Student Life

How does freshman housing work?

By Diane Schwemm

Here’s what parents need to know about Facebook roommate matches, doubles vs. singles, and helping your student transition from home to dorm.

How are roommates and dorms assigned?
Online social networking has changed the freshman college roommate experience. Thousands of students are finding roommates via the Facebook groups that form almost instantaneously after acceptance letters go out. Some universities host their own internal social networks for admitted students to find roommates.

Students are motivated to find roommates early — at most universities housing is guaranteed for freshmen, but it’s first come, first served and desirable dorms fill up fast. When students find roommates on their own, they include the roommate request when they submit a housing application. As long as the request is mutual, and the prospective roommates request the same residence hall, they should be all set. (University websites list the residence halls available to freshmen and include links to floor plans.)

How does it work at smaller colleges?
At most small colleges, students complete an online housing questionnaire in late spring/early summer, giving them a chance to describe habits and preferences (night owl vs. early riser, etc.). Many schools permit students to request roommates. Otherwise, students are computer matched with roommates and receive their assignments in late July/early August at which point they’re encouraged to contact each other.

Is Facebook really a good way to find a roommate?
Some universities are observing a decrease in freshman roommate conflicts and change requests in recent years. Is this because more students are going online to find roommates? Are they more compatible and/or possibly more invested in the success of the arrangement because they made it themselves? The evidence is still anecdotal, and even a “perfect” Facebook match can fall apart once students plunge into the excitement and challenges of freshman year. If your student is still looking for a roommate on Facebook, remind her to attend to practical points as well as the fun stuff.

I’ve heard that most freshmen live in one-room doubles.
Yes, one-room doubles are still the norm for freshmen, but more and more schools offer singles as well. A typical floor plan is either single or double rooms opening off a hallway (“corridor-style”). Some schools offer “suite style” living — four (or more) one or two-person bedrooms with a shared common room and bathroom — even for freshmen.

At bigger universities where different housing options are priced differently, there may be a limited number of singles available to first-year students. They will cost more and sometimes are reserved for students with special medical or other needs. At a number of public universities, a perk of being in the honors program may be a single room. At a typical small college, getting a single (if available) as a freshman is the luck of the draw.

Are single rooms better than doubles for freshmen?
Some schools have decided that single rooms promote better sleep and health and an overall better adjustment to college life for first year students. At these colleges, freshmen get singles and sophomores and juniors may share bedrooms.

Suites may be somewhat isolating for freshmen, but a corridor with all single rooms where students leave doors open can be quite social while still offering coveted privacy. Students assigned to one-room doubles or triples may end up best friends with their roommates, but it isn’t a given. To increase the odds of peaceful coexistence in cramped quarters, see see this week’s related article, “Help your student be a better roommate“.

Can I find out more about residential life at orientation?
Absolutely. If you’re still not sure about going to parent orientation — scheduled in parallel with new student orientation — check out the “most popular posts for parents” on the UniversityParent website highlighting all the great reasons to attend if you’re able!

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