Choosing a Roommate

While typing something about my son’s attempt to find a college roommate, I made a typo that turned it into doommate. With College in the Time of Coronavirus, that seems appropriate.

The university’s system for choosing roommates and assigning dorms puts so much responsibility on students to navigate a sometimes murky, misleading, and constantly changing system, during a time when they’d be stressed out about starting college even without a worldwide pandemic complicating things and making them wonder if they’ll even be able to move onto campus.

When we paid our deposit to ensure his space in the Class of 2020-21, we were told that students would be given appointment times to choose their dorm buildings and rooms based on the date they paid the deposit. We paid reasonably early, so we thought he’d be able to choose earlier than later in the process. The overall selection time window is July 20-31.

Then the policy was changed to give priority to students who set themselves up as roommates by forming a “roommate group” on the website and each joining it. Students in roommate groups would receive the earlier dates, and students who did not choose roommates but were going into the system alone would have to select dorms and rooms at the very end of the month, when there was less likelihood of getting into their preferred buildings.

Then there was another change (or clarification) that said blocks of rooms would be held back to be opened to students at different times throughout the month, to give students with late selection dates a better chance of getting their choice of dorms.

My son meant to choose a roommate and set up a group, but teenage procrastination took over, and he bungled it completely. He kept putting us off when his dad and I started suggesting, weeks early, that he put his profile into the roommate selection website and look at other profiles to see if he could identify a few people he might want to contact and speak with online, to figure out who was compatible. He waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, with only a week left before the deadline, he created a profile and started reading other profiles, and noted seven other boys he might consider as roommates. (The ones who described themselves as “chill dudes” — a strangely common self-description — did not make his list.)

And then he did not contact any of them. I think he was uncertain about what to say, and afraid of putting himself out there (in addition to his usual propensity for preferring video games to anything that sounds less than fun). Finally, someone saw his profile and contacted him. He was quite slow to respond, but finally did. They exchanged a few texts (or Instagram posts, or whatever) and seemed to have a lot in common. The other boy is also planning to major in music. The day before the deadline, I asked my son if they’d decided to room together. He said they had only exchanged a few messages, so it was too early to make that decision. I pointed out that, too early or not, the deadline was at noon the next day, so he’d have to decide what he’d prefer:

  • To try to room with someone who seemed like a good match, even if he didn’t feel they knew each other well enough to be sure.
  • Or to live with someone who happened to slot himself into the same room because few other choices were available at the end of the dorm-selection process.

He reluctantly admitted that the first was better, but still felt nervous about committing. I suggested that he write to the other boy again and ask if he’d like to room together, and that he set up a roommate group and invite him to join it.

Finally, that evening, he wrote to him again, but did not ask for a commitment or even an opinion on rooming together. And when I asked him before he went to bed that night if he’d set up a roommate group, he said he’d do it in the morning.

This was a bad idea. The deadline for having two students registered in a roommate group was noon the next day. Lately, my son is usually in bed at noon. And once he set up the group, he’d still have to contact the other boy, tell him the name of the group, and ask him to join it by noon if he wanted to room together.

As I feared, he woke up at 11:30, spent twenty minutes in the bathroom, and finally set up the roommate group at about 11:57. And all the while, he wasted more time arguing about whether they knew each other well enough to room together, and whether the other boy would get the notification in time to add himself to the group. The boy did not, and my son is going into dorm selection without a roommate group. He received a time slot on July 30.

I’m still not sure how time slots were assigned. His girlfriend Kat is attending the same school, and she went into the process with a roommate selected. And she got July 31. Maybe the date is determined by a combination of roommate group status and date of acceptance deposit.

Then there is the whole issue of trying to get a spot in the Visual & Performing Arts Learning Community. But that’s a topic for another day….

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