In April, spring has finally arrived at Northwestern, and student spirits are on the rise for rising sophomores — but so is the stress surrounding the housing selection process.
How does the housing process work?
In March, freshmen were asked to complete a student housing contract in which they ranked their top five houses, just like they did prior to arriving at Northwestern. Then, at a signup time designated by a randomly assigned priority number, students chose their desired second-year residence, as long as it was not already full. The entire process lasted from Apr. 16 to Apr. 25, with opportunities for selecting each of the residences differing by day.
What sets this process apart from first-year housing selection is that now, rising sophomores have had a whole year to form their own opinions and gain a better sense of where they do and don’t want to live.
“I think the freshman housing process was a lot less frustrating because I felt like I was on an even playing field with everyone else,” said Medill first-year Cadence Quaranta. “Now I do know the reputation of every house, and it’s more worrying to see that these houses are getting deleted off the list as they get filled up.”
The priority number method for housing selection not only affects when students are able to choose their residences, but also who they choose to live with. As the system functions now, in a given group of students who want to live together, the student with the lowest priority number will be able to reserve a space for the entirety of their group at their number’s designated time.
This means that students who have lower priority numbers could potentially secure the most sought-after residences — making these students very in-demand. This was made abundantly clear in the Northwestern Class of 2022 Facebook group, where posts searching for roommates or suite-mates with low priority numbers showed that some students were willing to choose to room with strangers if it meant having access to a good building.
So what are the options?
While some students can feel a sense of community from living on-campus, other rising sophomores find some buildings to be unappealing. For example, Quaranta said Bobb-McCulloch Hall has the reputation of being “loud and unclean,” while Weinberg first-year Hugo Compton said that Foster-Walker Complex, which is only available to sophomores, has the reputation of being “lonely.”
“Everyone seems to be saying that Plex is really isolating, and also not the most social,” said Compton. “If you’re trying to foster community, you would want a residence hall in a two-year program to be social.”
Since so many students try to avoid certain dorms their second year, many rising sophomores do absolutely everything in their power to get placed in dorms with an extremely good reputation, such as 560 Lincoln or Kemper Hall.
In addition to these buildings, many students are also drawn to residential colleges, which are known for the high degree of community and faculty involvement that is designed to stimulate interesting conversations.
“You have a focused eye on out-of-classroom learning,” said Director of Residential Operations and Services Carlos Gonzalez. “They’re bringing in topics of discussion that one might be interested in that’s not in their major.”
What’s the deal with Willard?
These residential colleges, however, require an additional application process. Willard, a very popular non-thematic residential college located on South Campus, requires students who lived elsewhere their freshman year to complete a form from the Office of Residential Academic Initiatives, email the president and vice-president of Willard and fulfill the minimum 40-point requirement. Students can earn points by attending different Willard-sponsored events.
According to current Willard President Weinberg second-year Adam Downing, this system is in place so that Willard’s residents are more connected to the residence.
“It’s unique to have a space everybody wants to be so dedicated to a residence,” said Downing. “Everyone is actively involved in each other’s lives.”
However, Medill first-year Maggie Galloway, who attempted to gain eligibility to live at Willard during her second-year, said she faced many frustrations throughout the process. Her roommate's busy schedule made it difficult for them to find the time to travel from North to South Campus to attend point-earning events.
Despite clearly expressing her interest in the residence, Galloway also said that it took several weeks to be added to an email list that provides information about events, which made it extremely difficult to know when they were going to occur. Galloway and her roommate later decided that they would be unable to complete the necessary requirements to live in Willard next year.
“If you are in a good residential college that has really nice facilities like Willard, you get a very easy chance to live their again,” said Galloway. “But if you don’t, it makes it much harder. That one pretty random decision that gets made the summer before your freshman year decides your housing for the next two years.”
As a North Campus student, Compton also expressed frustration toward the lack of accessibility of attending Willard point-earning events. In fact, Compton said, he was not even aware of the Willard point system in place until housing contracts were released in March.
“I don’t really know how I can see myself going to Willard events in anticipation of wanting to live in Willard in following years,” said Compton. “It’s hard to expect students who aren’t even sure what they want to come to events like that.”
Compton ended up deciding to join a fraternity as part of the organization’s spring rush process, and will live in their on-campus house next year. This is a decision that he partially credited to the way in which it eased his housing process and offered him a guaranteed sense of community.
Although Compton said he was happy with where he will be living next year, as the housing selection process comes to an end, students like Quaranta still face stress and uncertainty. Quaranta said that in the future, she hopes to see improvements that will make the process less chaotic.
“This housing process has caused me a lot of stress over the past few months,” Quaranta said. “Especially today, when I don’t know where I’m living with only one day of housing selection left.”