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I knew who my college roommate would be months before either of us even got into school. Kurt and I had known each other for years through speech and debate. We shared obsessions with rapper George Watsky and YouTube comedy duo BriTANicK. We even have complementary types of messiness: he spreads his things, and I pile.
But when I told friends and family about my decision to share a room with Kurt, it was often met with surprise. Wasn’t I afraid that living with someone I knew would damage our relationship? Didn’t I want to expand my horizons?
"I think I learned a lot more from a random roommate then I would a friend from home."Robert Simmons
They were big questions - ones that are echoed by schools across the country that do the roommate selecting themselves: making sure every student ends up with someone new. Other schools - like mine, Northwestern University - are putting more power in the students’ hands.
To find out which side is winning, I talked with students, staff and CEO's, starting in New York City. Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village is a favorite spot of mine. Surrounding the park are student dorms for NYU, one of a number of schools in the country that picks every student’s roommate for them.
Robert Simmons, a sophomore at NYU, says it worked for him.
"I like the random roommates because I feel like if you pick someone you know you're not gonna be able to expand your horizons as much," he said. "I think I learned a lot more from a random roommate then I would a friend from home."
Nancy Thompson, the dean of students at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, agrees with him. On the school's website in their Housing FAQs section, there's a warning: "sometimes the fastest way to ruin a friendship is to live together."
"We want students to get to know new people and to be open to that, and it's not that they can't be friends with their previous friends, but we don't want it to be too easy. It works for us," she explained.
She might have had a point. Kurt’s and my rooming together certainly wasn’t always easy. We had competing sleeping schedules, and our fair share of disagreements. But all the same, I certainly don't feel as if our friendship is ruined. Is choosing your roommate really all that bad?
"The people that I've talked to at Northwestern who used RoomSync... not only made a good roommate match, they've stayed friends longer."Mark D'Arienzo
Rob Castelucci is a pioneer of roommate choosing and the co-creator of RoomSync, the Facebook app that lets students match with other incoming freshmen and talk to them before they choose who they room with.
"A lot of residence life folks are being a little more receptive now to what residents want, and what residents feel will help in their education process," he said. "So for instance, instead of saying 'well we're going to find you your roommate don't worry about it' saying 'hey you have a choice in this you can take a look and find your own roommate.' It sends a message, first of all, saying 'hey, you're in college now, you're going to be making your own decisions,' so I like it for that reason."
Northwestern University uses RoomSync, and the senior associate director of university housing, Mark D’Arienzo, says the app took a little getting used to, but it's showing very positive results.
"I think it's been a very effective way for students to find a roommate," he said. "The people that I've talked to at Northwestern who used RoomSync and found their roommates, not only made a good roommate match, they've stayed friends longer and many are actually going on to be roommates for a second year."
But I noticed something as I chatted to students at NYU, Merrimack College and Boston University who had random roommates and students who chose their roommates: everyone seemed pretty happy with their lot.
One student, Darius Marte of the New York College of Health Professionals, even suggested I was going about the whole thing all wrong.
"Honestly, you should probably dorm alone. Besides the loneliness, it kinda pays off."
I sure hope he's right. Because while Kurt and I are still friends, this year I'm getting my own room.
Sometimes I wonder what having a random roommate would have been like. But honestly, I wouldn’t change even if I could. And maybe that’s the key. The easiest way to hurt yourself in the roommate game is to start regretting your choice.
- Harry Wood, a rising junior at Northwestern University and a summer production assistant at Here & Now.
This segment aired on August 21, 2015.
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