College Confidential

The perks of living in a college town

Sure, living in the midst of tens of thousands of students can have its drawbacks. But there are perks, too -- secret ones, in some cases, behind all that ivy-covered brick.

By Jon Marcus
April 17, 2011

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1. The Massachusetts College of Art and Design has long held annual art sales, but now there are deals to be had all year. The work sold at the new MassArt Made – original creations by students, faculty, and alumni – starts at around 10 bucks, and includes iPod cases and T-shirts, ceramic pieces and watercolors. The store gives its artists half of the purchase price and puts 10 percent of its gross income (and all net profit) toward scholarships for students. 625 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617-879-7407,


2. Willing to get practiced on? You can get a range of reduced-fee care, from checkups to teeth whitening, from dentists-to-be at Harvard (617-432-1434, option 1), Tufts (617-636-6828), and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (617-278-2700 ), where whitening is just $35. Dental hygienists in training at the Fall River campus of Bristol Community College work on members of the public for a suggested donation of $10. Appointments are available weekdays during the spring semester by calling 508-678-2811, ext. 2139.


3. The WilmerHale Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain, staffed by Harvard Law School students and instructors, offers low-cost or free civil legal services – including those related to foreclosure, divorce, and employment discrimination – to clients who meet certain income requirements (below about $88,000 for a family of four, for instance). 122 Boylston Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-3003,


4. If you’re an early bird, you might be able to get rid of that pricey gym membership. At Northeastern University’s state-of-the-art Marino Center, the first 50 Boston residents to arrive each weekday morning work out for free. It opens at 5 a.m. Which is just about the time the students go to bed. 360 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617-373-4433,


5. Williams College’s Taconic Golf Club, recently judged the best public course in Massachusetts by Golf Magazine, accepts new memberships from people who meet certain requirements (most must live within 50 miles). The course is open to anyone who wants to cross-country ski during the winter. 19 Meacham Street, Williamstown, 413-458-9669,


6. The existence of the MGH Institute of Health Professions in the Charlestown Navy Yard is itself pretty much a well-kept secret. And at the school’s Speech, Language and Literacy Center, people with speech-development problems and stroke patients with aphasia can get free or discounted treatment. Physical therapy assessment and services offered by the Physical Therapy Center for Clinical Education and Health Promotion are always free. 36 First Avenue, Boston, 617-726-2947,


7. Culinary students at Endicott College’s School of Hospitality Management will serve you in style Thursday evenings at La Chanterelle, where dinner (three-course meals average $32) is served in an elegant mansion overlooking the Atlantic. 407 Hale Street, Beverly, 978-232-3040 for reservations. At Newbury College in Brookline, a three-course dinner (BYOB) in the Lois and David Weltman Dining Room costs just $30. 135 Fisher Avenue, Brookline, 617-730-7168 or for reservations. And for the best deal, make reservations at the Louison Board Room at Massassoit Community College in Brockton, where the three-course gourmet lunch served most Thursdays costs only $7. 508-588-9100, ext. 1671 or 1650


8 . The site of the first World Series? The Huntington Avenue Grounds, where you’ll find a statue of Cy Young, who pitched for the Boston Pilgrims – later to become the Red Sox – against the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates in a best-of-nine series starting on October 1, 1903. (The home team won.) It’s open to visitors and located behind Northeastern’s Cabot Center, at the corner of Huntington Avenue and Forsyth Street.


9. Amherst College’s newly renamed Beneski Museum of Natural History, which offers free admission, has the world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints, as well as skeletons of mastodons and mammoths 11 Barrett Hill Road, Amherst, 413-542-2165, Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is full of treasures – including, among its 6 million objects, Pacific Island artifacts brought home by China traders from New England. Admission is free to Massachusetts residents on Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. September through May and Sundays year-round from 9 a.m. to noon. 11 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, 617-496-1027,


10. Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments – with galleries on the first and second floors of the Science Center, at 1 Oxford Street in Cambridge – is one of the three largest university collections of its kind anywhere. As well it should be: Harvard has been snatching up stuff for it since 1637. Its 20,000 items include a telescope purchased by Benjamin Franklin and a compass owned by Galileo. Open Monday through Friday; 617-495-2779,


11. There’s a tree grown from a branch of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree at Babson College, whose founder, Roger Babson, attributed the boom-and-bust cycle of the modern-day economy to Newton’s law of action and reaction. The tree is on College Drive in Wellesley, directly across from the school’s Horn Library. (The apples are said to be mealy, if you’re wondering.) Tufts has a tree grafted from Newton’s, too, where students who earn PhDs in cosmology have apples ceremonially dropped on their heads.


12. Every day of the year, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors can stroll through greenhouses at Wellesley College that simulate most of Earth’s climates 781-283-3094; to print out a self-guided tour. Also worth a trip is the Smith College campus (above), which was planned as a botanic garden by Frederick Law Olmsted. The Lyman Conservatory includes 2,500 types of plants, from the kind that eat meat to those we eat, such as cacao and coffee. 16 College Lane, Northampton, 413-585-2740,


13. Here’s something you don’t see every day: In Easton, Stonehill College has what is considered one of the world’s largest collection of shovels (yes, shovels). It includes entrenching shovels from World War I and 20 silver-plated shovels from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Make an appointment by e-mailing archivist Nicole Casper at or calling 508-565-1121 for more information.


