer to the city, I would recommend researching the Somerville, Allston/Brighton, or Jamaica Plain neighborhoods. Somerville is popular amongst Brandeis graduate students for its proximity to North Station, where you can board the commuter rail line that will take you right to campus, and the neighborhoods around Porter Square and Davis Square are especially fun, with lots of shopping, restaurants, and cute cafes. Allston and Brighton are common places for students to live in Boston for their great restaurants and nightlife options; for those without a car, it’s easy to take the MBTA to North Station. Jamaica Plain isn’t as good an option for Heller students without a car, but for those that do, this neighborhood is a great mix of students and young professionals and has plenty of great food along Centre Street. Just south of Jamaica Plain you’ll find Roslindale, which is another good option: although it’s a bit further from the city, it’s still only a twenty minute MBTA ride to Downtown Crossing and about a thirty minute drive from campus (it’s where I live myself!).

Mix and match. Unless you’re from the area or are moving with your family, you’ll most likely need to find roommates. There aren’t very many affordable studios or one bedroom apartments in Boston (usually starting around $1,600), so roommates are definitely recommended as a cost-saving measure. The Brandeis Graduate Facebook group has a lot of great information and apartment postings, and many students use it to find roommates. Brandeis also hosts a Grad Housing listserv where you can sign up to get emails about available apartments or students looking for roommates, so I would also recommend subscribing to that. Many Heller students choose to live together; having a built-in support group in your program can be really helpful to students new to the area. Living with other students in your program can lend itself to group study sessions, but having students outside your program can often add a new perspective, so don’t be afraid to mix and match with classmates both inside and outside your program!

Timing is everything. Many apartments in Boston have leases that start on September 1st, but I would recommend looking for leases that start on August 1st or August 15th, so you’re not rushing to set up utilities and get settled in during the first week of classes. Boston housing fills up fast, so I would recommend starting to look as soon as you are able; Brandeis’ Graduate Affairs Office has a great website with a lot of different resources for finding short-term and long-term housing. It can also be very competitive, so if you find a place that you like, be prepared to commit that day: have your documents ready, your checkbook on hand, and a co-signer lined up (if necessary).  During the COVID-19 pandemic, most realtors started offering virtual tours, which can make it easier to decide on an apartment even from far away (and an effective tool to weed out scams!). If you’re renting an unfurnished apartment, make sure you’re also budgeting enough time and money to find furniture; there’s an IKEA only thirty minutes away, and a Target less than fifteen minutes from Waltham, but there are also a lot of thrift stores along Moody Street and Main Street where you can dig up a lot of great finds for very low prices. I

I hope these tips are helpful as you start your housing search! I’ll be sharing more housing tips in the coming weeks, so make sure you subscribe by entering your email address in the sidebar to the right.

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