It was a match made on Facebook. My roommate Maggie and I found each other on the Class of 2022 page and immediately clicked because we had so much in common. We had both taken gap years. We shared a bedtime (11pm to 1am), diet (vegetarian) and cleanliness level (we let clutter build up when we were busy). We were both training for our first marathon. We both came from small, religious communities in the Midwest. We had seven-year-old brothers. She seemed warm and worldly, like the type of girl you meet in college. She felt — through a screen — perversely familiar. She seemed safe. If you can choose a great person like Maggie, I thought, why risk getting stuck with someone who blasts Nickelback at 3 a.m., or microwaves fish, or leaves toenails on your bed, or eats all your snacks without bothering to wipe away the crumbs?
In the United States, it’s a suspense-filled rite of passage to move from a childhood bedroom to a stuffy 9’ by 6’ dormitory: a world of carpeted corridors, hall councils and lanyard-wearing RAs who exude hollow cheerfulness. Increasingly, freshman year of college is the first time students share a room, and after the infamous awkward photo in front of the bunk bed, roommates have the potential to make or break each other’s college experiences. Amidst the uncertainty of going to college, uprooted students fearfully cling to peers who seem familiar.
Roommate self-selection has risen in recent years. Starting around 2010, Facebook has facilitated roommate-finding forums in which incoming students post blurbs about themselves and message the people who seem like compatible roommates.
So, what do 18-year-olds say about themselves when they’re trying to find the Monica to their Rachel, the Owen Wilson to their Wes Anderson (they roomed together at UT Austin), the yin to their yang?
It’s not unlike dating apps. The posts follow a predictable pattern: market-friendly biographies, chirpy and casual, laden with “go blue!”s and “can’t wait”s and lists of carefully chosen favorites (not too obscure, not too basic). Excluding common words like “and” and “for,” the most-used word is “love.” Everyone is “super excited” and “pretty chill.” It’s as if one person in the class did the homework, and everyone else turned in a copy with a few words changed.
Integral to the post are articulated contradictions to the likes of ‘I love to go out but I also love to stay in’ or ‘I prioritize my studies but I also like to have fun’: statements so obvious that they become meaningless. You might as well say ‘I like to be awake sometimes but I also like to sleep.’ A form of the phrase, now crystallized as a cliche, shows up in about half of the posts.
Sometimes, students establish individuality with careful divulgences— descriptions which are quirky enough to be memorable, safe enough to be cool and always positive. ‘I take an obscene amount of naps’ or ‘I am a bit of a sunset fanatic and love to watch them from a hammock’ or ‘I’m also obsessed with 7-Eleven and Chipotle’ or ‘I have a lot of crystals (not meth).’
Certain types of people in these roommate marketplaces seem more likely to post than others. Students who choose to post on the Facebook page are not entirely representative of the entire incoming freshman class. About 75% of posts are by females. In my opinion, self-described “foodies” seem grossly overrepresented, although I suppose I can’t prove it. Among those who have posted in the 2025Facebook group in the past two weeks (I tallied them up), the most common major/career track, shared by 23% of all posters, is pre-med, followed by undeclared (15%), Engineering (14%) and Business (9%). Though the pre-med numbers seemed high to me, U-M advisor Julie Berson-Grand thinks the number sounds about right. In an email, she explained that the University of Michigan is “consistently in the top three of the number of medical school applications in the country.”
