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Social Networking: Scouting Out the Potential Roommate

By: Emily Lammers
College of Liberal Arts, Class of 2013

As the first year of college quickly approaches, the idea of sharing a tiny space with a stranger in a huge residence hall is usually at the forefront of new students’ minds, raising nervousness, anxiety, and curiosity about who their roommate will be. Using Facebook seems like a quick and easy way to assess how much or little two people will get along, but it is important to remember not to jump to conclusions.

Most young adults—and a growing percentage of parents—have a Facebook account and visit it at least once a day. Facebook, Twitter, and other social network sites are great tools that allow people to stay connected with family and friends; however, social networking does have its downfalls. One of the main ones is that you can “creep” on people you haven’t even met. You can look at their profile pictures, wall posts, interests, and activities all without them being aware. Though this isn’t a violation of privacy, using Facebook or other networks to look at someone’s profile without actually knowing them can cause you to make flawed judgments.

At the end of my freshman year of college I had planned on living with three other friends in a four-person apartment. However, at the last minute one of my friends decided to study abroad and wouldn’t be sharing our apartment. We needed a fourth person to live with, so we used an online “roommate finder.” When we found someone, we decided to check her out by looking at her Facebook page. I was horrified by what I saw. She had more than 1,500 friends, was tagged in over 2,000 photos, and seemed to have a strange obsession with Harry Potter. My immediate reaction was, “She’s a narcissistic, under-achieving, Harry Potter freak who never studies”. My friends and I didn’t have many other options, though, so we contacted her and asked if she would like to live with us, despite my judgmental fears.

The next fall the “random roommate” turned out to be one of the most genuine, hardest working, and fun people I’ve ever met. I regret judging her based on her Facebook page because it almost caused me to reject living with her, and I can’t imagine not getting the chance to know her the way I did.

Below are tips to suggest to your student about becoming acquainted with their future roommate(s) (before they resort to social networking):

  1. Make Contact
    Inform your student that a proper introduction sets the tone of the relationship, so once the roommate’s name and contact information arrives, encourage sending an email of introduction. If your student is brave, he or she can pick up the phone and call.
  2. Meet and Greet
    If it’s possible, encourage your student and the soon-to-be roommate to meet up before school starts. This gives them the chance to make a casual, but high-quality first impression. It also makes things a lot less awkward on move-in day, when both roommates will likely be towing parents around and breaking a sweat emptying their stuff into their new room. Plus, knowing the roommate a little beforehand means one more familiar face come fall. If distance doesn’t allow your student and their roomie to meet up, there’s always video chat, but remember to stress that looks can be deceiving, and it’s important to avoid making snap decisions the first time they meet.
  3. Keep It Real
    Tell your student to embark on roommate relationships with a positive attitude. It is not a good way to start a year of living together by deciding the roommate is a jerk from day one. The stress of the first week of college can cause people to act a little differently, so giving each other a chance to calm down and settle in before making any judgments is crucial.
  4. Don’t Get Discouraged
    Students should keep in mind that this is only the beginning of a four-year college career, and students have plenty of time to form new friendships. Roommates can turn out to be best friends or just acquaintances, but students should not let roommate relationships be the full measure of what college is going to be like.
  5. Keep an Open Mind
    If your student believes it is absolutely essential to get a sneak peek before calling or meeting the roommate in person, encourage an open mind. Facebook or Twitter pages describing a person’s likes, dislikes, and activities could date back several years, and the student just never bothered to update them. The same goes for pictures, interests, groups, and other information. Photos of a trip to Europe or a balloon ride might be a unique occurrence and not a common event, so students should not make global assumptions based on what might have been a one-time experience. Also remember that information on a person’s wall is usually meant for the benefit of a specific group of friends who can put the information into the context of the individual’s entire life, not the new “friend” who sees only what is on the wall that day.

Though at times it seems social networking is an easy solution for students—and for their parents—to check out a potential roommate, don’t make the mistake of using these sites as your sole source of information. It may be intimidating for students to call or email someone they don’t yet know, but it is necessary to learn about each other so they can form a good relationship prior to arriving at college. As a parent it can be worrisome to see that your child’s future roommate has bright green hair, but just remember to consider what your own child’s Facebook page looks like. Can you imagine what judgments another parent might make about your student? If you keep an open and positive attitude about your student’s future roommate, it will make the transition to college much easier and less stressful for the whole family.

Living in Online Communities

While there are many benefits to social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others, some users have experienced unintended consequences because of what they have chosen to post online. Students are encouraged to consider carefully what they post. Some students have mentioned that they always ask themselves, before posting an item, “What would Grandma think if she saw this?”

All social network sites have options for privacy settings. Please talk to your student about protecting their information.

The Office for Student Affairs has developed a webpage about Online Communities.