Off Campus Student Services Overview

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Moving to a new city and finding a place to live can be a daunting prospect. We want to help make this transition as easy and stress-free as possible. Jeff Morris, Assistant Director of Off Campus Student Services (OCSS), recently recorded a webinar to help you get started in your search. You can watch a replay of the webinar, or scroll through this post to get the highlights.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What is my monthly budget?
    • Your budget really determines where you’re going to be living and how you’re going to be living – with roommates, on your own, close to campus, or farther away.
    • Remember that your budget is more than just your rent. Don’t forget to account for utilities, transportation (parking or MBTA pass), food, and fun.
  • Do you want to live with roommates?
    • It’s totally up to you!
    • There are plenty of one-bed apartments and studios in Boston, so if you want to live alone, that’s definitely an option.
    • Of course, living by yourself will usually cost a little bit more. It’s easier to find a lower rent if you’re willing to have roommates.
  • How many bedrooms should I be looking for?
    • It’s not just about how many roommates you want to have!
    • You can get creative here: 2 bedrooms doesn’t necessarily mean that the apartment can only house 2 people. Does it have a separate living room that’s big enough to be a bedroom?
  • Do I have and/or need a cosigner?
    • 90% of the time you will need one.
    • A cosigner or guarantor agrees to pay your rent if you ever default.
    • It’s a good idea to have this person lined up ahead of time, particularly if you don’t have a great credit score.
  • What neighborhoods do I want to explore?
    • We recommend doing your research ahead of time and picking your top 3 neighborhoods. There are hundreds of places available, so you need to narrow it down before you really start looking.
  • Do I need parking? MBTA access?
    • OCSS doesn’t recommend bringing a car to Boston if you can avoid it.
    • MBTA or “the T” transit system does cover almost all of the Greater Boston Area.
    • How close to a T stop do you need to be? Most students want to be within a 10-minute walk.

Things to Consider

Things to Consider

  • Plan your finances. There are fees associated with renting in Boston that you need to be prepared for ahead of time.
    • In Boston, it’s pretty standard that a realtor will ask for one month’s rent as an application fee for an apartment.
    • You will also be asked for last month’s rent and security deposit (equivalent to one month’s rent) when you sign the lease.
    • There may also be a realtor fee, which can be up to one month’s rent.
  • Don’t forget utility costs.
    • Ask agents for sample utility costs from the previous year. Most apartments in Boston should have these readily available.
  • Think realistically about transportation.
    • You can get a discounted MBTA semester pass through OCSS (11% discount!).
    • Think about what the overall commute looks like for you: factor in walking distance to and from T stops, time on the train or bus, and any changes.
  • Move in and move out dates
    • The standard in Boston is a 12-month lease, from September 1st to August 31st.
    • A 9-month lease is very rare, and the prices tend to be higher, but they are out there!
    • Some students sublet their apartments over the summer if they can’t or don’t want to stay for a full 12 months.
  • Consider your academic schedule.
    • When are your classes? How does that affect your commute?
  • Do you need furniture?
    • Unfurnished is the norm in Boston. However, OCSS has relationships with some agents renting furnished apartments.


Boston Neighborhoods

Back Bay

  • Back Bay

    • Known for Victorian brownstones and trendy shops
    • Moderate to high rent averages
    • Close to Charles River and the Esplanade
    • Great for studios and one-bed apartments; two or three-bedrooms are rare
    • 10-20 minute walk to campus; 2 or 3 stops away on the Green line

Beacon Hill

  • Beacon Hill

    • Very close to campus: 5-10 minute walk
    • Super popular with Emerson students
    • Moderate to high rent ranges
    • Apartments tend to be smaller and more expensive (agents will call it “quaint” or “cozy”)
    • It actually is on a hill

North End

  • North end

    • Boston’s Little Italy
    • Hundreds of restaurants (not just Italian)
    • Always carnivals, parties, street festivals
    • Mix of students, young professionals, and families
    • Many different kinds of apartments, from studios to 4-bedroom places
    • Moderate to high rents, similar to Back Bay
    • 10-15 minute walk to campus; Orange or Blue line trains

East Boston

  • East Boston

    • Becoming one of the most popular neighborhoods for students
    • Lots of property in the area has recently been renovated
    • Lower rents: great bang for your buck
    • Close to the airport


  • Allston/Brighton

    • Most densely populated with students from many Boston colleges and universities
    • Most affordable neighborhood on this list
    • Slightly lower quality of apartments because neighborhoods have been housing students for decades
    • More of a younger student vibe, lots of nightlife
    • On the Green line, typically a 20-40 minute commute


  • Cambridge/Somerville

    • Cambridge is a little more expensive; Somerville is a little more affordable
    • On the Red line; very reliable 20-minute commute
    • Bike friendly area
    • Mostly young professionals
    • We recommend looking specifically in Central Square, Porter Square, and Davis Square

There are lots of other Boston neighborhoods to explore, too! Let us know if you have any questions about somewhere you want to live.


Housing Resources

Your first port of call should be Emerson’s OCSS website. Here you will find tons of resources to help you get started, as well as contact information for OCSS. You can feel free to make a phone or in-person appointment, or to send over an email.

There are a whole bunch of Facebook groups for Emerson students looking for apartments. OCSS manages the Emerson Off Campus Student Services. Search “Emerson student apartments” to find others.

OCSS also manages a housing and roommate website where you can find listings for apartments and people looking for roommates. This is self-run by students and realtors from our trusted list. You can log in as a guest even before you have your Emerson email address!

This site also has tons of resources including checklists, FAQs, information about tenants’ and landlords’ rights, and information about renters’ insurance.


Working with a Realtor

  • If in doubt, you can always call OCSS for their opinion on a real estate company (we have a “blacklist”!).
  • Don’t forget about the realtor fees:
    • This will be a maximum of one month’s rent
    • Ask: the fee may be negotiable (this is the only lease signing cost that will be negotiable)
    • Property managers don’t charge realtor fees
    • You can ask to view fee-free apartments
    • Watch out for the Rental Brokerage Fee Disclosure form:
      • When you sign this form, you are agreeing to pay a fee for an apartment to a specific realtor, even if another realtor later shows you the same apartment and offers a lower fee.
      • If in doubt, ask OCSS to check over the form for you
  • Pay attention to the rental application
    • This is basically a credit and background check
    • Make sure you fill it out correctly: this is the basis for the decision to rent you the property or not.
    • Yes, they really need your bank information, social security, driver’s license, etc.
      • It seems super personal, but it allows them to conduct a thorough check
  • What you need to know about the lease
    • This is typically a one-year contract from September 1st to August 31st
    • Check the addendum: this is an additional document including other terms and expectations
      • Sometimes the addendum is more important than the standard lease
      • This is the part of the lease that is unique to your specific property
    • Read your lease CAREFULLY
      • OCSS offers a review service and can look over a lease for you


Housing Search Timeline


Don’t panic! There will always be apartments available in Boston, all the way up to September 1st



Located on the 4th Floor of the Walker Building, 120 Boylston Street in Boston.

The office is open Monday to Friday from 9:00am to 4:30pm. After hours visits can be scheduled on select days.


Social Media: @EmersonOCSS