I found myself fascinated by the odd art of the roommate marketplace post and eventually got so invested that I tried to recreate the posts with artificial intelligence. These blurbs are so formulaic that an AI model picked up on the script rapidly, hilariously. I used a number of resources including GPT-2 and TensorFlow, fed a few hundred posts into the AI model, and it quickly started spitting out examples based on what it had gleaned. The generated blurbs emulated the style enough to be somewhat believable, but they had a sort of chaotic humor that one would expect from a robot trying to find a roommate. Here’s one example:
I (Gryffindor) have been partying all year and we decided to go out. There has been a lot of talk about basketball and basketball related dramas but I’m a big fan of Family Guy and Friends and Psych — unlike most people. My favorite shows are Big Bang Theory with greatest era, Psych and the office with greatest shows. I listen to a wide range of music and am very social. I can’t wait to go to all the football and basketball games and to watch the football and basketball teams play. I’m considering rushing but can’t wait to go to all the football and basketball games. My sister and I recently committed to LSA and will be studying either psychology or chemistry. I can’t wait to meet all the students and make friends! Please reach out to be besties and tell us something new! GO BLUE
Instagram – @kateslategamer
Snapchat – kateslategamer
The result had all the parts of a roommate post: expected college major, social media handles, hobbies, taste in movies and TV, current slang (‘please reach out to be besties’), a ‘GO BLUE’ and even their Harry Potter house! But it’s eerily, palpably out-of-touch, right from the first sentence. Other subtle failures are implying that Friends, one of the most popular TV shows of all time, is obscure and gushing about football and basketball in an obscenely repetitive manner. But some of the model’s other posts, while stilted, are a little more convincing:
“Hello my name is Daniel and i’m from Michigan. I’m undecided with my major but will be doing something business related and probably apply research into the subject. I’m an avid reader, I’m a big movie guy and I enjoy lots of life activities, but I’m also kind of a night owl. I love going out and hanging with my friends and can’t wait to go to tailgates and football games, but I’m also down to go out and have fun. I’m hoping to study abroad in LSA before my med school”
“Hi!! My name’s Aashi and I’m from Jamboree and I’m looking for a roommate!! I’m looking for a really fun, energizing workout friend since I’m over 5ft 10in and love sunsets & stars, but I also enjoy nature and listen to music!! I listen to A Tribe Called Quest, The Neighbourhood, and anyone else that rambles on the patter. I also watch and write about myself and my interests on my insta! I’m super excited to meet as many new people as I can! Please reach out!!
Insta & Snapchats
When you distill your essence to a hundred-word blurb, you strip yourself of intricacies and wash a complex 18-year-old into an archetype. Knowing that someone played soccer and likes Drake tells you so much yet so little about them: enough to judge but not enough to know them. It’s like how geographic coordinates tell you both everything and nothing about a place.
In the past year, most of the new friends I’ve made have been through the internet, and it has become increasingly clear that presenting yourself online is different than in person— it allows for expressions to be premeditated and for personalities to be projections. I distinctly remember crafting my roommate post in a way that exaggerated my interests in reading and rock climbing, hobbies that seemed wholesome and admirable to my 17-year-old self. I was trying on the identity of the person I wanted to be in college, and she looked a lot like me but a little bit more bold, adventurous and well-read. I liked her.
The roommate post is, for some people, an attempt to find a dorm partner, but it can also serve a first draft of your college self– the person you present to peers, not admissions advisors. Maybe the roommate post isn’t even about roommates but about beta testing your personal brand.
Curious about the universality of the practice, I joined every Facebook college roommate group that would let me in, and I learned that the blurbs are nearly identical for universities across the country. An incoming freshman from UIUC looks like one from Boston University looks like one from UCLA, though the California pictures tended to be sunnier and more consistent about putting in preferred pronouns. The striking similarity of the posts made more sense when I discovered that a company called Humans of University runs class Facebook pages for 77 universities, including the University of Michigan.
I quickly found murmurs on Reddit about Humans of University, and someone named David Pelling, the page’s director, is rumored to put the word “official” in Facebook page titles despite having no affiliation with universities. The company, which also has a large Instagram presence, has a track record of introducing paywalls to Facebook groups, such as in the University of Michigan Class of 2025 group. Since Facebook doesn’t have the infrastructure to host payment-only groups, the company puts a note in the group’s description sending students to a site which requires them to pay $2.50 “to avoid spam requests due to an increase in membership.” The description says this:
“Welcome UMich Freshman! Due to increase in membership request, we only accept members that have subscribed now to avoid spam accounts. Please subscribe here in order to join the group.”
… and is followed by a link to a separate site.
Reddit user r/fangyingx wrote “I feel like there’s something so wrong and backhanded with pretending to be an “official” group for new students to make money off of them.” The actual portion of students who were required to pay, however, remains in question. Though group members were told they’d only be admitted if they paid their dues on a separate website, the actual enforcement of the rule is unclear. Interestingly, the University of Michigan group has 6,000 members, and none of the handful I spoke to reported to me that they actually paid to join — so maybe the payment requirement is a charade to scam only the most gullible. Nonetheless, the group’s leadership is confusing and opaque, and the Facebook group’s premise seems potentially exploitive.
