Transitioning From In-Person to Online Room Selection at Barnard College

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For as long as anyone can remember, Barnard College conducted an in-person lottery and room selection process. This staff-intensive, in-person process required students to show up at the designated lottery location and remain until they were able to select a room. With the implementation of StarRez, Barnard moved the tradition online.

Matt Kingston, Associate Director for Housing Operations, prepared students for the new process with several resources. All of the planning, however, could not prevent a blizzard from cancelling classes and closing campus on the first day of their lottery room selection process. Due to their preparation and the new online process, room selection continued as planned. Kingston said,

“Since we had already planned to conduct our room selection lottery in StarRez we didn’t have to cancel any room selection timeslots. No one called or emailed me with questions all day long! Having provided students in advance with screenshots of the whole process helped them navigate the Lottery without any problems.”

A few weeks before room selection takes place, Barnard requests that all eligible students complete a registration form in StarRez. Even if a student is moving off-campus or taking a leave of absence, Barnard wants students to declare their intentions. Kingston explains, “Our Registration Form at the beginning is for students to confirm if they want to take part in the Lottery or not (or confirm a Pre-Lottery RA or disability placement, etc.) and then sign a Housing Contract. That way we don’t have to chase students down to sign Contracts after selecting as a group as only one person picks for the whole group.”

Students returning to campus housing can form groups of 1-6 students. Groups of four select first from available 4-person suites. Groups of four who don’t find a space can then regroup with friends for the next round. Next comes 5-person suites and then 6-person suites. When selecting suites, the group must fill the entire suite. “There are fewer 4- and 5- person suites than 6-person suites,” Kingston said. “Going in this order allows students to add members if they aren’t able to pick a suite rather than having to vote out members to go down in size.”

The lottery room selection ends with groups of 1-3 students selecting from the remaining corridor and suite-style rooms. During this stage, students only need to fill a room with their roommate group. Any student who doesn’t select provide ranked preferences to assigned over the summer.

Priority for room selection is determined by seniority. Each class is assigned an averaged point value with seniors receiving priority. The highest averaged point values select first, which places a group of all seniors at the top of the selection process. For groups with the same priority, timeslots are randomly generated. Point values then correspond to a timeslot. Groups can select a room any time after a timeslot opens, but another group’s timeslot opens a few minutes later. Students are directed that a group’s best availability is when their timeslot opens.

All groups are formed and selections are made online, but if students truly want an in-person experience they can go to the housing office. One student, however, explained this is “where you can be walked through the process the way you would walk your grandmother through checking her email.”

In a digital age, online room selection provides Barnard students the tools today’s generation expects. Room selection can be done from anywhere in the world on any device. Before online room selection went online, students who were abroad had to designate a Proxy and hope that person selected a good room for them. Now, however, students participate from anywhere.

Resources Available to Students

Prior to groups even forming, Barnard publishes several resources online and communicates with students via email to aid in preparing for room selection. The Barnard website provides a thorough overview for the entire lottery room selection process as well as details on each residence hall. These specifics include building details, pictures, 360 degree photos, slideshows, and floorplans. The student newspaper, Bwog, even publishes Housing Reviews to help students decide their housing preferences. By the time room selection arrives, students are very prepared.

In StarRez, students register for lottery room selection, see updates about the process, form roommate groups, and make a room selection. Instructional videos are also embedded in the portal to provide a quick reference.“We send email reminders throughout the Lottery based on dynamic list reports of who has formed groups of various sizes or not yet picked a room, etc. We also put as much dynamic info in the StarRez Student Portal as possible (ex. Lottery Numbers & Time Slots), to reduce the amount & complexity of emails we need to send.”

Room Selection During COVID-19 Pandemic

Two years after the inaugural online lottery room selection during a blizzard, Barnard again found the StarRez room selection tool still allowed their lottery self-selection to take place with students dispersed around the world. Kingston said,

“Over 90% of our students have left campus for the remainder of the semester due to COVID-19 and they’re all able to select for themselves because the process is completely online.”

Learn More

Barnard Room Selection 2020