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Housing lottery sees changes over time

Advancements include housing based on class year, weighted lottery assignments, online portal

The housing lottery, a long-standing University tradition, has historically given students autonomy by allowing them to “choose the exact room in which they will live for the next academic year and (be) responsible for deciding exactly who they will include in their Housing Lottery group,” according to the Office of Residential Life’s website. Since its inception, the housing lottery has undergone many changes and is a popular choice among students, with 2,000 to 2,200 students opting to participate each year, said Paul Villemaire, assistant director of ResLife.

In fall 2013, ResLife changed the lottery system by designating certain buildings for rising sophomores. Previously, sophomores, juniors and seniors could select any room on campus.

One of the biggest complaints that ResLife “heard from students (was) that we prop you up in these first-year communities and then in the housing lottery, you’re the last ones to pick and are scattered everywhere,” said Richard Hilton, associate director of ResLife. “By creating intentional sophomore-year housing, it allows students to cluster and live together.”

A recent change that was rolled out two years ago adjusted the weighted number assignments given to students participating in the lottery. The number assignments, which determine selection order, were previously given to each student in a housing group, and ResLife then averaged the numbers for each group. Now, each group participating in the lottery receives one equally weighted number, Hilton said. This change was a key suggestion offered by the Residential Council, a student-led advisory board for ResLife, he added. 

The biggest change to the lottery system occurred in 2013 when it went from an in-person selection process to completely online, Hilton said. To select their housing for the next school year, students would gather in Sayles Hall to pick rooms for their housing groups. For instance, in group of eight, “one person can go up to the podium, and you have 30 seconds to pick the rooms.”

With the present-day system, students can discuss and deliberate over their rooming options, Hilton added. “We did that … to make sure that students could choose their housing for the following year in a more relaxed setting,” he said.

Looking ahead, ResLife is working to improve the housing lottery’s website to streamline “the functionality and the appearance of (the) system,” he said, adding that ResLife is open to considering recommendations from Residential Council and others to improve the process.

Despite the housing lottery’s status as a rite of passage for most Brown students, misconceptions around navigating the process still exist. One such misconception results in individuals choosing not to enter the lottery alone, Villemaire said. “Groups can range in size from one to 10. … Sometimes, individuals will not think that they need to create a group. But everyone who is going to participate in the lottery, regardless of their group size, needs to be part of a group,” he said.

Additionally, the number of students in a housing group does not affect the order of selection, Hilton said. “A group of 10 gets a number just like a group of one. In the junior and senior lotteries, the group size also doesn’t really matter because all the seniors get weighted heavier than the juniors,” he said.

Even-numbered groups can have an advantage in the housing lottery, particularly toward the end of the process, when there tend to be more available two-person and four-person living arrangements than singles and triples, Hilton said.

“If you end up towards the end of the housing lottery, the configuration of groups doesn’t always work out with the configuration of the rooms that are left. But there is a bed for every single … rising sophomore who enters the lottery,” he added.


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