My younger sister is going to be starting college in the fall, and is very excited about it. She has already joined multiple chats and pages on Snapchat and Facebook to connect with other incoming freshmen at her school, and has even talked about using these online pages to try to find a roommate. I love that she’s talking to these other students. I had a similar experience before I started college, and it was great already knowing people when I arrived for orientation. However, I’m trying to steer her away from feeling pressured to find a roommate in these chats.
I just started my sixth semester here at Oberlin, and over the course of those semesters, I’ve lived with five different roommates and housemates. Each one of them was assigned to live in the same place as me, we didn’t choose to live together. I didn’t even know any of them before we moved in. And to be honest, I’ve really liked that. Below, I’ve written about this experience in two parts: my first year, and everything beyond that.
My First Year
For my first year, I knew a “random” roommate was the way I wanted to go. I’d heard both horror stories and great ones about moving in with someone assigned by their school, no matter which college they go to, so I knew it was a risk. I felt reassured, though, in part because Oberlin’s system involved a preferences form that gets taken into consideration when first-years are getting paired up to live together. On this form, we get to list things such as the time we wake up, the noise level we prefer, and the genders we’re comfortable living (or not living) with. Because of this, it felt a little bit less like a risk, and I did end up lucking out and getting a wonderful roommate. Living together wasn’t always perfect, which is an expected reality no matter what, but it’s been two years since we shared a room, and I still consider them to be one of my close friends. It certainly doesn’t work out this well for everyone, but it has for enough people I know that I think overall it’s the better choice.
As for the alternative, choosing your own roommate as an incoming freshman, there are also mixed results. I knew a pair my first year who chose each other from our class Facebook group because they were going for the same major. For them, living together didn’t end up going as well as they had hoped. Halfway through the year, one ended up moving into a different space. However, I have another friend here who chose her own roommate as a freshman because they went to high school together and were already good friends, and that ended up working out well. It’s very circumstance-dependent.
Based on both of these options, if I could go back and make the decision again, I’d make the same one I did three years ago, and choose a random roommate for my freshman year. My personal circumstances were that I didn’t know anyone well enough before starting college to be like, hey, I want to live together, and my sister’s in a similar situation. I feel like the information on the preferences form is better suited to finding a good living match than a shared major or interest, which is the information you tend to get from a social media group.
The process is different once you move beyond your first year of college. At this point, you know people a lot better, and might want to live with your friends. For our second year, this is what most of my friends did, and they ended up in a double dorm room with the person of their choice. In a different case, I had a friend go for someone random and they accidentally got paired with a person they happened to be friends with. I went a different route my second year, and lived in a single. It was definitely the best decision for me that year, but for my third year, I was ready for a change.
At Oberlin, your third year is when you can start applying for Village Housing, which are college-owned apartments you can live in alone or share with housemates. They cost the same as a standard dorm room. You’re more likely to get placed in Village Housing as a fourth-year than a third-year, but I figured I’d give it a shot and apply with some of my friends. We did end up applying, but we submitted that application on the evening of March 10th, 2020. Later that very same night, Oberlin got shut down due to the pandemic.
Three months later, Oberlin announced that the College third-years wouldn’t be coming back until spring. The two friends I applied for Village Housing with were both rising third-years like me, but I was the only one in the Conservatory, and therefore the only one coming back. I wanted to apply for Village Housing again, but I didn’t have anyone to live with, so I just did it anyway and hoped for the best.
I originally ended up being assigned a four-person apartment with three other people, none of whom I knew. Two of them ended up leaving the assignment in favor of dorms or other housing, and one ended up choosing to study remote. We aren’t allowed to live in a place that big alone, so I was reassigned to an apartment in the same complex with one other student, who was a fourth-year.
I thought it was just going to be this fourth-year and I, but when I first walked into my apartment on that bright August day after my covid test, I was greeted by a second-year who said she was newly reassigned to that space because of housing accommodations. And just like that, we had three people, of three different class years, who had never met each other, all living together.
One of my worries for the fall semester my third year was that, with a lot of my friends not coming back, it would be lonelier than usual. Having housemates helped fill that void, and the fact that I didn’t know them ahead of time meant I was getting introduced to new people and expanding my amount of on-campus friends. We ended up getting along great, and were able to safely do things around the house together, like decorate for Halloween and bake treats to share in our kitchen.
Because Spring was the second-years’ turn to stay home for the semester, my second-year housemate had to move out in November (and I already miss her a lot). We had a spare fourth bedroom, so she ended up being replaced by not one, but two third-years. It’s only the first week of the semester, so I can’t say for sure how everything will end up, but so far our new group of four seems to be working well. We’ve established a set of rules and boundaries around shared spaces and covid things, and it makes me feel comfortable to know we’re all on the same page. Being assigned random housemates in a pandemic, one of my fears was living with someone who didn’t take it seriously, but luckily all four of the people I’ve lived with during this school year have been great about it so far.
As of now, my friends and I who originally wanted to get Village Housing together are still hoping to be in an apartment with each other next fall for our senior year. Though I’m definitely looking forward to living with them (assuming it actually works out this time), I’m so grateful for my experiences this year living with randomly assigned people, just as much as I’m grateful for my experiences with my roommate two years ago. Who knows if we all would have even met otherwise?
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