Why picking a college roommate is now like online dating

Some colleges are now using software programs and algorithms to pair up first-year students. Much like online dating, it's all based on compatibility.

Alisa Lee Production Assistant
Mariel Myers Senior producer
3 min read

Your college roommate could turn out to be your best friend or someone who still makes you cringe 10 years later. Many people never even had a say in who they would be living with their first year of college.

Watch this: The two things that matter most when picking a college roommate

Now, with the help of housing software provider StarRez and a handful of websites, colleges and universities are changing the way roommates are matched by giving students more control.

"They kind of have a say in who they live with. They can filter based on different types of attributes," said Joe Lindwall, vice president of sales and marketing at StarRez. "Students can go online. They can search and filter based on this criteria and really narrow it down to a pool of potential residents that they want to live with."

Think online dating but for college roommates. It's all based on compatibility.

Hundreds of universities worldwide -- including New York University, UC Berkeley and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- use StarRez to determine roommate compatibility. Students fill out a questionnaire that's been tailored by their school. Schools decide if the questions should be based on lifestyle, study habits, course studies or even minute details like whether students prefer the window open or closed.

Once students submit the questionnaire, they can view and browse compatible matches, and use social media, like Facebook, to connect with potential future roommates.

Lindwall said, in his experience, the two most important factors to determine college roommate compatibility are sleep and study habits.

"If somebody is paired with somebody who is a night owl, but actually likes to go to bed early, that can be a fundamental issue and conflict almost on a daily basis. The other is how studious are you? Are you very, very serious about your education? Or are you somewhere in the middle in terms of, I like to have a lot of fun and go out, I'm very social. The combination of those two things can really, really say a lot about how a student relationship is going to go," Lindwall explained.

The colleges using the software hope to keep students happier by allowing them more control over who they bunk with. UNC, which started using StarRez in 2013, said is believes the number of room change requests has decreased but did not offer specific numbers.

At Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif., seven percent of first-year residents who aren't happy with their housing assignments ask for a change. Saint Mary's hopes to see that number drop in their second year of using StarRez.

Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. Sean Phillips/CNET

"Students are now a little more communicative with one another even prior to coming onto campus. It kind of gets that feeling of students getting more comfortable when they enter college," said Samantha Alberto, the housing operations manager at Saint Mary's College. Alberto added that with a happy living situation students can be more focused and attentive in the classroom.

Saint Mary's student Samantha Richards said she found StarRez to be a beneficial service in helping select her roommate, Samantha Carneiro.

"I think StarRez is a good fundamental baseline to meeting who you want to live with."

Samantha Carneiro and Samantha Richards, roommates at Saint Mary's College. Sean Phillips/CNET

Students whose universities don't use StarRez or other housing matching software can search for roommates through third-party sites and apps, like Roomsurf and Roomsync.

Roomsync, a Facebook app, lets students rate preferences, like how neat your are and how often you like to have visitors. The app then produces a list of compatible candidates. Roomsurf works similarly, except students have to create profiles first since it's not linked to Facebook.

The days of walking into your dorm room for the first time and not knowing your roommate may soon be over. Though there's still may be the fight for who gets the top bunk.