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Articles / Applying to College / How Are Roommates Selected?

Aug. 11, 2004

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.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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