With the majority of incoming college freshmen on Facebook, students no longer meet their new roommates on move-in day. Instead, many of them have had several weeks or months of online interaction.
Having a better sense of familiarity has created warmer waters to break the ice for new students and translated into a faster sense of community on campus.
"The majority of our students meet their assigned roommates on Facebook after being notified by our housing office," said Jamey Handorf, assistant director of residence life at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. "They seem to form bonds as roommates and on a larger scale as an entire class through Facebook before they get here. We've noticed that the difficult 'getting to know everyone' stage during the first month has been less stressful for many students because they have already met and formed a virtual community on Facebook."
While most schools have questionnaires to help guide them in choosing compatible roommates, no system is foolproof. Matching similar personalities can be one of the most challenging tasks residence life staff face. Facebook has proven to be a helpful tool in keeping roommates together.
Some schools, such as Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, have received specific requests of roommate pairings from students who met over Facebook and chose each other. Director of Residence Life Tracy Benner believes "roommates who select each other have a vested interest to stay together," instead of simply seeing the relationship as something forced upon them.
The social media site provides another medium for students to communicate with each other and the residence life staff and it's in a form that is convenient for students to use.
"Facebook gives students a forum to ask questions and get answers quickly and I think many students are more likely to ask questions on Facebook than they are to pick up a phone and call our office," said Benner. "It's great for advertising events, posting photos of activities and sharing lots of information in a format students are used to."
But the new form of communication is not without its faults. While Facebook can provide a sense of familiarity, it is also building a new relationship on top of an online foundation instead of face-to-face interaction.
"Because Facebook interactions are often superficial, roommates are sometimes surprised when they actually live with someone who seemed so compatible or 'cool' on Facebook, but who in reality turns out to be a 'bad' roommate," said Eric Lassahn, director of residence life at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa.
The false premises Facebook might create can cause unexpected disappointment but they can also form difficult obstacles to overcome as the relationship first begins.
"Sometimes students learn something on Facebook that they decide they don't like about a future roommate without even talking to them about it. They no longer want to take the chance to learn about their roommate in person," said A.J. Nudo, assistant director of residence life at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa. "We try to get roommates to get through at least the first semester. They often find that once they see each other and spend some time together, the issues they had based on the other's Facebook page have gone away."
Seeing the same problem, John Jobson, Assistant Dean of student and director of residential life and housing at Hope College in Holland, Mich., frequently encourages using other methods of communication outside of Facebook to build a relationship.
"Face to face, FaceTime, Skype, and having a phone conversation all allow for richer communication in that people are able to utilize other cues such as facial expression and tone of voice," said Jobson. "These richer forms of communication may allow for a deeper relationship to develop."