Graduate Student Cost of Living

2012-2013 Stipend Levels

2012-2013 Stipend Levels
Type Monthly Yearly (12 month) High Range (15%) Low Range (-10%)
Sci/Eng PhD RA $2,574 $30,888 $35,521 $27,799
Eng MS RA $2,353 $28,236 $32,471 $25,412
Sci/Eng TA (contact) $2,637 $31,644 $36,391 $28,480
Eng TA (support) $2,377 $28,524 $32,803 $25,672

Each department is free to choose actual stipend rates of -10% to +15% relative to the baseline, at their discretion.

Departments in other schools (other than Science and Engineering) will be expected to establish stipends consistent with these guidelines, subject to the approval of their School Dean and Associate Provost. Many of the students in non-Science and Engineering departments are supported by smaller fellowships or are not supported at all.

2010-2011 Expenses

Cost of Living Information
Expense Single Graduate Students Married Students
On-campus Off-campus On-campus Off-campus
Housing + Utilities $11,322 $13,875 $16,650 $21,733
Food $5,972 $5,972 $9,917 $9,917
Health Insurance $0 $0 $1,700 $1,700
Dental Costs $300 $300 $600 $600
Transportation $1,806 $2,186 $2,186 $2,947
Taxes $3,128 $3,128 $1,614 $1,614
Books & Supplies $800 $800 $800 $800
Student Life Fee $272 $272 $272 $272
Total $23,600 $26,533 $33,739 $39,583

The expense estimates given in the table should be considered a BARE MINIMUM that students need to stay housed, fed, keep up in classes and get around. These figures have no padding, and do not account for any of the following costs:

  • Clothing
  • Personal care / incidentals / non-food groceries
  • Leisure travel
  • Entertainment
  • Childcare
  • Non-insurance health care costs (e.g. medication, co-pays)
  • Loan repayments by the student and/or spouse/partner
  • Unfunded travel for academic purposes (e.g. unfunded conference travel)

Unsupported students should add $1,656 to their health insurance costs.

For the purposes of this analysis, we have used a weighted average of masters and doctorate-level students.

A married student is one who is married or partnered, with jointly-filed federal and state tax forms. To reduce the variability in the numbers, we assume no children or other dependents are being supported and the spouse/partner neither brings in any additional income nor has any personal educational expenses or loan repayments. This definition matches the typical married international student on an F1 visa and serves as a baseline for other married/partnered students. If the non-student spouse works, there is a very large range in household income as well as additional expenses. If there are children, extra costs on the order of tens of thousands of dollars per child are typical, especially if the spouse works. Of the MIT students with children, 60% of their spouses do not work by choice and/or due to visa regulations (source: 2007 Graduate Student Life Survey). Other cost differences between single and married students are detailed under each line item’s description.

Where Do These Numbers Come From?

For some of the cost calculations presented here, it was possible to obtain exact values; many other costs do not have exact figures associated with them, and must be estimated on the best information available. For example, while it is possible to get an exact figure on the cost of on-campus housing, it is not possible to get an exact number for the amount that MIT graduate students will be paying next year for off-campus housing. Wherever it was necessary to estimate actual costs, many potential sources of information were evaluated and the most reliable of these sources was utilized.

One source of information that has provided much of the data upon which these calculations are based is the Graduate Student Life Survey, conducted by the Graduate Student Council and the Office of the Dean for Student Life during October, 2007. This survey was filled out by a statistically relevant sample set of 32% of the MIT graduate student population and provides the most accurate information available regarding the true costs incurred by MIT graduate students at the time for a variety of expenses. In cases where this data is available, it has been determined to be the preferred source of information over other sources such as MIT Student Financial Services, which estimates costs based on educated guesses rather than statistics.

As the data from the Graduate Student Life Survey was obtained in 2007, it is necessary to account for increases in costs for the upcoming academic year (2009-2010). We have chosen to estimate the cost for an item in September 2009 given how much it cost in September 2007, by utilizing the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index (CPI). Specifically, we consider the CPI for the “Boston-Brockton-Nashua MA-NH-ME-CT” area (the exact label used by the Dept. of Labor). The CPI gives a good estimate of the price change from 9/2007 to 9/2009. We generally assume that the price change from 9/2008 to 9/2009 will be equivalent to the price change from 9/2009 to 9/2010. Note here that we are considering the cost of an item at a particular month, since that is how the CPI is indexed. It may be more natural to discuss the cost in terms of which academic year is being examined. In that case, note that 9/2007 is a price marker for the 2007-2008 academic year, and similarly the upcoming 2009-2010 academic year is described by the CPI value for 9/2009. CPI values may be obtained from the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics/Consumer Price Index website.

