Differences Among MIT Dorms

I have lived in four undergraduate dormitories and visited all of them multiple times. I’ve often been surprised at how different the dorms are from each other, and that a lot of properties I thought would be standardized across the living communities at a college were in fact not universally the case.

Several people have asked me for an opinion about the dorm they choose. As such, I’m dedicating a post to cataloging differences among MIT dorms that I’ve observed, and with a lot more clear-cut not-as-volatile properties than my previous post did.

Note, of course, that some things may have changed since I last observed the situation. In addition, although most information on this page is what I have seen myself, some facts I have heard from others and have not verified with my own eyes. Also, I don’t know everything about all dorms (and you could comment and help me fill things in!). I do not speak officially for MIT.

I will use the following abbreviations throughout the rest of this post, so that I don’t have to type them out later.

SH: Senior House
EC: East Campus
RH: Random Hall
SP: Simmons Hall
MH: Maseeh Hall
MC: McCormick Hall
BH: Baker House
BC: Burton-Conner House
MG: MacGregor House
NH: New House
NX: Next House

SP, MH, MC, BH, NX have dining halls and are also dorms where enrollment in a dining plan is mandatory. In other dorms, the dining plan is optional.

SH, EC, and RH allow cats on some floors. EC allows cats on 5 of its 10 floors. RH allows cats on 2 of its 8 ‘floors’.

SH, SP, MH, MC, BH, BC, MG, and NX have elevators. EC, RH, and NH do not, unless you want to count EC’s freight elevator that has no serious practical application to passenger travel. All three dorms without elevators play a message during fire alarms instructing evacuees to not use the elevators. All three dorms have produced media making fun of this. SP has rooms in locations for which you have to take two different elevators to access without stairs. MG has no elevators serving entries in the low rise (F, G, H, and J) and elevators serving only one of three floors of each high rise entry (A, B, C, D, and E).

SH and NH have air conditioning. All other undergrad dorms do not.

EC, SP, MH, MC, BH, NH, and NX have wooden or tile floors in rooms. Other dorms have carpeted floors in rooms.

EC comprises of two buildings (the two parallels). All other dorms are one building.

BC and MG are zero-indexed buildings (the ground floor is floor 0). The others are one-indexed, unless one decides to specify building indexing at precisenesses beyond the integer level (for instance, considering RH ⅔-indexed since there exist four steps up from the ground to floor 1 and twelve steps between its 0th and 1st floors).

NH has no basement. It is arguable whether the 0th floor of BC counts as a basement. All other dorms have basements.

MG and NH are connected by an enclosed hallway. The two parallels of EC are connected by an underground tunnel. MC is connected to Building W2 above-ground. BH and BC are connected to various non-dorm living groups. Other dorms are not connected to any other buildings.

RH is an extremely structured and regular building, with all floors having pretty much the same structure and extensive symmetries among and within floors. EC is also very structured, but with less intra-floor symmetries (and the two parallels very far from being mirror images of each other). MG has fairly regular intra-floor structure and analogous floor structures. MH, BH, and NX have similar floors, but no regular patterns in the structure of a floor. NH doesn’t even have floors that are similar in layout to each other, but at least there are larger subunits of the entire house that have similar structure. There really isn’t any regularity to speak of in SP’s structure, unless one counts how similar some windows look in comparison with each other. (There are 256 ways to paint the four sides of a window red, yellow, blue, or unpainted, so the Pigeonhole Principle easily requires identically-painted windows on SP.)

Here’s how far dorms are from various important locations on campus.

You could probably be in range of a Pokéstop on one end of NX. One Pokéstop is in range for each of MH and BH, and three for each of EC, RH, and SP. These counts of course do not include Pokéstops in range due to failure to correctly detect where you actually are.

RH is surrounded by non-MIT-affiliated buildings in Cambridge. All other buildings exclusively border areas comprising of other MIT buildings.

SH is in zip code 02142. RH, SP, MH, MC, BH, BC, MG, NH, and NX are in zip code 02139. I’m still not sure which zip code EC is in; I’ve got quite a few conflicting signals.

Communities are culturally horizontally stratified (across one floor) in EC, RH, MH, MC, BH, BC, and NX. They are vertically stratified (comprise areas of multiple floors) in SH, SP, MG, and NH. A long time ago, communities were culturally vertically stratified in EC.

RH, MG, and NH contain communities that are single-sex. Most communities in these dorms and all communities in other dorms are coed.

EC and BC do not have dishwashers. Everywhere else seems to have dishwashers.

Bathrooms in SP are cleaned and stocked by its residents. Bathrooms elsewhere are cleaned and stocked by the house staff.

Some dorms, like RH and NH, have perforated toilet paper in restrooms. Some dorms, like EC and MG, have unperforated toilet paper in restrooms.

Some dorms, like EC and MG, have urinals in the restrooms. Others don’t.

Students get their own paper towels for the kitchen and bathrooms in EC. Elsewhere, the house staff stocks paper towels.

Laundry is free in RH (or rather, it is included with the house tax). Elsewhere, washing is $1.00 or $1.25 a cycle, in some cases depending on method of payment(?). Drying is $1.00 for 60 minutes. Drying is sold in 15-minute increments in some dorms like NH, and in 60-minute increments in some dorms like MG.

EC doesn’t have Allied Barton security. Everywhere else has Allied Barton security, including many communities that are unhappy about this.

As was found out this past summer, there exists at least one place in the building at which RH can catch fire and not burn down in a single-digit number of minutes, disproving an often-circulated legend. Burn times for other buildings are probably still higher. Burn time for EC is speculated to be infinite.

EC, SP, MC, and NX have grand pianos. This is not to say other dorms don’t have grand pianos; I just haven’t seen them yet. EC and MC even have good grand pianos. Many halls themselves in many dorms have upright pianos.

SP has extensive skylights. RH has two skylights on its top floors that are pretty much covered over with roofdeck construction. Other dorms don’t have skylights.

MC has a penthouse.

EC, RH, MC, BC, NH, and NX have dorm social lists that are Moira lists. SH, SP, MH, and BH have Mailman lists for their dorm social lists instead. It’s still unclear what exactly the MG dorm social list is. The RH dorm social list is private. Other dorm social lists are public.

In RH, where freshmen end up rooming is entirely the freshman’s choice and not the floor’s choice (modulo single-sex communities). In EC and NH, freshmen pick communities, but also communities pick freshmen (i.e. the halls in EC and the houses in NH get to say whether they want certain freshmen or not and this actually has an impact on rooming).

UPDATE1: A friend informed me that BC also does not have dishwashers.
UPDATE2: Added that it’s unclear whether BC’s 0th floor is a basement.
UPDATE3: Added that some of EC’s rooms are tiled rather than wooden.

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