How Are Roommates Selected?

Question: After you apply to college and have been accepted, how can you arrange who will become your roommate?

Colleges have different systems for matching roommates. Typically, however, pairings are based on your responses to a series of questions that you’ll submit during the summer before your freshman year. These questions may ask about your sleep patterns (are you a morning person or a night owl?), your housekeeping skills (are your a neatnik? a slob?) and, above all, your smoking habits (unless there is no smoking in any dorm, in which case the question is moot). Sometimes the questionnaires are longer–more like those used by dating services–and explore your tastes in music, movies, literature, etc. Occasionally, even freshmen have the opportunity to live in “theme houses” (vegetarian, substance-free, French-speaking, etc.), and thus, if you do, too, you’ll know that your roommate will share at least one of your interests.

These days, many matches are made by computer but–at some schools–there is a human element, as well. Most colleges try to put students together who aren’t from the same high school or even from the same part of the country, but that will depend a lot on the college in question. Many housing officials will honor your request–if you have one–to room with a friend or acquaintance. I often encourage students to use the start of college as a time to meet new friends rather than to cling to the safety of the old. However, because the beginning of college life offers many challenges and changes, I also understand why some students feel the need to live with someone familiar.

If you’ll be living with a stranger (or, sometimes, more than one), keep in mind that sometimes the best roommates are not the best of friends. A thoughtful and cooperative roommate doesn’t have to share your passions or your social life. So don’t be quick to judge your roomie as incompatible just from the clothes on her back or the CDs on her shelf.