My College:
Housing & Residential Life

First-Year Housing for New College Students

Suzanne Shaffer

The May 1st deadline for choosing a college is nearly here! After making this momentous decision, your student has more decisions to make — including about where they will live next year.

There are tools available to help the first-year housing process go smoothly, and the college or university should communicate with your student about their housing options. Here’s an up-close look at how it all works!

Look online to learn about first-year housing

Information about residential life is available on the college website. Depending on the school, you may find floor plans and pricing, like these at Boston College and Arizona State University. An official college username and password may be required to view this information; your student will get a login when they accept their spot, or can request access based on their status as an incoming student.

Encourage your student to stay on top of deadlines

They should be able to activate their official college email account with username and password soon after accepting their spot in the incoming freshman class.

Suggest they complete the residential life/housing questionnaire as soon as it's available. In some cases, students can rank housing choices. If on-campus housing is first come, first served at their college or university, desirable halls will fill quickly.

Many colleges guarantee housing for incoming freshmen and require they live on campus in freshmen-designated communities. Others allow first-year students to choose their own housing and even live off campus if they want. You and your student can find the roommate policy easily on the college website.

If the college system selects a roommate

Some colleges match roommates with one another. If the school assigns a roommate, they usually provide a questionnaire to increase the odds of compatibility.

Your student may or may not be permitted to request a specific roommate. Duke University recently decided to stop letting first-year students choose their own roommates and now makes assignments entirely at random based on a questionnaire. The policy change was intended to prevent students from selecting roommates with similar backgrounds and perspectives and instead through their housing situation expose them to classmates from varying backgrounds and cultures. In a letter to the Class of 2022, Duke's  vice president for student affairs and the dean and vice provost for undergraduate education stated:

Our experience over many years assures us (and thus, you) that you’ll be fine … better in fact! We believe that you’ll enjoy the opportunity to meet someone you’ve not previously known and will have a great opportunity to explore your roommate’s history, culture and interests. Who knows … you may get invited to a part of the world you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

Selecting your own roommate

Social media can be used to foster online friendships that lead to a roommate match. These days most colleges create a closed class Facebook group so incoming students can connect with one another. Your student can use this group to ask questions and "meet" future classmates. In many of these groups, students introduce themselves and add a short bio for the sole purpose of finding a roommate.

Roommate matching sites like RoomSurf and RoomSync match students based on compatibility percentages. Students complete a questionnaire and are matched with others who answered questions similarly. At that point, students can contact one another and proceed from there.

Social media and roommate matching can’t guarantee a perfect match but do help your student find someone with like interests, specific geographic areas and mutual connections. Using technology, your student can get to know their roommate online before they move in together on campus.

Choosing specialty housing

Many colleges offer specialty housing, even for first-year students. If your student is interested in a substance-free dorm or a service community, for instance, those options will be listed on the college website during the room registration process. Your student should investigate these possibilities before making their dorm choices.

Exceptions to living on campus

Fifty-five percent of students live off campus; most are upperclassmen. For first-year students attending a commuter college or a community college, though, the choice to continue living at home with their family is often a natural one. Other reasons first-year students live off campus:

  • If the school is experiencing overcrowding in campus housing, and/or has admitted an unexpectedly large incoming freshman class.
  • Older/non-traditional students, veterans, students who are parents and others often may request exemptions from the on-campus residential requirement.
  • If the cost of living on campus will put a financial strain on the student and their family. (On average, during the 2017–2018 school year, students spent $10,800 on room and board at public four-year institutions and $12,210 at private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities.)

Living off campus freshman year can cause students to miss out on important parts of the typical college experience. Before choosing to live off campus, encourage your first-year student to look closely at the school and student body, calculate the cost savings, and contemplate the loss of on-campus experiences. If your student will commute from home, support them in making a solid connection to their new campus community — find tips here.

Securing or deciding on housing is an integral part of preparing for the fall term. Knowing your options will help you and your student make the best choice and guarantee a stable and happy freshman year.


To stay on top of things, be sure to read "10 things to do now that your student has chosen a college."


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Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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La'Tasha Smalls
La'Tasha Smalls
2 years ago

My daughter applied for on-campus housing, but she is put on waiting list, this is her first year at UCF. Where do we go from here.

Kelsey Gast
2 years ago

Hi La'Tasha! Thanks for reaching out. We are not directly affiliated with UCF's housing program, so it will be best to seek out further information from the university. Best of luck!

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