The Art of the Housing Lottery

As a freshman at Harvard, stress about housing is largely concentrated in the few hours leading up to announcements on Housing Day. After having picked a blocking group, students wait anxiously to hear of their assignments and are usually so excited by their placement that any worry about rooming groups, square footage, or window placement for their future dorm falls away. Freshmen get the heavy lifting done for them: they receive a simple email in August with their room number and move into their new House a few weeks later.

I’ve found that things are not so simple for sophomores. To be honest, I wasn’t aware that the process was any different for rising upperclassmen; I figured that groups were somehow judiciously divided amongst the rooms and we would magically receive our assignments before heading off for the summer. This, as it turns out, is not the case. Instead, rising juniors and seniors must engage in the complicated, dramatic, and tense process known as the housing lottery.

The housing lottery is, as the name suggests, a drawing where each group is assigned a number and allowed the chance to handpick their room in the House. Rising seniors get the opportunity to choose first, and within each class groups are divided both by number of individuals in their group and the average lottery number assigned to its members. That is, seniors rooming in a group of 7 get first choice of housing, followed by senior groups of 6, and so on, all the way through junior groups of 2 individuals. For a lowly rising junior with only 3 girls in a rooming group, this means that I’m due up for one of the last picks in the entire lottery.

Dunster Floor Plan

How, then, does one prepare for this highly anticipated lottery? For the three of us, preparation involved hours of poring over House floor plans, comparing size, window placement, proximity to the stairwell, and views. In Dunster, views can range from the back wall of neighboring Mather House to a perfect view of the Charles River. You can be on the first floor facing the street or on the sixth stuck under slanted ceilings. Being placed in the same entryway as the dining hall becomes key during the cold winter months; having to walk around the outside of the building to get to dinner is less ideal. Needless to say, there are an enormous number of factors to consider.

A word those outside of the Harvard bubble may be unfamiliar with? “Walkthrough”. In many of the River Houses, bedrooms within a larger suite connect to each other through only a single door, which means roommates might have to walk through each other’s rooms in order to get to the bathroom. Admittedly, it’s a downside (and something that our classmates living in the Quad Houses frequently remind us of – “Quadlings” typically have great rooms), but it’s a reality of living in one of these old dorms.

When it came to the actual afternoon of the housing lottery, my poor roommate was forced to tough the selection out herself (I had class and our third roommate is still in Europe!). I was getting minute-by-minute text updates of which rooms had been selected, which ultimately made me just as stressed about it as she was. At the end of it, we wound up with one of our solid choices. Admittedly, most of the star triples had been snatched by the seniors the day before, but given our lottery number we would up with a great room: lots of windows, view of the Charles, and a big common room!



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