New housing selection process incentivizes group selection

Students gather to hear about the new housing selection changes at a recent information session hosted by the Housing office. (Edward Kyle)
Students gather to hear about the new housing selection changes at a recent information session hosted by the Housing office. (Edward Kyle)

The Office of Housing and Residence Life is implementing a new housing selection process this semester which incentivizes group selection, ends room retention and partially changes how seniority operates in the process.

The changes, which Housing began promoting upon students’ return to campus, hasten the need for students to think about housing for the following school year. The housing selection process will begin when applications become available to students Feb. 13-17 on the Office of Housing and Residence Life website. Last year, the entire process began in early March.

According to Jennifer Frank, assistant director of housing services, changes to the selection process were made to achieve three goals: to ensure that students earlier in their Mason careers will not be placed on a waitlist, to increase the variety of room choices available to all students, and to prioritize the ability for friends to live with one another.

“At the end of each selection process we evaluate and see how we can tweak the system and improve it,” said Brian Davis, associate director of housing services.

Davis said some of the changes are the result of internal research which suggests roommate and not building preferences are more vital to student satisfaction.

“Satisfaction with living experiences has a lot more to do with who you live with and not where,” said Frank.

Frank said that after reviewing surveys filled out by students who have been through the housing process, it became clear that students who selected roommates were having better living experiences.

This year, students are encouraged to apply for housing in groups of four, six, three, or two (in order of available space for accommodation). Group housing selection will occur several weeks before a separate individual selection period.  

Allowing priority for groups will increase the chances of friends living together and limit the number of random roommates and suite mates, according to the Office of Housing and Residence Life website.

Students who choose to participate in the earlier group selection process must form a group with the same number of students and bed spaces in the suite they are wishing to select. In other words, the group must fill the suite in order to select it.

Time slots for group selection will be determined by average seniority or the average credits earned at Mason among all members of the group.

Everyone participating in the process will need to fill out the housing application, but only one member of the group (designated by all members as the “group leader” on the application) will participate in the actual selection. Frank said she is hopeful this process, combined with new room locater software, will solve overcrowded server issues which have disrupted the selection process in previous years.

According to Frank, the room locater software will be on the housing website in late February and will update live during selection. This enables students to see which rooms are available before they select, a change from previous years. Frank said this should limit the amount of time students are logged in to the selection system since they will no longer need to waste time searching for available rooms.

Frank said she strongly encourages all students to form groups and participate in group selection, even individuals looking to select a single room.

“Someone thinking of picking a single room should not enter as an individual,” said Frank.

Because group selection occurs before individual selection and most single rooms are located in suites, it is likely most of those suites will be occupied by groups of students prior to individual selection.

In order to help students who are looking for roommates or suitemates to form a group with, the housing office formed the Facebook group, “Mason Housing Roommate/Suitemate Finder.”

Any students who hoped to retain their room for next year will no longer have that option. Allowed previously, room retention is no longer a part of the selection process.

“We found retention benefitted a small number of students at the expense of the majority,” said Frank.

Ending room retention will make more living spaces available for more students year to year, according to Frank. Another issue with room retention was that many students would retain a single room in a suite and because they lived there previously, felt a sense of ownership over the space. This created suitemate conflicts when new students moved in, said Frank.

The order in which students are placed on the guaranteed waitlist is also new this year.

This year, if there is a surplus of housing applications compared to the number of available living spaces, then the equivalent number of rising seniors with the most credits earned at Mason will be automatically moved to the guaranteed waitlist. Students on the guaranteed waitlist are guaranteed housing on-campus, but they are the last group in the selection process to be accommodated.

According to Frank, rising seniors are more likely to choose to live off-campus after participating in housing selection and are also better equipped to handle the ambiguity of waiting to be placed on-campus.

Protecting rising sophomores from being put on the waitlist will help the university retain more students and smoothen the transition for sophomores, who have the highest rate of leaving the university, said Frank.

Still, some students feel placing the highest credit-earning, rising seniors on the automatic waitlist, which limits their choice of room options, isn’t fair treatment.

“Is it just me or does it sound like we are punishing people who have more credits?” asked junior Randall Parrish at a recent information session for upperclass students. (The housing office is hosting several information sessions to educate student on the changes to the selection process. A full list is available on the housing website.)

Parrish said he has been taking 18 credit semesters assuming that the extra workload would benefit him in the selection process.

During the session, Frank mentioned that those seniors would only be moved to the guaranteed waitlist if there is a surplus of applications and that otherwise, seniority would take precedence throughout the process. In other words, if there are equal or fewer applications than available space, seniority will operate normally. In addition, a surplus will only affect seniority’s weight in the selection process for a select group of high-credit students.

Also in attendance at the information session, sophomore Colleen Ball said she favors the new process.

“I like it [the selection process] better,” said Ball. “I think it will be easier and less stressful.”

Ball said she plans to apply as a group of four students and attempt to select housing in one of the townhouses.

Parrish and Ball were two of roughly thirty students who attended an upperclassmen information session on Thursday afternoon.

Overall, Frank said the turnout for the information sessions has been good, but they are still hoping more students, especially upperclassmen, will come to the sessions and educate themselves about the process before starting the application.

“We’d like to have as many upperclassmen at these things as we can,” said Frank.

 

To help you hone in on the new selection process, here’s a quick look at the major changes.

 

  • Group selection: Students are encouraged to select as groups. Groups choose housing first, before the separate selection for individual applicants.
  • Average seniority: For group selection, time slots will be determined by the average credits earned at Mason among all members of that group.
  • No room retention: Students will not be allowed to retain a room this year.
  • The guaranteed waitlist: The waitlist of students, who are still guaranteed on-campus housing but have fewer options, will be comprised of mostly rising seniors with likely some rising juniors as well.
  • New room locator: New room locator software will go up on the Housing website in early February. This software will live update as rooms are selected so students will know what rooms are available before their selection time.

 

Also to help you plan ahead, here’s a timeline of key dates in the selection process (also available on the Housing website):

 

Feb. 13-17: application is available to students.

Feb. 27: selection order for groups of four emailed to participating students.

Feb. 29-March 2: group selection for groups of four.

March 2-5: deposit window for students who selected a space during groups of four

March 16: selection order for groups of six, three, and two emailed to participating students

March 20-22: group selection for groups of six, three and two

March 23-26: deposit window for students who selected as a group of six, three, or two

March 29: selection order for individuals emailed to participating students

April 3-5: individual selection

April 6-9: deposit window for students who participated in individual selection

April 10-16: application and deposit window for guaranteed waitlist

 

Correction, 4:37 p.m. 1/31/2012: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly  identified Brian Davis as an assistant director of housing services. Brian Davis is associate director of housing services. Additionally, the article also reported that online room locater software would be added to the housing website in early February but it will appear in late February.

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