Tips for Moving to Harvard with a Family

Tips for Moving to Harvard with a Family

By Katie

Ford MC/MPA 2023

When I was

admitted to the Mid-Career MPA Program, my first thought was, “How will I move

my family to Cambridge?” As I approach graduation, I reflect on our amazing

year together here. We have benefited from great schools, close friends, and new

experiences, and we’ve grown both as a family and as individuals. I have been a

role model to my daughters in an entirely new way—rather than watching me working

all the time, they see me prioritizing schoolwork and learning.  

The move

was not easy—we rented our home in the DC area, packed up our belongings (half

of which we left in a storage unit), hired movers, and moved into a new

apartment. Our girls happily settled into new schools and found new friends,

and we figured out the new rhythm of our lives.

I am writing this post to share some tips for moving to Cambridge with a family. It takes a good deal of effort up front but is worth it in the end.


Katie Ford and her family outside of Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Katie Ford. 



Housing: Find

housing early. Use realtors in Boston. You may have to pay a finder’s fee, but locking

in housing early is well worth it. Be sure to research your realtor. I found an

apartment a few blocks from Harvard Yard checking the Harvard

Housing Off-Campus website daily. Although the website requires

a email address to sign up, you can view the listings without a

login, and the listings have email addresses and/or phone numbers for

landlords. There are several other

websites through which you can find housing as well.


Campus Housing: If

you do not find off-campus housing, Harvard University Housing is an excellent

choice, particularly for overseas families for whom it might be harder to submit

private rental applications. For Harvard University Housing, families are generally given preference in the housing lottery. All of Harvard University Housing’s apartments are in

great locations, so don’t stress too much about location; instead, focus on

square footage and cost. Pro tip: if you are looking for free preschool,

consider living on the Boston side of the Charles River (for example, the

Soldier Field Park apartments on the Harvard Business School campus). The

deadline for Cambridge preschools is the October before entry, whereas Boston is

more lenient on preschool admissions. There are many private preschool options as



Cambridge Public

Schools are excellent. In fact, Massachusetts consistently ranks as the best

state for public education, and if Massachusetts were a country, it would rank

among the best in the world. Many schools have English language immersion

programs with small class sizes. To enroll in Cambridge Public

Schools, you first

need to have a signed lease in Cambridge. Cambridge Public Schools operate

under a “controlled choice” system, meaning that parents must rank order their

preferences for schools. This system stands in contrast to most public school

systems in the United States, in which students attend schools based on where

they live.


expectation is that parents walk or drive their kids to school unless they live

more than a mile from school or there is a major road between home and school.

For some parents, living over a mile from school would be a benefit so that

your kid can have a bus pick them up and drop them off at home each day. The

hours of each school in Cambridge vary, so be sure to research school hours,

particularly in conjunction with after school care.  

If you

have young children, reach out to daycares and preschools quickly and get on as

many waitlists as you can. Many preschools have small fees for waitlists that

are worth paying. My preschooler had an excellent experience at Preschool of

the Arts, although there are many preschool programs around Harvard. Harvard

has its own childcare centers as well, and I’ve heard only good things.




has a lottery system for after-school care for

elementary-age students

administered through the city. Cost is determined on a sliding scale based on

income. Children often go to a different location for after-school care than their

elementary school. For instance, my daughter attends Maria Baldwin School for

primary school and Graham and Parks School for after school. A bus drives her

from Baldwin to Graham and Parks, and my husband or I pick her up by 5:30 each



Babysitters: Establish your childcare network

early! I cannot emphasize enough how important babysitters are to enjoying the

HKS experience. At the beginning of the year, I created a WhatsApp chat for all

HKS parents seeking babysitters, and all HKS and Harvard Graduate School of

Education students seeking babysitter gigs. Using babysitters regularly has

allowed my husband to become closely integrated into the class and to be part

of the experience. A word of caution: some of my parent classmates regret not

bringing their spouses into the fold or not being social enough in the fall

semester. Don’t make this mistake! My husband and I feel like we’ve made lifelong

friendships with classmates and their partners, making our year at HKS the most

enriching year of our lives. The going rate for babysitters is $20-30 per hour,

so be sure to budget for them.


Care: HKS provides

10 days each year of back-up care through We have taken full

advantage of this benefit. For just a $5 per hour copayment, a childcare

provider will come to your home for up to 8 hours during the day to take care

of your child. This is very useful on school holidays or when your child has a

cold and you need to get to class.




to enroll your kids in City of Cambridge summer camps, which are fun and offer

lots for the kids to do. My daughter got into the Martin Luther King Jr. camp,

and they took the kids on fun field trips, taught them to swim, played sports,

and overall had a great summer. She also had a week at the YMCA summer camp in

Central Square, which was great as well.


to Do

Boston is

made for families! We have had a blast exploring Boston, greater Massachusetts,

and the rest of the Northeast.

