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Social media helps ease LI college roommate matches

Adelphi students, Christina Sancho, right, and her soon

Adelphi students, Christina Sancho, right, and her soon to be dorm roommate Nicole Rodriguez, left, use skype to show each other artwork they have for their college dorm room. (Aug. 15, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Christina Sancho and Nicole Rodriguez share a love of drinking tea in the morning, spending time with family and going to bed by 10 p.m.

Similarities between the soon-to-be college freshmen emerged in just two minutes of talking together this spring at Adelphi University's speed-dating-themed roommate social.

"You're actually meeting the person who could be your roommate instead of filling out a form," said Sancho, 18, of Port Jefferson Station. "I asked those nitty-gritty questions -- some of which I don't think you could find from a questionnaire."

The event, which Adelphi tried for the first time at its Admitted Student Day, is part of a trend at some Long Island universities: giving incoming freshmen an opportunity to connect with and select potential roommates through on-campus events or social media.

Stony Brook University this year has seen about one-third of its incoming freshmen and transfer students log into RoomSync, an application that the university first offered in spring 2011. Students sign into the secure website that links to Facebook, where they can search profiles of other students within their year and undergraduate college.

Such programs often supplement the age-old questionnaire, in which students list habits, pet peeves or roommate preferences so schools can match them with a compatible person.

"We don't find having students to fill out the questionnaires to be very effective or accurate," said Guy Seneque, Adelphi's director for residential life and housing. "More than half of the applications that we get for students are filled out by parents. Sometimes parents think their son or daughter is a nonsmoker when they actually smoke -- then, that becomes a problem for us."

Experiences with roommates can have an effect on whether students stay at a university, Seneque said. "The earlier they make a positive connection to the university, the longer they'll stay here and finish," he said.

At Stony Brook, 700 to 800 people logged into RoomSync this year, associate director of residential programs Alan deVries said. The university paid a one-time fee of about $5,000 for the application; there is no cost for students.

"Instead of us coming out and saying, 'Here are the six criteria for compatibility,' it's giving students an unlimited selection of preferences that are important to them," he said.

Conventional form questions, such as how much quiet a roommate desires, are subjective, deVries said, adding, "What's quiet to me may not be quiet to you."

It will be difficult for students to change rooms this year at Stony Brook, because all rooms are filled and there's a waiting list of 600 students, deVries said. "So for us, it's all about finding compatible roommates up front," he said.

Students admitted to Hofstra University since 2009 have received an invitation to sign up for an application within Facebook to connect to other admitted students and meet potential roommates, said Jessica Eads, Hofstra's vice president for enrollment management.

The students can search for roommates by major, clubs, hometowns and more. The admissions department is "in the background to make sure if questions do arise, someone answers it," Eads said, but students "have their own discussions without being led by us."

Sandra Johnson, Hofstra's vice president for student affairs, said it's important to engage with students early on.

"They're transitioning from high school to college and from living at home to living on campus," she said. "All of the research tells us that students who are connected or engaged are much more successful in achieving their academic and personal goals."

Hofstra holds an ice cream social during Admitted Student Days, where incoming freshmen talk informally in a game room equipped with video games and ping-pong and pool tables.

Afterward, some students make roommate requests, Eads said. "They are so excited that they were able to choose each other," she said.

Adelphi plans to expand its roommate-matching options beyond the speed-dating scenario. Next spring, the Office of Residential Life and Housing wants all students to be able to search for a matching roommate online by creating profiles similar to Facebook, Seneque said.

Potential features include listing housing preferences, favorite music genres and posting photos. The application will only be available for Adelphi students who have access to the e-campus portal.

But the college experience also is about breaking out of comfort zones, said Justina Geremia, resident hall director at Farmingdale State College.

"We don't want to put two people from the same town together," she said of Farmingdale's policy of matching roommates who fill out questionnaires. "We want people to meet new people and expose them to different types of people that they may not have come in contact with normally."

While first-year resident students will arrive two days earlier on campus than returning students -- a new policy at Farmingdale this year to "ease that transition" -- Geremia said she wasn't sold on students making roommate picks based on social media.

"Sometimes with social media, people stereotype and judge people before they even meet them," she said.

Meeting in advance was key for Sancho and Rodriguez, who also communicate on Facebook. Following the Adelphi social, the pair chatted about everything from their policies for having friends visit to their favorite icons -- Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.

"The more we talked about the similarities we had, we were like, 'Oh, my God, this is meant to be,' " said Rodriguez, 18, of Brooklyn. "Right off the bat, we were a match in roommate heaven."

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