Trouble Finding a Home at MIT

Complicated Lotteries Make Housing Selection Difficult

As my first year at MIT draws to a close, I’ve noticed how a great number of procedures and requirements at the Institute are far more complicated than they need be. During CPW, a prefrosh had asked me about the housing lottery. Since this conversation was taking place within the realms of a frat party, I advised him to just read all the pamphlets that would be sent in the mail over the summer. The wide-eyed prefrosh was persistent: “Can you just explain it?” Sighing, I pulled him over and explained that if I were to cover the housing lottery in its entirety, it would’ve ruined the party mood. He dutifully took my words and went off to attack another student about triple majoring.

The housing lottery is a formidable and cumbersome process, even the second time around. I recently entered the housing switch lottery for a dorm-to-dorm transfer next school year. I probably should have read the fine print more closely — apparently, the system is binding during the April and December Lottery but nonbinding for mid-semester assignments.

The housing lottery for upperclassmen (and rising upperclassmen) is quite similar to the one the incoming freshmen face. A student ranks their preference for the other dorms they would like to move into, and they cannot include the dorm where they are currently living. What I have discovered after talking to many other participants of the lottery is that putting down a single preference does not guarantee that one will move out of their dorm. In fact, if one really wants to move out, this may hurt their chances.

The key to the housing switch lottery is the date of application. The popularity of one’s dorm and the number of people who wish to move in is important, but the date of application is a factor that one can control. In my personal case, I submitted the switch form in late December. This was, of course, before I found out that the April Lottery is binding. Even after the official deadline for the housing forms, one may update their preference in choice of housing and the most recent housing updates override the previous requests. However, one cannot withdraw from the lottery once they enter and if they are reassigned, even if the dorm is low on the individual’s preference, the student must accept the assignment and move.

This facet of the system caused much consternation among many people who were assigned to dorms that were ranked below their first choice. Having thought that they had an advantage because they were upperclassmen, sometimes they did not consider that any of their preferences of dorms had the possibility to be their next home.

In my case, the housing switch lottery was even more complicated. I had several options to choose from in terms of housing arrangements but many of these depended on other peoples’ standings in the lottery. For instance, I would have been perfectly happy staying in my current dorm with my freshman roommate. However, her decision to room with me was dependent on whether or not one of her friends would be able to transfer into our dorm. Unfortunately, no one knew their placement on the waitlists until the lottery opened. Even then, no one was guaranteed to keep their place in the waitlist due to preference updates. The lack of concreteness and sometimes somewhat random reassignments throughout the process irked me.

This is not to say that the Undergraduate Housing staff is totally at fault. Despite my frantic updates, constant switches and persistent questions, they always responded promptly. However, the system should either be altered so it is not binding or students should be warned more overtly that the lottery is binding and of the tentative nature of one’s place on the waitlist.

For those not quite sure about their housing arrangements, my advice is to give housing transfers more thought. Once a student enters the April or December lottery, it is as if he has given up his place in their current dorm. Are you ready to leave your dorm? For what specific reasons are you seeking to transfer? Are you trying to move to a dorm with all of your friends? Keep in mind that it is difficult for a horde of people to all move to the same dorm. Have you actually been in the dorms you’ll rank and seen them for what they really are? These are questions well worth asking yourself.

Don’t be hasty with your decisions. Like the advice offered in the freshman housing lottery pamphlets, housing often plays a significant role in one’s enjoyment of their time at MIT. On the other hand, one can always enter mid-semester assignments if they are truly unhappy with their reassignments. Personally, I am quite happy with my reassignment but, had I known more about the system and considered all my options, I would have had a much less stressful experience.