14. You can see the full set of the New York City apartment from the sitcom Will & Grace, the first network series to debut with a gay principal character, at Emerson’s Iwasaki Library. The installation was a gift from the show’s co-creator, Emerson alum Max Mutchnick. 120 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-824-8668,


15. Boston University’s Contemporary Collections has a large assortment of Hollywood memorabilia, including Fred Astaire’s dancing shoes, Gene Kelly’s Honorary Oscar, and Bette Davis’s All About Eve script, opened to the famous party-scene line, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Many of the items are on display at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center in the Mugar library. 771 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 617-353-3696,


16. A selection from BU’s archive of more than 80,000 documents relating to Martin Luther King Jr. is on display in his eponymous reading room, also on the Mugar’s third level. Among them: correspondence with Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, as well as King’s transcript from BU, where he earned his PhD in 1955.


17. Brandeis University, which takes its name from Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court justice, has his robe, books, and desk on display on the main floor of Goldfarb Library. 415 South Street, Waltham, 781-736-4670, The congressional office of five-term US House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. has been reassembled at his alma mater, Boston College. It’s on the second floor of O’Neill Library and open noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, 617-552-8038,


18. Love letters between the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, whose legendary affair they kept a secret from her spiteful father, are in the English Poetry Collection of Wellesley College’s Margaret Clapp Library. So is the door with mail slot from Barrett’s father’s house through which the letters were slipped. It is on public display on the fourth floor. 106 Central Street, Wellesley, 781-283-2129


19. From the website of MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, you can download a self-guided tour to the contemporary art displayed all over the university’s Cambridge campus, including sculptures by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and Louise Nevelson (find it at Or you can arrange to book a tour with one of the center’s experts by calling 617-452-3586.


20. Some of the best stuff is in the universities’ more unconventional collections. For instance, at the Warren Anatomical Museum, on the fifth floor of Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library, you’ll find the skull of Phineas Gage, a 19th-century construction worker who survived when his head was perforated by a long metal spike (it’s there, too). That’s just the beginning of the oddities in a collection comprising 300 cases and artifacts. Free to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. 10 Shattuck Street, Boston, 617-432 -6196,


21. The Nickerson Archives at Cape Cod Community College contain one of the region’s most complete collections of whaling materials (Nathaniel Philbrick did research here for In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex), including captain’s logs and an elaborate ship model made entirely of whalebone. Get there fast; the room is scheduled to begin a renovation and expansion in June. 2240 Iyannough Road, West Barnstable, 877-846-3672. Closer to Boston, MIT’s Hart Nautical Gallery has 35 ship models once used as teaching aids in the institute’s naval-architecture program, including the most famous of all America’s Cup racers, the metal-hulled Reliance, which won in 1903. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 55 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-253-5942


22. Alongside the aptly named Map Hill Drive on Babson’s Wellesley campus, there’s a 25-ton, 28-foot-wide model of the earth, one of the world’s largest freestanding globes. You’re allowed to touch it, which makes this spot the photo-op of choice for visitors (yes, there’s room to pose under it like Atlas).


23. At the Williams College Museum of Art, original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are on display. It’s the only place outside the National Archives with original copies of all of these documents. The museum is displaying the items during planned renovations at the school’s library. Williams’s Constitution includes notations by George Mason of Virginia – among them his objections to ratification. Admission is free. 15 Lawrence Hall Drive, Williamstown, 413-597-2429,


24. In 1926, a Clark University professor named Robert Goddard built the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket and ushered in the Space Age. Now, the school’s Robert H. Goddard Library has a large second-floor exhibit featuring his papers, photos, and pieces of his rockets. The first book to go to the moon, a Goddard biography autographed by Buzz Aldrin, is kept in a vault but can be seen upon request. Robert H. Goddard Library, corner of Woodland and Downing streets, Worcester, 508-793-7461,


25. Most colleges and universities field only marching bands that belt out renditions of Lady Gaga hits. Massasoit Community College assembles an interesting crew of musicians for its Senior Orchestra, which is mainly composed of people from 60 to 85 years old, with a sprinkling of younger members. The orchestra rehearses and performs on the Brockton campus, and it’s always looking for new members, particularly string players. Contact music director Paul Cappers at to schedule an audition.


26. Tax season may be coming to a close, but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. Law and accounting students at Bentley University, Harvard Law School, and Bunker Hill Community College, to name a few, are wrapping up a busy season of preparing returns for free for people who meet income requirements. To find Volunteer Income Tax Assistance services near you, go to and search for “Massachusetts VITA sites.”


27. At Emerson, students get real world experience running the school’s 200-person-strong marketing communication agency, EMcomm. Businesses get cutting-edge free campaigns, which often include advertising, public relations, graphic design, and social media help. Clients have included Tavalon tea and the Special Olympics. About 14 businesses are selected each semester. To apply, visit


28. On the campus of Hampshire College is one of the world’s largest collections of books in Yiddish. The National Yiddish Book Center, which is working to rescue the 1,000-year-old language, also lets visitors watch films and hear music in Yiddish. Among its other treasures, the center’s museum has a working-condition 1918 Yiddish linotype machine from The Jewish Daily Forward in New York, the last of its kind in the world. 1021 West Street, Amherst, 413-256-4900,


29. You might not know Ruth Graves Wakefield by name, but you certainly know her by reputation: Graves invented the Toll House chocolate chip cookie at her Toll House Inn in Whitman. Her cookbook collection is in the special collections room on the main floor of the Henry Whittemore Library at Framingham State, from which she graduated in 1924. Anyone can thumb through her inspiration, as long as the archivist is present. 100 State Street, Framingham, 508-626-4648,


30. You’re welcome to stargaze from the telescope at the Harvard College Observatory on the third Thursday of the month from September through May. 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, 617-495-7461, If indoor viewing is more your speed, Williams College’s Hopkins Observatory offers free planetarium shows every Friday at 7:30 p.m. through May 6. The observatory is on the south side of Route 2, between Spring Street and Water Street. Park at the college’s Museum of Art. 413-597-2188 for reservations;

Jon Marcus is the US correspondent for Times (UK) Higher Education magazine and the editor and cofounder of