Roommate finder system not for NU, officials say

Shelly Banjo

As freshmen settle into their first few weeks of college, they face some painful realities. Midterms come too soon, and sometimes getting along with roommates is more complicated than coordinating study hours.

“I had only spoken to my roommate twice on the phone and I’ve never shared a room before, but I was pretty optimistic that we would get along,” said Joanne Kim, a Weinberg freshman. “But I wasn’t sure we’d get close.”

More and more schools are alleviating anxieties of living with a complete stranger in an extremely small room by using a housing software program from an Atlanta-based company called Webroomz.

Webroomz is an automated Web-based matching service that allows students to select their roommates based on a detailed questionnaire. To use the service, similar to an online dating service, students fill out a profile detailing their personality traits and interests. Questions include “Do you think you’re popular?” and “Do you think you’re good-looking?”

Students then can search for compatible profiles or run a custom search to narrow the field of desirable roommate traits — from seeking someone with a zest for adventure to discovering a dormmate that digs Thai food. Students also can chat with prospective roommates using the program’s instant messaging service.

“Webroomz empowers the students, allowing them hundreds or thousands of options to choose what they want and give them more control in the college roommate process,” said Jessica Harrison, director of public relations at Webroomz. “For many students it is a culture shock, because for the first time, students have to share a bathroom and a bedroom with another person.”

The system was first introduced in 2001. Since then about a half dozen schools have signed up to use Webroomz, but NU isn’t one of them. Last year administrators said they were skeptical about the program’s promises to match personalities and didn’t know whether they would use the program.

Now, Mark D’Arienzo, associate director of University Housing, said NU has been contacted by Webroomz and has even looked into it. But, he added, the service didn’t seem to be a good fit for the university.

“Northwestern is a small community and we have had a 99 percent satisfaction rate with our process,” he said.

University Housing employs NU upperclassmen and recent graduates over the summer to help housing coordinators read through every application by hand to make the best matches possible.

Incoming freshmen fill out a 15-question form online that offers three or four answers to each question.

The most important question, D’Arienzo said, is “Do you smoke?” — but said the other 14 ask about preferences such as neatness, study habits and overnight guests.

The last question leaves space for a roommate request or any additional comments to assist housing officials with the room assignment process. The additional comment section is a very important part of the housing application, D’Arienzo said.

“There are certain important things that don’t go into a category and that need to be written down,” he said.

Even though each application gets individual attention, some students still had anxiety about roommates.

“I was nervous because my roommate is from Korea and I didn’t even know if he spoke English,” said Brian Norberg, a McCormick freshman.

Although many freshmen are anxious about living with a new person, Virginia Koch, assistant director for Undergraduate Residential Life, said that feeling is part of the college experience.

“Learning to get along with a stranger in a little room is a huge skill which sometimes can not be easy,” Koch said. “But the student will learn more from a hard experience.”