THERE ARE almost as many ways to assign roommates as there are colleges and universities. For starters, some institutions house all freshmen together to provide special programs for new students in the residence halls. Other schools mix freshmen with upperclass students, reasoning that freshmen can learn academically and socially from more seasoned students.
While the typical double room on a single-sex floor with bathrooms down the hall is still a college standard, colleges with housing shortages often put three or more students in a room, and some group four or more students in a suite arrangement, usually with two students per bedroom, with a common living area and bathroom.
Students may have a choice of single-sex or coed residence halls or floors, and limited or unlimited visitation by guests.
Most colleges have a short waiting period -- usually about two weeks -- before students can request room changes. This gives students a chance to work out any differences and also prevents an administrative nightmare for the school.
This is how some area colleges and universities assign roommates:
Number in residence halls: 4,200 students live on campus, including all 1,300 freshmen.
Housing options: Four residence halls are only for freshmen, all rooms are doubles.
Assignment policies: Students are paired based on smoking habits, tidiness, the hours they keep (students are asked what time of day they're at their best) and whether they prefer air-conditioned rooms and single-sex or coed floors. Also, students are asked if they are interested in living with a foreign student (saying "no" doesn't mean they won't be paired with a foreign student, however, the question is asked only to match such students), and if they have a medical condition that requires special consideration. Students aren't asked which residence hall they prefer, but Georgetown does try to honor any requests for particular halls.
George Washington University
Number in residence halls: Some 3,000 students live on campus, including 1,175 freshmen (about 95 percent).
Housing options: The majority of freshmen (800 students) are housed in Thurston Hall, the rest are spread among other halls. There are only 40 double rooms available for freshmen, the rest range from triples to six-person suites.
Assignment policies: Students are asked if they smoke, their preferred bedtime, tidiness level (ranging from very neat to messy), and their ages. Housing officials get a computerized list, say, of students who are neat, who like to be asleep by 10 p.m., and who don't smoke. Students are paired randomly from that list. Students can request halls, but most freshmen end up in Thurston.
Number in residence halls: about 5,200 students live on campus, including 1,600 new students, most of them freshmen.
Housing options: Because Howard doesn't have enough space for its students, freshmen must be under age 21 and live outside the Washington metropolitan area to be considered for housing. Space is then allotted based on the date housing applications are received. Even so, this year only about 1,600 of 2,300 freshmen and transfer students who requested housing can be accommodated on campus.
Howard's students have protested the lack of housing as well as the condition of existing buildings. While the university has commissioned architectural plans for two new facilities, Residence Life Dean William Keene said funding has not yet been secured.
On the renovation front, Howard has spent more than $3.5 million since last summer to improve the residence halls, and a $6 million renovation of Cooke Hall is underway.
Most of the rooms are doubles, but there are some singles, triples and quads. Two freshmen halls, one each for men and women, accommodate 930 students. Residential students are asked to draw up roommate contracts at the start of each year to set quidelines for cooperative living.
Assignment policies: Smokers are paired, and the university tries to honor roommate requests, but otherwise assignments are random. Freshmen halls are filled first, then remaining freshmen are assigned to other halls.
The American University
Number in residence halls: 3,500 students live on campus, including some 1,100 freshmen (about 90 percent).
Housing options: Freshmen are housed among upperclass students (one-third of each floor is reserved for freshmen), mostly in double rooms.
Assignment policies: Students are mailed brochures describing the various residence halls. American considers smoking habits, class and residence hall preference in assigning roommates, and matches within these broad categories are made based on the date the university receives each housing lease. A sizeable group of freshmen, about 25 percent, request specific roommates, often students they've met during orientation.
University of Maryland
Number in residence halls: 8,000 students live on campus, including 2,300 freshmen (about 75 percent).
Housing options: There are 36 residence halls, and freshmen are housed among upperclass students. Room options range from traditional doubles (freshmen typically live in these), to single rooms, suites and apartments. Unlike most other institutions, Maryland does not give roommate information to students before school starts.
Assignment policies: Students are asked three questions: whether they smoke, prefer limited or unlimited visitation, and want to live in a coed or single-sex hall. Within these categories, students are paired randomly. Students cannot request a specific roommate.
University of Virginia
Number in residence halls: about 6,000 students live on campus, including 2,600 freshmen, who are required to do so.
Housing options: There are two freshmen halls, with living arrangements that range from traditional doubles to 10-person suites.
Assignment policies: First, the university considers requests for specific residence halls. Smokers are paired, and roommate requests are honored. Students are asked generally about their likes and dislikes (many make note of the hours they keep, cleanliness traits and whether they have partying or studious natures), and the university tries to match them based on similarities. Students in the same school or with the same major often are matched. The university generally matches out-of-state students and Virginians.