Is Facebook The Future of Roommate Matching?

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For decades, roommate matching on the college campus was left to chance. Incoming students would be randomly paired, introduced via mail (and then email) and would meet during the traditional phone call identifying who’s bringing the mini fridge and who’s bringing the TV. But in today’s Facebook era that is no longer the case.

Once paired up, students - and their parents - are performing their own social media-based background checks via Facebook, browsing their soon-to-be-roommate’s profile, info and photos. In some cases, these investigations even lead to students and parents requesting new roommate assignments when they uncover characteristics or values they deem incompatible with their own.

If students are going to such a length in search of the perfect roommate, why not let them own the process from the start?

Enter RoomSync.

Founded in 2007, RoomSync (formerly known as RoomBug) is the only Facebook app on the market today specifically designed for college roommate matching. Students sign into the application and complete a survey which includes a sliding scale questionnaire on lifestyle preferences and several questions aimed at identifying your ideal type of roommate.

From there, students are able to browse for other students looking for a roommate. When they find a potential match, students can message each other to chat. If they hit it off, the end result is a room request sent to the institution.

If this process sounds familiar, it’s likely because RoomSync isn’t the only company touting a service that matches potentially like-minded individuals. The now infamous RoomSurf gained headlines both for their sitewhich lets students match themselves outside the eyes of institution, as well as for their questionable marketing practices. While they are now working to turn over a new leaf, RoomSurf’s efforts have unfortunately cast a bit of a shadow over the practice of roommate matching in higher education.

With 21 client institutions and 25,000 users of their app, RoomSync is a prime example of why we can’t shut the door on a chapter that has only just begun.

But what’s the point in letting students match themselves? Why is this worth our time in the first place?

A recent Michigan State University study identified roommate issues as one of the top 5 reasons students drop out of college. Could at least some of these issues be avoided if roommates were allowed to self-select each other based on commonalities found via Facebook? With the hard numbers just starting to come in, Robert Castellucci, Co-Founder and VP of Marketing for RoomSync, tells Higher Ed Live that’s exactly what they’re seeing. In fact, one of their clients, University of Florida, made some pretty exciting claims yesterday for the first time.

Presenting at ACUHO-I Annual Conference & Exposition (ACE) in New Orleans, University of Florida’s TJ Logan shared what the institution’s experience has been with roommate matching on Facebook.

Here are some highlights:

Over 1,400 (>25%) incoming students used the network in 2010
Pairing led to an increase in diversity, with less Caucasians assigned together compared to recent years
65% of hall staff surveyed reported a decrease in roommate conflicts
When conflicts did occur, 48% of hall staff said the conflicts were less severe
Students reported that even if they didn’t find a roommate, the roommate matching process provided them an opportunity to make friends before arriving on campus

(Editors Note: The above figures were updated at 11:30 a.m ET 7/12)

Pretty impressive, right? And this is only the first year of data available. With over 60% of the incoming University of Florida Class of 2011 now using the tool, the institution is expecting even bigger things over the course of the next year.

When looking at these initial numbers it’s clear, RoomSync appears to have itself a pretty major accomplishment. By offering students a roommate matching solution they are leading to a decrease in reported roommate issues, and potentially playing a major role in an institution’s retention efforts.

Perhaps it’s time we all take another look at roommate matching. What we are seeing could be some of the first evidence that social media-based programs can directly impact student retention and success.


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