The Roommate Dilemma: Random Roommates vs. Living with Friends

Finding a College Roommate

Not too long ago, being assigned a college roommate was a little like a blind date that lasted one whole academic year. If you were lucky, you’d chat with them on the phone before moving in, but otherwise, finding out whether you were compatible was a learning experience that started as soon as you turned the dorm key.

Today, college students are fortunate in having many options when it comes to meeting or interacting with their future roommate. In a Niche survey of more than 800 users, 31 percent reported Facebook being the top way to reach out to a new roommate, while 28 percent admitted they already knew their roomie before starting school.

Roommate Dilemma: How students communicate with future roomies

So, when it comes to roommates, which is better: being randomly assigned one or choosing one yourself?

Random Selection: The Case for Not Knowing
“Sometimes the fastest way to ruin a friendship is to live together.” These are wise words from Hamilton College’s Residential Life FAQ page. This school in Clinton, N.Y., advocates against friends living together in college—so much so that friend cohabitation is prohibited in the dorms.

Those who decide to be randomly assigned a residential partner are opening themselves up to an entirely new experience, and that’s what college is supposed to be all about. Since the advent of Facebook and other social media networks, some schools haven’t relented when it comes to room assignment traditions. At Stanford, you don’t get your roommate assignment until move-in day. While you may encounter the worst possible roommate ever, you have the same chance of finding the absolute best one, too. Either way, you’ll learn a lot about living with someone, but you’ll learn even more about yourself in the process.

Pros and Cons of Random Roommate Selection

Pro
Con
You open yourself up to an entirely new experience.You have no idea what you're getting into.
Rooming with someone you know can ruin a friendship. You may be completely opposite from your roommate.
It teaches you how to live with someone new and respect their space.If your roommate doesn't respect you, you may spend a lot of time outside of your room.
No pressure to be friends. You can gain independence.If you hate your situation, you could spend a whole year being uncomfortable, which could distract you from your studies.

Colleges That Advocate Random Roommates
Amherst College
Grinnell College
Hamilton College
Stanford University
Syracuse University
Wake Forest University

Having a Friend as a Roommate: The Case for Knowing
College can be hard enough, so why add a bad living situation to the mix? That’s one reason why the University of Florida added RoomSync to its roommate process. (The other reason was the influx of parental complaints on behalf of students frustrated with their roommate matches.)

RoomSync is a matching experience that empowers students to find roommates and build connections before they even step on campus. According to a 2012 RoomSync case study on the University of Florida, 97 percent of surveyed UF students discovered their roommate on the app and became best friends and/or engaged in a mutually respectful relationship with their roommate. More and more schools are opting for roommate matching like this, and companies like RoomSync and RoomSurf are building entire business platforms around helping students have the best residential experience possible.

Pros and Cons of Being Friends with a Roommate

Pro
Con
You know each other, so you generally know what to expect. It's very different living with someone versus being friends with them.
You know you won't get stuck with someone completely terrible. If they're a high school friend, the situation could prevent you from getting past your high school self.
You'll at least have one friend on campus. Passive aggression rears its ugly head. No one likes confronting a friend.
More time/better communication when planning your room.A friendship could end up ruined.

Colleges That Advocate Choosing Your Roommates
Northwestern University
Regis College
Rochester Institute of Technology
St. Bonaventure University
University of Florida
Xavier University

The Bottom Line
Since the launch of Facebook in 2004, the college roommate process has changed dramatically, allowing students to window-shop roomies before they get to campus. But whether or not students choose a roommate, living with someone won’t always be a smooth-sailing experience. The key to getting through it is to utilize open communication and realize that like everything else in life, it’s only temporary.