The Housing Lottery

Learn more about the housing lottery process and find out how you can make it not quite so random.

One of the upsides to living in a dorm is certainty.

You can be sure that the food, neighbors, amenities and security, whether great or awful, will remain consistent.

The housing lottery will sneak up quickly, so make sure you have an idea of who you want to live with and where.

Unfortunately, the biggest uncertainty in residential life is also many students’ number one concern: the housing lottery.

Now in use at many schools, the housing lottery is a fair, unbiased method to determine next year’s dorm assignments. Of course, you don’t want a computer haphazardly choosing your room for next year. Fortunately, housing lotteries are not completely random, and you can take steps to improve your chances of getting some prime real estate.

Which Colleges Use Housing Lotteries?

Housing lotteries are most common at smaller colleges where most students live on campus. However, they can be found in many large universities as well. The University of Maryland has one for example, despite an undergraduate enrollment of more than 26,000.

Basically, you’ll find lotteries wherever there’s a high demand for on-campus housing. This is the case at most schools, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the process.

How Does It Work?

Because incoming freshmen are often housed in specific dorms, housing lotteries are intended for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors. They’re also only for students who want to live in university housing. If you plan to live off-campus, you don’t need to worry about it.

Lotteries take place during winter or spring term. If you’ve paid a housing deposit and have good standing, you’ll be assigned a lottery number.

Many schools, such as Wofford College in South Carolina, now carry out the lottery process online. At Wofford, students are randomly assigned lottery numbers in mid-March, based on class standing and credit hours. You can then go online to specify roommate, building and floor preferences, and in April, you’ll get your housing assignment.

This process can vary slightly from school to school. For example, students at Virginia Commonwealth University make their own room selections, based on appointment. At Mount Holyoke College, students pick their own lottery number online.

If you missed out on the housing lottery, don’t worry: most colleges offer a second chance. In addition to a spring lottery, Brown University also has a paper-based Summer Assignment Process.

Housing Lottery: Tips and Tactics

  • Don’t slack off during your freshman year. It may seem tempting to ease into college with 12 credits per semester, but total credit hours are a major factor in your lottery number assignment.
  • Make sure your debts are paid. You won’t get assigned a number if you’re not in good financial standing with your school.
  • Make plans. The housing lottery will sneak up quickly, so make sure you have an idea of who you want to live with and where.
  • Ask upperclassmen for advice. Find out which halls are most sought after, and which halls might be overlooked or underrated. Even if you don’t have a lot of credits, you still might be able to get prime housing.
  • Know your stuff. Lottery systems vary, so make sure you read up on your college’s process. Info is usually located on a school’s website under residential life.
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