Finding roommates who click instantly

Finding roommates who click instantly

Amelia Dudley

They share the same bedtime (between 10 pm and midnight) and a high tolerance for clutter. They both eat vegetarian food, advocate for animal rights, play guitar and favour the same indie rock acts, Bright Eyes and Regina Spektor. They have already agreed on a polka dot shower curtain.

This is not just great good luck — theirs was a match made on, a website that does for dormitory life what eHarmony and have long done for romance.
Each filled out a questionnaire covering study habits, overnight guests, tidiness, politics, sexual orientation and religion, among other topics, then received a list of other soon-to-be freshmen who had registered on the site, ranked by compatibility. NYU blessed the match.

“I really didn’t want to leave it to chance,” said 18-year-old Gilje. “My sister woke up her first night of college and drunk people were poking her, asking where her roommate was. That’s when I realised I’m not going through that.”

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

While many colleges still insist on pairing roommates themselves, a growing number are turning the choice over to students. Some universities have contracted with matchmaking companies like Lifetopia and RoomBug. Others are acceding to a wave of roommate requests from students who use unrestricted sites like URoomSurf, and others have created Facebook pages to help students share information.

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.

“Very quickly, college students are able to form self-selected cliques where their views are reinforced,” noted Dalton Conley, an NYU sociology professor who has studied the effects of technology on contemporary life. “Getting rid of the random assignment of freshmen roommates is going to impoverish the experience of the residential college.”
Hamilton College in upstate New York, for one, does not entertain roommate requests. “We want students to learn from this experience,” said Nancy R Thompson, the dean of students. “And sometimes that involves negotiating differences.”

But Justin Gaither, a co-founder of URoomSurf, estimated that 80 per cent of the nation’s major four-year colleges allow students to submit a roommate request “as long as it’s mutual.” Since his site started in February, more than 80,000 students from 700 colleges have signed up, paying $5 or $10 for a list of classmates of their gender and a score on how well they mesh, from 1 per cent to 100 per cent.

Jenny Jakubowski, who is to attend Syracuse University, said she was not looking for a mirror image of herself when she turned to URoomSurf. But Megan McNally of Montvale, New Jersey, was “a close enough match at 95 per cent,” said Jakubowski, who lives in Clarence, New York, outside Buffalo. They have since video chatted on Skype, giving each other virtual tours of their houses, and met at one of the university’s receptions.

About 70 per cent of URoomSurf users are women. Jonathan Talarico, another NYU freshman-to-be, signed up because he was “super nervous” about ending up with an incompatible roommate, but did not like trolling the site. “It felt like a dating site, so that was a little uncomfortable,” said Talarico, who lives in Philadelphia, and eventually found a roommate from California on the site. “What most people were talking about in their introductions — their lifestyles — just felt kind of silly. What do you say? ‘I’m interested in you?’ Or ‘I find you neat?’”

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