Details on Each Item

Rents and Utilities: On-campus

For on-campus rents, we have taken the mean monthly rent that will be charged for the 2009-2010 year, with rates and room capacity from the MIT Housing Office. Rents for 2009-2010 were uniformly raised 3.5% over the 2008-2009 rates. The rates were collected separately from the singles dorms (Ashdown, Tang, Edgerton, Ashdown, and Sidney & Pacific) and the married dorms (Eastgate and Westgate).

In addition to rent, on-campus students are assumed to pay for a house tax (which exists in most, but not all, of the residences) of $5 per month.

Rents and Utilities: Off-campus

The Graduate Student Life Survey showed that off-campus single students were paying, on average, $852 per month for rent and utilities combined in November, 2002. We assume that of this total, $70 was being spent on utilities and $782 was being spent on rent. Because no statistical information is available regarding how much students were spending on utilities alone, we obtained the $70 figure through an informal polling of students who went through their bills from 2002 and averaged out their utilities costs over the 2002 calendar year, choosing the low-end estimate.

We propagated forward the rent costs using the CPI for “Rent of primary residence” to 2006 and the cost of utilities with the CPI for “Fuel and utilities” for 2006. These estimates were consistent with initial data taken from the 2006 New Student Survey, though all three cohorts (new, 3rd year, graduating) will provide much better validation when they become available. For 2006 to 2007, rents increased by 1.34%. Due to the slackened real estate market, we assumed that rental increases would continue to be depressed at 1.34% for 2007 to 2008. For fuel and utilities, the 2006 to 2007 CPI increase was 23.7%. This exceptionally-high rate was due to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and steep increases in international demand for natural gas. Rounding down, the average fuel and utilities increase for 2002 to 2006 was 12%. In these estimates, we assume 12% inflation for utilities from 2007 to 2008. Actual utility increases may in fact be higher due to sustained increases in international demand.

Finally, students living off campus have to pay for internet access, which we consider to be essential for most MIT students to be able to work while at home. We estimate phone costs, once again, to be $35 per month and we estimate internet costs to be $30 per month. The cost of internet service assumes that the student uses a broadband connection (either Verizon DSL or Comcast cable modem) and shares the connection with one other individual. We assume the costs of phone and internet remains constant from 9/2006 to 9/2007.


The Graduate Student Life Survey showed that the average single student was paying $394 on average for food in 2002. The housing locations of students did not seem to play any significant role in this expense.

We estimate that the increase from 9/2006 to 9/2007 will equal the 2.2% increase from 9/2005 to 9/2006 measured by the CPI for “Food and beverages” in the Boston-Brockton-Nashua area.

Health Insurance: AY 2009-10 Rates

MIT Student Extended Insurance Plan Rates
Type Both terms: 9/1/09 – 8/31/10 Fall term only: 9/1/09 – 1/31/10 Spring term only: 2/1/10 – 8/31/10
Student $1,656 $690 $966
Student and Spouse/Partner $2,520 $1,060 $1,470
Student and Dependent $1,776 $740 $1,036
Student, Spouse/Partner, and Dependent(s) $2,640 $1,100 $1,540
MIT Student Medical Plan Rates
Type Both terms: 9/1/09 – 8/31/10 Fall term only: 9/1/09 – 1/31/10 Spring term only: 2/1/10 – 8/31/10
Student Free w/ tuition Free w/ tuition Free w/ tuition
Student and Spouse/Partner $1,044 $435 $609
Student and Dependent $528 $220 $308
Student, Spouse/Partner, and Dependent(s) $1,572 $1,100 $1,040

Dental Care

Dental care is the expense for which perhaps the least reliable data currently exists. The Graduate Student Life Survey did ask the question of “How much do you spend annually on dental expenses?”, and the answers to this question did not show not show a smooth distribution, but instead a distribution with three main peaks at $0 (approximately 30% of respondents), $100 (15%) and $200 (15%). At the same time, however, over 75% of respondents indicated that they were interested in purchasing a dental insurance plan and, when presented with a dental plan that listed standard commonly found features, valued such a plan at a very different cost than what they were currently paying (that distribution was also not smooth, but with peak occurring most prominently at $100 (~28%), ~150 (~11%), $200 (~16%), and $300 or more (~14%).

