Future freshmen at Hocking College in Ohio take the Myers-Briggs personality test, with the results getting sent to the Office of Residential Life for better roommate matching. “[We] make every effort to match you with another student who has some of the same interests and personality attributes as you,” the college reassures incoming students.

But is it really so important to live with someone similar to you?  In this weekend’s New York Times, Dalton Conley mourns the era of the random roommate:  “When we lose randomness,” he notes, “we also lose serendipity.”  Today’s students aren’t just taking long personality tests to ensure compatibility; they’re often scoping one another out on Facebook as soon as they get their acceptance letters, and finding a like-minded stranger to request as a bunkmate.

While it makes sense to keep the messy students and the smokers together, something is lost by such precise sorting.  Conley cites a 2002 Cornell study that found that white students who were assigned a roommate from a different race were more open-minded about race by the end of the year. That’s just one example of the peer-to-peer learning that takes place over the course of a semester, where students figure out how to get along with someone perhaps very different from themselves.  “And if you end up with the roommate from hell? You’ll survive, and someday have great stories to tell your future spouse, with whom you’ll probably get along better,” rhapsodizes Conley. Easy enough for him to say; for all his love of randomness, he’s not volunteering to spend a year sharing a 10-foot-by-10-foot space with a stranger, you’ll note.

What was your college roommate like?