MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
I'm Robert Siegel.
And it's time now for All Tech Considered.
(Soundbite of music)
SIEGEL: Most college-bound young people spend several months hovering by the mailbox. They're waiting for not one, but two letters. The first, obviously, tells them they got into the school of their choice - or didn't. The second letter, which has been going out in recent weeks, says whom they'll be rooming with.
But as Shannon Mullen reports, some schools are trying a new method, letting kids choose their own roommates online.
SHANNON MULLEN: This fall, 17-year-old Jamella Connell will be a freshman at Mount Ida College, a small liberal arts school near Boston. She's filling out a roommate selection form that asks how often she does laundry, whether she minds overnight guests.
Ms. JAMELLA CONNELL: How do you feel about sharing stuff? Sharing is caring. I mean, we learned this when we were five.
MULLEN: Instead of mailing in her answers, Connell has an online profile with her picture - like a Facebook page. And instead of the school choosing a random roommate for her, she can pick one herself.
Ms. CONNELL: I just clicked search and I found someone named Ashley. Let's see her profile basics: She's 18, clean. Oh, she likes to study in the library. Nice. Someone I can get along with already.
MULLEN: A growing number of colleges and universities are offering Web-based programs that let students pick their own roommates. Two dozen schools, including Rutgers, Tulane, Sacred Heart and Mount Ida College use a service called�RoommateClick. Mount Ida's Residence Life Director Laura DeVeau says it saves loads of paperwork. She calls it Facebook with a purpose.
Ms. LAURA DEVEAU (Residence Life Director, Mount Ida College): I love Facebook, I'm not going to lie. Friend me, that's cool. What this does is it narrows down the functionality of Facebook in terms of the networking. For this particular generation, they feel more comfortable because they've connected online.
Sophomores Warren Zimmer and Dan Fissel bonded on RoommateClick over their love of video games when Mount Ida first offered the service last year. Zimmer says it made moving in less awkward.
Mr. WARREN ZIMMER: The first week really set the tone for the rest of the year. That's how it was going to be, and it worked out great.
Mr. DAN FISSEL: And the first week there wasn't too much laundry, so he didn't really know that I'm not as moderately clean as I said.
Mr. ZIMMER: I also learned that I wasn't as clean as I thought I was.
Mr. FISSEL: It was a pretty good match, yeah.
MULLEN: Zimmer and Fissel have heard of a few bad matches, but they say most of their friends have had positive outcomes.
With RoommateClick, schools can customize the site's features to try to curb misuse. Rutgers doesn't let students post profile pictures, to prevent discrimination based on factors like race or sexual orientation. And RoommateClick's parent company, Lifetopia, monitors students' profiles for offensive material. But VP of sales Bill Schneider says there's no foolproof way to prevent discrimination.
Mr. BILL SCHNEIDER (Vice President of Sales, Lifetopia): Everybody knows that they will go to Facebook and they will find their potential roommate - what they look like - and maybe get into more depth than our site would serve them.
MULLEN: At Mount Ida College, Laura DeVeau's concern was that students who self-select might miss out on something formative. When she was in college, she was randomly matched with a girl from Texas.
Ms. DEVEAU: She put on mascara loud. I've never seen a person in my life who could be so loud. And there were times where I learned through that experience how to speak up for myself.
MULLEN: But DeVeau says kids who pair up online still have to learn how to live together in person. Some students don't want to choose their own roommates. DeVeau matches them the old-fashioned way, but she warns it won't be totally random. She likes to put Red Sox and Yankees fans in the same room.
For NPR News, I'm Shannon Mullen.