What the survey indicated was that examining a mean value for dental care was not particularly informative, given the very peaky distribution, and that many students who were paying little or nothing for dental care were not doing so by choice, but instead because they could not find any feasible options for dental care (i.e. the same students who answered that they spent nothing on dental care also answered that they wanted dental insurance and were willing to pay $100 or more for it).

Since the survey was conducted, graduate students have been encouraged to purchase walk-in care treatment. Meanwhile, we are in the process of compiling a new list of dental care options and will update this webpage as soon as it is ready.

The 2004 MIT Practical Planning Guide estimated yearly dental expenses at $300 and we use this number.

Transportation, Local: On-Campus

CPI Data for Transportation in Boston
Date % change from previous year
Sept. 2003 1.6%
Sept. 2004 3.0%
Sept. 2005 4.84%
Sept. 2006 7.75%

On-campus Students’ Local Transportation in the Graduate Student Life Survey showed that on-campus students were paying on average $70 per month on local transportation (not including airfare, etc.) as of November, 2002. We have propagated forward this value using the CPI for “Transportation” in the Boston-Brockton-Nashua area. We assume that the increases from 9/2006 to 9/2007 will match the 7.75% increase from 9/2005 to 9/2006 again due to sustained high fuel prices and a substantial MBTA fare hike enacted in 1/2007. Transportation, Local: Off-Campus

The Graduate Student Life Survey showed that off-campus students were paying on average $98 per month on local transportation (not including airfare, etc.) as of November, 2002. We used the same CPI information and assumptions as were used for on-campus transportation expenses to arrive at estimates for 2007. Transportation, Non-Local

In considering transportation costs, it is important to consider that nearly all MIT graduate students will travel to their parents’ home or permanent residence during the year, and some basic assumptions regarding non-local transportation for this purpose should be included in the cost of living model. We assume a minimum of two domestic flights per year and estimate the total cost at $800. For international students this cost can be thought of as representing one international flight every year or year and a half. The assumption of two domestic flights per year is obtained from MIT Student Financial Services. Taxes

In order to calculate tax, we assume that the average student has no additional sources of income beyond their support from MIT, and that they pay both Federal and Massachusetts state taxes. We base the tax calculations off the given nominal stipend levels. We assume that standard deductions are used and that students are Massachusetts residents and are able to take the full rental deduction. We assume the tax rates and deductions for 2006 will remain static for the 2007 tax year. Tax calculations were performed by directly using the 2006 IRS 1040EZ and MA-1 forms.

Books and Supplies

We estimated the costs of books and supplies by forward-projecting a cost of $920/yr using CPI data. Comparing with data for undergraduates, these costs are consistent with a student taking approximately 5 classes per semester. Assuming that a graduate student takes an average of 1 class per semester over the entire course of enrollment in a doctoral program, the 2007-2008 estimate for books and supplies is $212 per year. The 2007-2008 Making MIT Affordable guide from Student Financial Services estimates $1,114 per year for undergraduates, or $223 per class using our estimate of 5 classes a semester for undergraduates.

In addition to textbooks and related supplies considered in the 2004 Practical Planning Guide, we factor in $1,800 for a computer, distributed over 3 years ($600/year). MIT IS&T recommends a number of systems for students (through the Dell Premier academic purchase program available through MIT ECAT), the least expensive of which lists for $1,500. The $1,800 figure is determined by including shipping, tax, necessary software (Microsoft Office or equivalent), media, and the most basic peripherals over 3 years. Student Life Fee

According to the MIT Student Financial Services, the Student Life Fee for the 2010-11 academic year will be $272. Analysis from Previous Years

For more detailed information, please refer to our previous analysis from 2007-2008.