Living in a space the size of a closet is stressful to begin with, especially when you take into consideration that you'll be sharing your dorm room with a total stranger. We've long trusted colleges to make roommate matches, but now students are taking control of the process by seeking out roommates on the Internet, agreeing to live together, and making requests to schools. While self-selecting your roommate can have definite advantages, there are important things to keep in mind so that it doesn't hinder your college experience. We asked the experts about what to keep in mind if you do decide to find a roommate online, and why it's not always the best option.
Talk to your potential roommate offline.
"Meeting online can be constructive if you take real steps to get to know somebody," says Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out. "If you're only going off of a Facebook profile, that's not a real acquaintance with someone. It's like online dating: Imagine picking someone to live with based on an online dating profile—you're only seeing a much nicer version of someone. It's very important to talk to someone on the phone or meet up in person."
Ask the right questions.
"It's important to go beyond a profile picture and the surface level to see if you can actually get along with someone," says Justin Gaither, co-founder of RoomSurf.com, a social networking site that helps students find roommates. "In your conversations, get a sense of how much a person is going to school to study. How serious are they about academics? How much will they be partying? What's their sleep schedule like? Don't just type back and forth about what TV shows and music you like; communicate with the purpose of finding someone who you may or may not be compatible with."
Look for a compatible roommate, not a new best friend.
"In some ways, the old days of not having control over this process were much better because you just had to make do with who you were assigned to once you got to college," says Simmons. "There's too much power now. When you know too much, you can also set yourself up for big disappointment. Just because someone's nice, it doesn't mean that you should live together."
Don't try to find a clone of yourself.
"It's always been Penn's stated belief that it is a good thing for people of different backgrounds to live together and expand their horizons," says Sue Smith, the Associate Director of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania's Office of College Houses & Academic Services. "Rooming with someone different from you may even result in tremendous personal growth."
Use the Internet to introduce yourself to a wide range of students, not necessarily a roommate.
"Chances are that the first person you chat with—or maybe even the second or third—might not be the person you want to live with," says Gaither. "Talk to as many people as you can, and don't be afraid to say no to living with someone."
Trust the system.
"While choosing one's roommate definitely has its benefits, it has its downsides, too," says Kelci Lynn, an education writer for About.com and US News & World Report. "Schools have been matching roommates for a very long time, and some are very good at it. While getting a bad roommate match is a major worry for a lot of students, the chances of having it happen are actually pretty slim. Additionally, choosing one's own roommate can prevent students from being exposed to new people and experiences that may help them learn and thrive."
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