Finding roommates on social media isn’t easy— it may feel like ordering off of an overwhelmingly large menu at a debilitatingly judgemental restaurant. Students, when narrowing down roommate options, may assign undue sway to tiny traits or turns of phrase. I remember, as a freshman, only messaging people who explicitly mentioned caring about the environment, as if a climate call-to-action provided a definitive judgement of character. Red flags can be as frivolous as unironic usage of the laugh-cry emoji or a vocal enjoyment of the TV show “The Office.”
Forums allow student choosiness to run wild. The person who says “I can keep my sheeeeiit clean & im on my scholar stuuuff” seems markedly different from the one who says “Most of my free time is spent reading books and news about the stock market.” But should an extrapolation based on a single sentence disqualify someone who may very well be a compatible roommate? And could this selectivity contribute to concerning trends of student self-segregation by race and family socioeconomic status?
Michael Zabriskie, a Michigan Housing employee who has long supervised roommate assignments, explained over the phone that “the only two traits that we consider to have really significant effects on student satisfaction with their roommate are gender identity and smoking status.”
He told me that over time, there have been changes in roommate selection trends, nationally, regionally and at the University of Michigan.
“More students come in with a roommate who they found on social media,” he said.
Though some universities like Duke and NYU have ended roommate self-selection altogether to increase community, the University doesn’t plan to do that any time soon. Zabriskie said that the idea has come up, but he wants to give students as much a say in their experience as he can. He suspects that students who hand-picked their roommate may be more invested in the relationship.
Those who surrender to the random pairing (“potluck”) at the University of Michigan are not put through a complex algorithm like they are at some other universities.
“We’re not Eharmony,” Zabriskie said.
While other universities consider music tastes, personality types, hometown and other intimate details, the University only takes into account core information about things that have potential to cause conflicts, like anticipated studiousness and cleanliness. These questions don’t make Michigan unique: in the Association of College and University Housing Officers–International’s 2018–19 survey, 56% of respondents said that dorm assignments are informed by responses to a questionnaire.
According to Zabriskie, highly involved mechanisms to strategically pair roommates offer no proven improvement in student satisfaction.
Zabriskie is not gung-ho about intense university-driven roommate selectivity, and he’s also not the biggest proponent of student-driven roommate selectivity. He admits that something is lost when students hand-pick their roommate. As Carla Yanni writes in her book “Living on Campus,” dormitories were built to be democratic and diverse. As colleges saw an increase in post-war enrollment, they reckoned with the exclusive nature of Greek life and decided to build something better. They modeled the dormitory off of the communal nature of fraternities, resulting in the residence hall as we know it now, with common spaces, lightly-moderated leisure activities and shared norms: engineered egalitarianism.
The dormitory is a place for people to mix and mingle, for horizons to broaden, for the daughters of investment bankers to study next to the sons of refugees. Freshman year of college is a unique opportunity to live with someone wildly different from you.
In that one impressionable year, your roommate may have an instrumental impact on your life’s trajectory. They’re not just someone with whom you share a minifridge: they may impact your career path and speech patterns. Interracial roommate pairs have been shown to have lasting effects on each other’s levels of racial acceptance. In other words, a random roommate might catapult you out of your comfort zone, and maybe that’s a good thing.
It’s only natural for certain groups to gravitate to one another, to faction off by interest or demeanor or shared experience. Finding friends is one of the most central joys of freshman year; for some people, college is the first time that validation is given for the things that made them weird in middle school (coding, fiction writing, Dungeons & Dragons, obsession with the periodic table, etc.). Of course freshmen should seek out friends who are similar. But they also shouldn’t close themselves off to the new and unexpected growth that comes with sharing a space with a rando.
As much as I’m glad I met Maggie, I wonder if freshman year would be better if we were more willing to skip the theatre. Ditch the paragraph post on the dubious Facebook group and take a leap of faith.
Statement columnist Annie Rauwerda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.