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How Do Colleges And Universities Pair Freshman Roommates?

After I decided which college I'd attend, I wondered how the school would pick my freshman roommate. Was there some sort of formula they'd use? A time-honored trick, passed down year after year?

I always assumed I'd receive a long, detailed questionnaire, with queries about my interests and quirks. Strangely, that never came. Instead, I had to answer just a handful of questions: Do you smoke? When do you go to bed? Would you prefer a neat or disorganized roommate?

Months later, when I got my housing assignment, I learned I'd spend my freshman year in a single.

Today, I came across a story about how Stanford University matches its incoming freshmen. Every year, two undergraduate students pick roommates by hand, pair by pair, with help from an algorithm.

They examined a roommate information form given to new students, which asked questions about their sleeping and cleanliness habits, how quiet or social they want the room to be while studying, what types of music they prefer and similar questions. Students also indicated which attributes were most important to them. All were asked to write a short essay about their living style, which gave the coordinators insight into their personalities beyond what multiple-choice questions could provide.

Stanford doesn't tell an incoming freshman anything about his roommate until he arrives on campus:

Keeping roommate assignments under wraps until move-in day is a longstanding university policy. It isn't without controversy, especially when families arrive with microwaves and refrigerators that turn out to be redundant. Something, after all, has to go back home with mom and dad.

All this reminded me of a piece I heard on All Things Considered, about a new trend among some colleges and universities: developing social media networks for incoming freshmen through which they can find roommates.

The New York Times has more on the trend.

"There was a time when every newcomer arrived on campus to find a perfect stranger — not a perfect clone — sharing her tiny space," Lisa W. Foderaro writes. "But that annual rite is being upended as more colleges let incoming students take advantage of new technologies to find an ideal mate."

Housing officials say that “roommate self-selection,” as the process is known, empowers students while cutting down on irksome appeals to switch later on. But some worry that it robs young adults of an increasingly rare opportunity for growth: exposure to someone with different experiences and opinions.

What say ye? How was your first roommate experience? Was it a good match? How did you find each other?