  • Boston

    Common: Early in

    the summer, we had a touristy day where we went to the Swan Boats, walked

    through the Boston Public Garden, played in Frog Pond, and took a ride on the

    carousel. Now the girls call the Boston Common an “amusement park.”

  • Actual

    Amusement Parks: We

    had an awesome summer day with another HKS family at Canobie Lake Park, which

    has a waterpark and theme park rides for all ages. In early December, we

    visited Santa’s Village, which is great for younger kids. Somerville

    is home to an awesome Legoland. There are loads of other amusement parks

    in the area.

  • Skiing:

    Our family took

    advantage of a ski lift + lessons package through Innings & Outings, a

    Harvard service that negotiates discount ticket prices to the theater, seasonal

    attractions, and family outings.

  • Museums:

    Boston is home to

    the best children’s museum in the country. The Boston Children’s Museum has

    several floors and tons of interactive exhibits. Tickets are half price through

    Innings & Outings. My kids also love the Science Museum and the New England Aquarium.

  • Playgrounds:

    Cambridge and

    Somerville playgrounds are top notch. We moved to Cambridge three weeks before

    the start of the Mid-Career MPA Summer Program, which gave us time to adjust to

    the city. Every day, I walked my girls to a new playground and ice cream shop.

    By the end of those three weeks, they were convinced that Cambridge is heaven

    on earth, and I was convinced that Cambridge has the highest per capita rate of

    ice cream shops in the world.

  • Libraries:

    We live near the

    incredible Cambridge Public Library. There’s an entire floor dedicated to

    children’s books, and they offer lots of free events for kids (book readings,

    sing-alongs, etc.). They also offer 20 pages of free printing per day. Be sure

    to get a library card after you become a resident!

  • Sports: Fenway Park is the best baseball

    park in the country, so don’t leave Boston without experiencing it with your family.

    Tickets are available through and sometimes at a discount through Innings &

    Outings. Harvard sports are also very fun: football (Harvard v. Yale is a

    must), hockey, basketball, baseball, and more. In the fall, Harvard is home to

    the Head of the Charles regatta. Our mid-career cohort organized a whole

    weekend of activities that weekend, as we watched crew teams row up the Charles


  • Quorum

    Call: Every

    Friday, HKS hosts Quorum Call, a casual gathering with beer, wine, and food,

    and it is open to families. In the summer, this was a great way for my kids to

    meet other kids in the cohort, and for partners to make friends with other

    spouses and students.

  • Student

    Government: The

    Kennedy School Student Government (KSSG) has a VP for Families position responsible

    for allocating funding toward family events. Consider running for this position

    if you are interested in organizing family events around Harvard. This past

    year, we had a Halloween party and an Easter egg hunt.

  • Family

    Outings: Take the

    initiative to organize family-friendly events for the cohort. For example, I

    found an ice rink in Somerville that anyone can rent for $450, and our cohort

    had a blast slipping around the ice with partners and kids.



healthcare in Boston is world class. We have taken full advantage of the

proximity of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Boston Children’s

Hospital by seeing specialists for second opinions on our healthcare needs. One

of my daughters has celiac disease, and when I called for her annual

appointment with a pediatric gastroenterologist, I happened to be booked with

the world’s leading researcher in celiac disease (who of course is affiliated

with Harvard Medical School!). For normal pediatric medicine, we have had a

great experience with West Cambridge Pediatrics, although there are many

providers in Cambridge and Boston. For my own routine needs, Harvard University

Healthcare Services (HUHS) is easy—it’s located in the Smith Student Center,

and it has its own Urgent Care and lots of specialists.


of my classmates have had babies while enrolled in HKS, and their experiences

with prenatal care and labor and delivery at Boston-area hospitals have been

very positive.




permission of the professor, spouses are permitted to audit classes at Harvard

for free. I know one spouse who has audited six classes in her year at Harvard

(practically a degree!). My husband audited one this semester and has loved the

experience of being back in a classroom. Be sure to reach out to professors early

and seek out more than one class. Some classes are too full, or the pedagogy

isn’t appropriate for auditors.


of Families


Parents: Join the

HKS Wonderful Parents WhatsApp chat. Spouses and partners are welcome on the

chat, too. Parents exchange advice and offer help, and it’s generally a nice

way to meet other families. If you find something fun to do with a family,

invite other families in the cohort! We have had loads of great experiences

because someone posted an idea in the group chat.


Another great

community is the Harvard Students’ Spouses and Parents Association (HSSPA),

which my husband joined this year. HSSPA organizes events for spouses and

partners, often with Harvard funding, like Red Sox outings and a yacht party!

All this

being said, some of my classmates decided to move to Harvard without their

families. This is a completely reasonable choice depending on your personal

situation. And to be sure, the cost of living here is high. But I write this

post in the hopes you take the plunge and bring your family to Harvard. For my

family, it brought us closer together and has been an overwhelmingly positive

experience that we will look back on fondly in the years to come. I hope the

same holds true for you and yours.