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College Roommates: To Choose or Not to Choose

The topic: College Roommates.  The question: To pick a roommate or have the college pick one for you? Many colleges now give students this option. By now, your kid has probably received a form requesting their preferences.

The prospect of sharing a room with one or two other students can be exciting and stressful at the same time. Some have visions of roommates being their best friends and many times they are. Others worry about whether they will be compatible with their roommate or if there will be conflict. Learning to live with someone else—to compromise and co-exist—is an essential part of the college experience.

So, should they leave it to fate or try to handpick the perfect roommate?  And if they have a close friend going to the same school, should they live together? Not simple decisions; there are pros and cons to all.  A recent conversation I had with my daughter sums up some of the issues:

Mom Did you go on that roommate finder website yet?

Daughter:  Yeah, I looked at it, but I think I’ll just let the process be random rather than trying to match with someone.  I decided that if I try to pick the “perfect” roommate I will have certain expectations and then will be disappointed if it does not turn out the way I expect.  I would rather go in with no expectations.

Mom:  What about living with your good friend who’s also going to be a freshman there?

Daughter: We talked about it and decided we would meet more people if we lived separately, but we will definitely be there for each other.

If your child decides to find their own roommate, there are many options. Roommate finder sites abound, where students enter preferences like sleep/studying/partying habits, and hobbies/interests. Some colleges have their own roommate finder sites. There are also a variety of independent websites like and; some charge a small fee to join and set up a profile. Facebook is another natural roommate finder tool, particularly since most colleges have their own Facebook group for each new incoming class.  Students connect with other freshmen, post where they are from and trade information and often find a compatible roommate.

If your kid decides to let the college pick their roommate, they should not be surprised to get a streamlined questionnaire asking for only basic information.  Some, like Amherst College, rely on an old-fashioned questionnaire to make room assignments.  These colleges believe that assigning roommates in this way results in a more positive experience, since it allows students to expand their horizons and to be matched with people they might not meet otherwise.  Schools want students to be happy. The Boston Globe reports, “The stakes are high. Colleges know that roommate matches can make or break the freshman experience. A report published in the National Bureau of Economic Research about Dartmouth College found that first-year students’ grades and extracurricular involvement are often affected by the work ethic and social engagement of their roommates.”

If your student is leaning toward living with a friend, here are some things they might want to consider:

  • Living together creates a different dynamic in the friendship.
  • They may learn something about the person that they did not know and do not like which can negatively affect the friendship.
  • They may be less inclined to go out and meet new friends because they have the comfort of already having a friend or may worry that they’ll alienate their friend.

In the end, we can only offer suggestions. It is, and should be, their choice. And if it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. But that is another post. Stay tuned.

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While many colleges are returning to the old model of assigning roommates, other colleges are encouraging students to find their own roommate and give priority in housing assignments to students who already have roommates. Check the college website and read the housing assignment process closely to see whether it makes a difference.

Want to know more? Read these articles:

Many freshmen still let colleges pick roommates, by Martine Powers (Boston Globe)

College 101: Finding a dorm roommate, by Rebecca Spector (Chicago Tribune)



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