Cummings: Colleges need to consider importance of roommate matches

Kelsey Cummings

Most people can agree that having a good or bad roommate can make the college experience either really fulfilling or really, really horrible. Being paired with the right person your freshman year can result in a lifelong friendship and smooth transition from dependent teen to full-fledged adult. However, the wrong person can make the first year of your adult life completely miserable. When tensions are high, it is the university administrators’ hope that the roommates in question should handle the issues, and they should. But what if the university took care of the tension before it even occurred?

Currently, Iowa State’s roommate selection questionnaire consists of a single question — “do you smoke?” While health preferences are an important part of any rooming recommendation, this one question does very little to properly match up the personalities of any two people. The explanation provided on the ISU website suggests that Iowa State administrators chose this method for pairing roommates because they believe building relationships is “about more than what classes you’re taking, whether you’re an early bird or a night owl or how messy you think you might be on a scale of 1-10.” They want students to create relationships with people unlike themselves, as well.

While it is true that not all relationships require those involved to be perfectly alike, the awkward sense of isolation many incoming freshmen feel could perhaps be lessened by a comforting, pre-decided relationship. Iowa State works hard to ensure their students have an easy transition from high school to college by implementing programs like Destination Iowa State. However, they overlook one key aspect of the students’ well-being at their new four-year home: their roommates. To underestimate the value of a well-matched roommate is to do a disservice to the college students’ experience.

In many instances, being paired with an incompatible roommate can cause undue stress and anxiety for a person. Reoccurring problems with noise level, guests, sleep schedules and other variables can create tension in a room. Even if the two roommates attempt to resolve these issues on their own, there is no guarantee that these arguments will not just create further tensions.

Creating a comfortable home environment is essential to students leaving their family home for the first time. Not only is it important to the emotional success of each student, but also to their academic success. Bruce Sacerdote, professor of economics at Dartmouth, found in a study that “roommate peer effects” can have either a positive or negative influence on students’ GPAs, depending on how well-matched the roommates are.

Proper roommates can also have an effect on which organizations students decide to join, Sacerdote said. He explains in his study that, students who are both interested in fraternities are more likely to join the same house as their roommate. Whether this fact is good or bad is up for debate, however, this case shows that roommate compatibility does not necessarily mean students will miss out on building relationships with people from other backgrounds. Instead, well-matched roommates have the ability to introduce each other to new experiences and different people they may not have met otherwise. A relaxed home environment will ensure each student has the confidence and proper mindset to create their own ISU adventure apart from their roommate as well.

Some universities have already had in-depth roommate-matching questionnaires available for years; others are trying out different methods. Sites such as RoomSurf and RoommateClick allow universities to take a step back and allow students to find their own roommates. Students can create profiles and choose roommates based on what they view to be a good match. All they would have to do then is follow normal university procedures for roommate requests. Many students have found success with this method and note that learning to get along with someone is still an experience they must go through, even if their roommate doesn’t make them want to tear out their hair.

ECampusNews reports having seen a 65 percent reduction of roommate problems in universities that have utilized the online roommate-matching systems. And with the emotional and academic success of its students on the line, Iowa State should seek out a new form of roommate assignment. Whether they promote the online systems or create a questionnaire of their own, Iowa State needs to consider the importance of well-matched roommates and the positive influences they can have on students during their intimidating four-year adventure.