Residence Life staff provide hands-on attention to give first-years the best match possible.
Think roommate pairings at Grinnell College are done through a lottery or handled by some complex algorithm? They aren’t.
As a recent USA Today trend story about college and university matching processes notes, Grinnell’s approach bucks the trend towards using software to handle this important part of building a college community.
As cited in the article, a recent study found roommate conflict one of the top five reasons freshmen withdraw from school. That is why, long before the students arrive at campus, Grinnell’s residence life coordinators (RLCs), led by Andrea Conner, director of residence life, are hard at work to help make the best possible matches.
The Division of Student Affairs employs a hands-on approach to match incoming students’ interests and lifestyle preferences with open rooms in 19 residence halls.
The process begins when each incoming student completes a detailed questionnaire designed to identify key traits:
- late sleeper or early riser?
- cluttered or clean?
- indie or hip-hop?
- laid back or spontaneous?
- guests welcome any time?
- can your roommate borrow your stuff?
Conner says, “The form is more about the quirky ways students describe themselves. Music interests are probably the most indicative. We place high value on trusting them to tell us what works.”
They table the results and presort students by certain criteria — such as those who may need accommodation or prefer substance-free, coed, gender-neutral, or single-sex rooms. They also adhere to “the rules” — not pairing roommates who have the same first names, same home states, or come from other countries.
The residence life coordinators then refine the lists person-by-person, roommate-to-roommate.
It’s a quiet, contemplative process:
- “Here’s an international student who requested someone from Iowa.”
- “Moving on ... sounds like they would be patient, willing to compromise and both like Billboard Top 40.”
- “Roommate Match Code Orange ... someone who is particular about hygiene.”
After making the matches, the coordinators place them in available rooms. “Part of our culture is to mix class years. Returning students go through a lottery, then first-year students are placed,” Conner says.
While many roommates become best friends, the goal is to create a campus community and for students to be “happy in their rooms and have the satisfaction to focus on academics,” she says.
Does it work? It appears to for Karl Sadkowski ’16 and Reggie Sackey-Addo ’16, first-year roommates featured in the USA Today article.
Conner and company get very few requests for room changes among first-year students. “Anecdotally, it’s significantly lower” than the previous five private colleges where Conner has worked. “My experience tells me it’s because we spend all of this time on it. There’s a tangible benefit to put the investment in now for less conflict later.”
As student affairs staff say, “Grinnell is proud to be high-touch, not high-tech.”