I'm planning on moving to Boston after I graduate from college. A few friends of mine are coming too and were going to get an apartment together. I know a lot can change in ~3 years but can anyone suggest a good area to start looking for apartments?
You get a lot for your money in Mission Hill. There are a lot of college kids, but the area has really come up in recent years. Lots of hospital professionals live here too. PM me if you want more info on the area, I've been here for 10+ years!
OK, I just previewed this and realized i've written a novel! So let me preface the following by saying that I moved to the Boston area in the 80s to go to college and decided to stay. I've lived in about a dozen different neighborhoods and have loved most of them (been a settled homeowner now in the Rosi neighborhood for about 10 years). I love Boston and I hope you will too!
Boston is organized a bit differently from most US cities of similar size - in many ways it's more European in scale and scope. The city of Boston proper is fairly compact with ~600K citizens and covering about 25 square miles or so. But it is completely surrounded by other cities and towns. Those within about a 10-12 mile radius share a lot of infrastructure, public transportation and daily culture and are often refered to as "Metro Boston".
So, if you are thinking of moving to the Boston area you need to ask yourself a few questions when it comes to housing - how much do you want to spend, where will you be working, how active do you plan to be culturally/socially, do you want to drive or make use of public transporatation? As a rule of thmb, rents around here are more expensive than other parts of the US, but there's a lot of variability.
*** Boston Proper ***
A couple posters have mentioned the Back Bay (a neighborhood of Boston), Brookline (city next to Boston), and Newton (another city right next to Boston). All of these are very nice but also the most expensive parts of the metro area. Add to these Beacon Hill, the South End, Bay Village, the North End, and West Roxbury (which is not part of the Roxbury neighborhood - welcome to the land of confusing place names!). All great places to live, but generally pricy (not to say you might not get lucky and find a bargain).
If your means are the typically modest ones of a 20-something, but you want want to live close to the action, then you might want to take a look at Boston neighborhoods like Jamaica Plain (aka "JP"), Mission Hill, or Brighton (not to be confused with Allston, which it is adjacent to, and which kind of deserves its rep for being full of college rowdiness).
Other neighborhoods of Boston like Roslindale (where I live), Hyde Park and East Boston are quieter and cheaper, with lots of detached houses rather than apts.
Dorchester makes up half the city, population and space-wise, so blanket statements about how nice/cheap/dangerous it is are kind of hard to justify, but in general, Dorchester and Roxbury are considered the less desirable parts of town. (having said that, I spend a lot of time in the neighborhoods known as Mattapan and Savin Hill, and never worry about being out and about).
South Boston (not to be confused with the South End, which is a completely different part of town - see above) used to have the reputation of being full of wise guys and mooks, but it's getting more yuppified every year. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing...
So there's a (not so) quick breakdown of the affordability of the major parts of the city. But quite frankly, there's good neighborhoods and affordable places in every part of Boston, if you look and have some luck.
*** Boston Metro ***
Neighboring cities like Somerville, Arlington and Cambridge all have their more expensive neighborhoods but in general are more affordable than Boston for renters. Each of them is also filled with neighborhoods as diverse and nuanced as those of Boston, and they all have just as much home-town pride. Take the time to scout out neighborhoods you think you might enjoy living in to see if the fit is right.
Once you get outside that first ring of cities/towns, you'll often find prices go down - but so does access to things like public transportation and an active nightlife. Having a car (or a good friend/SO with one) becomes more essential if you want to have an active social life.
And speaking of transportation - like most other large US cities, commuting in the Boston area is often a pain (albeit better since the Big Dig was finished even if most of us grumpy new englanders are loathe to admit it). In particular, going north<>south is usually harder than east<>west. The public transit system (the "T") is pretty good close within a dozen miles or so of Boston proper, but it's utility drops off quickly after that. Live outside any of the cities/towns that actually touch Boston and you'll probably need a car for work (or good legs and a bike and a tolerance for slushy weather).
There are a number of neighborhoods around the Boston area to look for apartments. It kind of depends on what you're looking for. The North End (full-on old-school Italian area) has a lot of old-world charm and is a short walk to the Faneuil Hall area where there are a lot of bars. There's always Back Bay and the South End which are also nice but more expensive. After school (I went to Northeastern), I lived in Brighton for 6 years which was a great after-college location. You get the joys of city living (lots of bars, liquor stores and pizza places within walking distance, nearby public transportation) but it's a little quieter than downtown and you might actually find yourself in a nice little neighborhood.
Like above posters noted, it really is all about what you're looking for (and your budget). I think younger crowd is pretty good around Brighton/Allston (some college kids too of course), as well as some neighborhoods in Cambridge/Somerville. I live in Harvard Square and it's a great neighborhood - lots of good stuff to do close, good bars/restaurants in the area, easy transportation in and out of the city, terrible parking, annoying tourists to give you a sense.
If i was picking, I might pick Davis though overall - great square