How the College Roommate Selection Process Works

As an incoming college freshman, adjusting to living with a new roommate can be one of the most difficult and terrifying aspects of the college experience. Most college freshmen have never been forced to share a space as confining as a college dorm room with anyone, let alone a complete stranger. And yet this is what many freshmen have to look forward to on their first day of college.

The lucky ones will click immediately and end up forming life-long friendships. The unlucky ones are often in for months of unhappiness and frustration. The majority will learn to get along, but most likely will find their own separate social circles as they begin to meet other students within their majors or that share similar interests. Come sophomore year, many of these students will pair up to room with someone from their new social circle.

Colleges have a variety of different philosophies when it comes to the roommate selection process. Some see it as a delicate art form and pride themselves on how meticulously they strive to find the perfect match. Others prefer to leave it up to chance. Larger schools are likely to rely more heavily on technology, while smaller schools may play a more personal role in the selection process.

Of course, many universities do allow students to choose their roommate. However, it is vital that both potential roommates request one another to make the selection official. If just one of you makes the request, it will most likely not be granted. Thankfully, this helps to prevent someone from choosing you as a roommate without your consent. If you are lucky enough to be attending the same school as a close friend, selecting a roommate might be simple and relatively stress-free. However, living with a friend does not necessarily guarantee a hassle-free freshman year. Sharing a dorm room has actually been known to damage even some of the strongest friendships. Carefully weigh the pros and cons and discuss the situation honestly before deciding to room with a friend.

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Even at those colleges where the administration chooses to play a passive role in the roommate selection process, certain factors are bound to narrow down your prospects. For example, many colleges will designate certain dorms or floors for different lifestyles. On those campuses that still allow it, there may be a separate dorm for students who smoke. It is also not uncommon for colleges to offer a substance-free hall or to designate certain floors as “quiet study floors.” A very basic questionnaire filled out by students at the time of application will help the residence life team to make these decisions.

While some colleges are content just asking these basic housing preferences or lifestyle questions, some have created quite elaborate surveys that help them in the match-making process. Theses questions go beyond whether a student smokes or likes to stay up late and tries to really strongly identify the personality of the applicants. Some are almost as time-consuming and elaborate as the personality profiles that you can find on dating sites like These, of course, are based on the assumption that students want to live with someone similar to themselves.

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However, some universities operate on an entirely different assumption. Most will agree that in order for potential roommates to get along it is important that they share some basic lifestyle preferences, such as whether they consider themselves to be “night owls” or “early birds.” However, some disagree that pairing up students with similar personalities and interests is the key to a good roommate relationship. As we all know, sometimes opposites attract and many people don’t want to live with a clone. Therefore, some universities try to facilitate more diverse experiences by making the roommate selection process entirely random. They emphasize that the college experience should be about meeting people from different walks of life.

Still, other colleges try to get the students involved in the process beyond having them fill out questionnaires. They might host a night where students can “mix and mingle” with potential roommates. Games or other activities might be offered that help student to get to know one another and determine with whom they fit best. Students are encouraged to exchange email addresses or phone numbers so that they can continue the process in the days or weeks to come.

Some colleges have taken a cue from online dating sites and created a system where students can choose one another from anonymous profiles posted online. This allows the students to be active in the process and such profiles tend to be more honest than the surveys and questionnaires that are often filled out with mom and dad lurking close by. Many schools have seen great results from this technique and with roommate change requests down as much as 40%, it is more than likely that other colleges with follow suit.

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In the end, no system is foolproof, and there will always be poorly matched roommates. It is unfortunate, but we can consider it part of the process of growing up. After all, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Living with a roommate that is poorly suited to you can help you to learn patience and tolerance and can open you up to new ideas and ways of life. Also, college is a time of great change for most students, so you may find that the roommate that you shared so much in common with at orientation feels more like a stranger come sophomore year, and vice versa.