Last semester, Swarthmore introduced a new online housing portal to simplify the Spring housing lottery, during which students choose housing for the upcoming academic year. The new portal facilitates the processes of blocking, selecting a room through the Spring housing lottery, and selecting meal plans. According to Isaiah Thomas, Swarthmore’s director of residential communities, the primary goal of the new housing portal was to improve student housing selection.
The housing lottery system before Spring 2019 consisted of students gathering and waiting in lines in the Matchbox to select their rooms for the coming academic year. When students’ housing lottery numbers were called, they selected their future rooms. The old system also meant that students abroad or academic leave were unable to participate in the in-person process, which caused challenges for those students.
The old, in-person process left students with high stress levels, a symptom which Thomas said the new housing lottery attempts to solve.
“As I’ve worked at Swarthmore for over five years, I have witnessed how stressful the “in-person” process of Swatties choosing their rooms, and OSE is committed to making housing selection as stress-free as possible, especially given that housing selection takes place near the end of Spring semester.”
Instead of physically choosing their rooms, students are now assigned short windows of time based on their housing lottery numbers, during which they log onto the portal and choose their rooms. Students can sign up for rooms from the comfort of their own dorms, and students on leave and abroad are also able to participate without issue.
Thomas said that the new housing portal, although it has overhauled most of the old housing process, maintains certain core aspects of the former housing system.
“Despite these changes, it was important to the Housing Advisory Committee and me that transitioning to the new housing portal would not result in significant changes to our philosophy of assigning student housing. One example of this is that our philosophy around how lottery numbers are derived and assigned to students have not changed.”
Students have had both positive and negative experiences with the new housing portal. Thomas said that students generally appreciate the ease of the new portal.
“The most significant piece of positive feedback I’ve heard from many students is that they appreciate the overall convenience of selecting their room online. The ability to receive a specific day and time to select their room or block eliminates the need for students to wait, potentially for hours, to select their room.”
He also said that the new portal adds convenience through the multiple functions it serves for students.
“In addition to housing selection, students use the housing portal to indicate if they wish to live off-campus, Summer Housing registration, and Secure Storage registration. All new students also use the housing portal to complete their Roommate Questionnaire.”
Zach Lytle ’21 found the housing portal to be nothing out of the ordinary.
“I mean, overall, it’s like what you expect from an online portal, there’s some buttons, there are some tabs, there’s a log in … ”
On the other hand, Lytle also found the process overly sluggish and preferred the prior system of choosing rooms and blocks in terms of efficiency. Prior to the new housing portal, students selected blocks all at once, as opposed to selecting blocks of different sizes over a period of several days.
“If we’re going to be frank here, I thought the process was way too drawn out … And it feels like, like, their old system of blocking was more efficient. You just submitted all the blocks you wanted in order of preference. Biggest to smallest. Then, they released all the blocks at once.”
Lytle also experienced difficulty with regards to the narrow time slots that the housing portal provides to choose rooms through the housing lottery.
“I had like a 10:30 time slot on the second day that of the lottery, so a pretty crappy time … so I ended up missing my time slot. By the time I logged on, it was like 11:40 and all that was left was [Mary Lyon] singles … And so I just didn’t sign up for a room because, like, you can’t get worse than ML basement … I just didn’t sign up for housing.”
Lytle later signed up for a housing waitlist and received a single in Parrish.
In terms of difficulties that the Office of Student Engagement has faced while adopting the new portal, Thomas stated that the main challenges have been technology itself and student schedules conflicting with housing lottery times.
“I had a few students who were participating in off-campus study reach out to me in advance of their selection time to inform me that they were having connection difficulties. We also had a few Spring athletes who had athletic commitments at the time to select their room,” Thomas wrote.
The Housing Advisory Committee plans to review student feedback about the new housing portal over the course of the Fall semester to determine housing portal changes that would benefit all students, such as parking permit applications.
In terms of feedback for the housing portal, Lytle suggested a tool to compare rooms by qualitative and quantitative metrics so that students can thoroughly compare living spaces before committing to one room or another.
“I think it would be really cool if they put the square footage … And I also think there should be a tool so you can sort and compare by different metrics. So you can be like, I want a two room window or one room window, I want the room over twenty square feet or under five square feet, you know, just roll up in a closet or something. And other metrics, like, I want AC or no AC …”
Thomas added that the Housing Advisory Committee is also actively accepting feedback, and plans to welcome new members in the near future to determine the fate of housing processes at Swarthmore.
“If students have any suggestions or concerns, I encourage them to reach out to me directly, or to consider that they join the Housing Advisory Committee for this year. I rely on the Housing Advisory Committee to be an important voice in how housing impacts student life. SGO will be sending information to the campus community in the coming weeks about becoming a committee member.”