How College Roommate Selection Really Works

Curious about college roommate selection? There are a few different ways students get paired up in dorms, from using a college's roommate assignment system to finding roomies on Facebook.

Curious about college roommate selection? There are a few different ways students get paired up in dorms, from using a college’s roommate assignment system to finding roomies on Facebook.

Technology has long played a role in fostering online to real-time relationships, and the college roommate search is no exception. While a school’s time-honored algorithm and questionnaire is still held in some romantic regard, more universities have given their students the option to request roommates based on connections via social media.

So, how do you know what’s best for you? For many students, it comes down to comfort; finding roommates on social media can account for a more true-to-life profile, but they can also be limited to geographic range and mutual connections. If you’re wondering who you’ll end up with as a roomie, read on to learn about your options, from using the college’s roommate selection system to finding one online.

The university system

In lieu of the digital age, some colleges still maintain a university-based roommate assignment process. Though each method is unique to its college, students are generally paired either randomly or through matches on questionnaires. At Dartmouth College—one of the few universities to use a completely randomized design—roommate assignments are unrelated to personal characteristics. On the other hand, Northwestern University carefully matches students based on similar lifestyle preferences. Of course, there are as many variations of these examples as there are colleges, so take the time to do some independent research. You might even enjoy it!

Related: Start your research with our College Search tool

Regardless of the university, lifestyle questionnaires are usually used across the board. Ranging from 10 multiple-choice questions to several short-answer questions, these surveys attempt to gauge degree of substance use, social time, sleeping habits, cleanliness, and even room temperature preferences. Some questionnaires also match students with themed houses, like eco-friendly dorms for the environmentally conscience or “first-gen” dorms for first-generation college students. Each college offers something different and a lot of students overlook themed housing, but it can be a great way to meet people with similar goals or backgrounds.

Students of the same sex are also usually paired together, although there are about 150 colleges that offer “gender-neutral housing,” or co-ed rooms. If some of the questions you encounter seem a little intimate, don’t be alarmed! Answer them as truthfully as you can, and resist the urge to sugarcoat a response. The more honest you are about your packrat-messy ways, the less likely it is that you’ll be saddled with an angry clean freak.

So, answer a few questions, drop a few pertinent details, and let my school do all the hard work? Easy! Opting to find a roommate through your university’s system is great because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of finding a bunkmate. A lot of students like that they are guaranteed to meet someone new on the first day who might have new perspectives to share. That’s the beauty of the university process; you aren’t evaluating a candidate based on their Facebook profile picture or your network of mutual friends.

At the same time, though, a questionnaire can only tell you so much, and a random generator even less. So, yes, you run the risk of getting a roommate that omitted their stinky-cheese infatuation from their university profile, but that’s why you have an RA and a residential help desk to mediate between their Stinking Bishop and your nose. And if you really aren’t happy with your roommate, you can always request a change later. 

Find-your-own roommate

Maybe you don’t want to leave your roommate selection up to fate. And finding someone to live with for a whole year can feel overwhelming. That’s why a wave of tech-savvy students has turned to various social media platforms to find roommates that aren’t so random.

Granted, saying “I met my roommate on Facebook” sounds haphazard, but Facebook profiles aren’t applications so much as platforms for expression, so the content is often more reflective of a user’s personality and less premeditated (for better or for worse). Some colleges have even invited incoming freshmen to join official Facebook groups where students post short blurbs about their hobbies and lifestyle preferences.

Other websites like RoomSurf and RoomSync match students based on compatibility percentages. Users on these sites answer a questionnaire and match with people who answered similarly. From there, students can contact each other.

So, why partake in a self-directed roommate search? Simply, the presentation is organic. Beyond the basic questions every roommate wants to know, social media sites can answer the ones you didn’t think to ask. For the same reason employers look at social media sites to vet applicants, students can decide whether someone is a suitable roommate based on how they present themselves on social media. Some students feel that social media allows them to know their roommate before they’ve even met. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that it can’t account for everything—good and bad—but RAs and residential counselors are there to help, even if you didn’t use the university’s assignment system.

It's also good to know that finding roommates on social media can limit you to people of similar geographic areas or mutual connections. Unless you are actively looking for only an international student or someone from across the country, you may not know that these people are out there. Social media sites like Facebook often suggest friends based on mutual connections, so your network of choices might not extend far enough to include the diversity you want.

Who will be your roomie?

By the time fall rolls around, roommate searches and housing situations are obsolete in the broader scope of opportunity and excitement that college brings. No matter which roommate assignment method you choose, nothing is permanent, and there is a 24/7 support system of university counselors, friends, parents, and RAs available to help if the dorm room becomes a warzone. Take the time to do your research, enjoy the process, and get excited to meet peers who are as bright and driven as you are. 

Related: Strangers or Squad? How to Live With Your College Roommate

How did you and your college roomie meet? Let us know in the comments!

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