“Realistically, even the most personal roommate-matching service can’t match Facebook,” said Adam Gang, 18, of Colorado, who will be a freshman at American University. “You’re an accepted friend request away from knowing someone.”
Some college officials say that choosing roommates for students helps ensure they are exposed to different points of view. They worry that incoming freshmen would tend to pick people of the same race, social background or hometown.
But AU, recognizing that students want a voice in the matter, has come up with a way to help them.
Earlier this year, Gang filled out a short questionnaire: Do you maintain normal sleeping hours? (Yes.) How social are you? (Somewhat.) Sleep style? (Heavy.)
Rather than pairing Gang with a roommate, the AU housing office sent him a short list of potential matches based on his replies. He went to Facebook and hit it off with James Quigley, 18, of New York. Both students plan to study international relations and love playing sports. They requested to live together and will meet for the first time on move-in day this month.
“Me and Adam are pretty similar,” Quigley said. “I feel like you need to know more about a person if you’re going to live with them.”
As more freshmen go online in a quest to shape their living situation, college officials are split on whether that is a good idea.
A few schools are embracing the movement. Many others have no formal policies on the use of social networking to choose roommates but will offer guidance (encouraging or discouraging) to students who call to inquire. The University of Maryland has set up its own internal social network for admitted students to get to know each other and look for roommates.
At the University of Virginia, the number of requests for first-year roommates has more than doubled in five years. Last year, according to U-Va. acting housing director Patricia Romer, students were told that it may not be possible to honor all requests.
Giving freshmen more say in their living arrangements can result in fewer roommate conflicts, some college housing officials say. They add that students are more likely to be honest in a one-on-one chat with a fellow teenager than on a form their parents might see. Living with a stranger is always a risk, but allowing students to pick that stranger builds an investment in wanting to make things work.
But other officials worry students are focusing on the wrong qualities in these searches — music bands instead of cleaning habits, funny prom stories instead of rules for overnight guests.
The self-matching process for the Class of 2015 started as early as January, when students admitted via early admission began to form Facebook groups. Many of these pages resembled online dating sites, as students queried each other about personality quirks, favorite sitcoms and drinking habits.