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How are college roommates paired?

Roommates on bed

A roommate is a critical part of the college experience, offering an opportunity to learn and grow.

College roommates matter. Studies have shown that who your student lives with can impact—for better or worse—their own social and academic habits. But how does a university determine who your student will live with?

Your student’s life outside the classroom will have a major impact on their overall experience in college, and it will have a direct effect on how successful they are. So it’s understandable if you or your student have concerns about the roommate selection process.

There’s a lot for students to consider: What kind of music do they like? What are they majoring in? What do they like to do on weekends (or evenings)? When is it time to hit the sack for the night? Do they reach for the Clorox wipes every time someone sneezes or do they take the “What’s that smell?” approach to cleaning?

“What Matt Damon said about relationships in ‘Good Will Hunting’ applies to roommates too—you are not perfect and your future roommate will not be either,” said Stacey Mwilambwe, Director of University Housing Services at Illinois State. “But you could be perfect for each other.”

Roommate pairing doesn’t have to be mysterious or daunting. Here are some things to know about your student’s options and some advice on making it a positive experience.

Roommates play video games

For some students, a roommate with similar interests and habits are desirable. For others, living with someone different offers a chance to expand horizons.

Let the school do the work

While the digital age has made it easier and easier for students to connect with each other before ever stepping foot on campus, many schools still offer a traditional roommate-matching questionnaire.

These typically consider critical factors like area of study, social habits, and personal tastes that may impact how roommates live and interact with each other.

Other schools do random pairing, which some studies have shown can have a positive effect on a student’s development, thanks to exposure to new and different interests and cultures.

Make sure you know what the roommate selection process is for your student’s school, and let them do the heavy lifting. Rather than be intimidated by the idea of an unknown living partner, encourage your student to think about the opportunity to create a new friendship.

Finding your own

If your student doesn’t want to leave the decision in the hands of the university, they can take matters into their own hands.

In some instances, your child may be attending college with a friend who could also serve as a roommate. This can be a perfect scenario (but be warned, it can also put strain on an established relationship). Even if they don’t have a ready-made match, it’s still possible to find a pairing without leaving it up to the university.

Two roommates smiling on a bed

Studies have shown that roommates can have an affect on everything from happiness to study habits.

Social media has become a popular tool when it comes to connecting students. Some schools have Facebook groups intended to connect future students and allow them to interact prior to arriving on campus.

There are also third-party options online like Roomsurf, RoomSync, or ULoop that provide databases of students looking to connect with potential roommates. Some use questionnaires and algorithms to match students, while others are student-driven search engines.

Conducting a digital search on their own gives your student an opportunity to vet the options themselves and provides a look at who a potential roommate is. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that social media personas can be illuminating but also deceiving—most Facebook profiles or Instagram feeds aren’t going to reveal that a potential roommate likes to leave dirty underwear around the room or neglects to clean up empty chip bags from a late-night snack.

They do, however, allow your student to be more engaged in the selection process.

At Illinois State, roommate selection all starts with the housing contract, which opens in mid-February. You can watch a video about how room and roommate selection works as a Redbird.

Important things to remember

If a roommate questionnaire is a part of your student’s process, encourage them to do an honest self-assessment when answering questions.

“Remember to be open-minded and honest throughout the process, and, above all, be yourself,” Mwilambwe said.

While your wisdom and guidance as a parent is important, allow your student to fill out any roommate surveys independently. This will help ensure their responses are genuine, and therefore most useful in connecting them with a good roommate match. And while you may be tempted to fill out the information for them to make sure it gets done, remember your vision of your student’s lifestyle may not be what a potential roommate would actually be getting.

While roommates undoubtedly have an effect on each other’s intellectual and emotional growth, that doesn’t mean there’s only one way to have a successful pairing. In some instances, like-minded roommates with similar academic and career goals, social interests, and behaviors may help students excel in those areas and create a strong bond. On the other hand, your student might have their horizons expanded by rooming with someone with disparate interests. Regardless of who your student ends up living with, there are ways they can benefit.

“Having a roommate is an opportunity to learn,” Mwilambwe said.

And if a roommate pairing just isn’t working out? The university has support systems to smooth out issues, whether it’s working out a simple disagreement or helping a student find a roommate who will better fit their lifestyle needs. A less-than-perfect match need not negatively affect your student’s college experience.

You can learn more about how room and roommate selection works at Illinois State University.

Related Article: How a resident assistant makes college life easier For many students, college is the first time living away from home—away from the support and guidance of their parents. Learn about the people who help with that transition.

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