TIME Saving & Spending

The Huge Mistake Most Parents Are Making Now

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Blend Images - Terry Vine—Getty Images/Brand X

Hey kids, hope you’re saving your pennies. They might not have gotten around to telling you yet, but there’s a good chance your parents expect you to fork over your own money to help pay for college. Even if they don’t, there’s a good chance you might have to dig into your own pockets anyway, because even though more parents are setting aside money for their kids’ college funds today, many are still way behind on their savings goals.

A new study from Fidelity Investment finds that just over a third of parents have asked their kids to set aside money to help pay for school, a jump of nearly 10 percentage points in only two years. Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning for Fidelity Investments, says there’s a serious disconnect between parents’ intentions and actions.

Even though 85% of parents think kids should kick in something towards their educational expenses, fewer than 60% of those with kids already in their teens have bothered to bring it up, and only 34% have actually come out and asked their kids to contribute.

“With the cost of college rising, it’s increasingly unrealistic for parents to cover the full cost of college,” Bernhardt says. “Families are still struggling. They are on track to save just 28% of their college goal.” Even though more families are saving, and the dollar amounts they are socking away are greater, that 28% is actually a drop compared to previous years.

In spite of these grim numbers, parents today are actually more optimistic about their goals. Respondents told Fidelity they expect to cover, on average, 64% of their kids’ college costs, up from 57% two years ago. What’s more, 44% think they’ll meet these goals, up from 36% in 2007, when Fidelity started conducting the survey.

Most of them won’t, which means today’s generation of kids could be equally unprepared when it comes time to paying for college. “It’s critical that families have open conversations and discuss together how they will approach funding their college education,” Bernhardt says.

Bernhardt calls a dedicated savings vehicle like a 529 plan “a great way for parents to keep their college savings separate from other savings goals.” Today, 35% of parents have a dedicated account for college savings, nearly 10 percentage points more than when the survey began in 2007. About half of the parents in Fidelity’s survey who said they have a plan for retirement savings have a 529 set up, versus only about 10 percent of those who don’t have a savings plan.

Having a strategy for accruing college savings makes a big difference. “Parents with a plan are in better shape with their college savings,” Bernhardt says.

These parents say they’ll cover an average of 71% of their kids’ college costs; those without a plan estimate that they’ll only be able to pay for a little more than half. On average, parents who have planned to save are already almost halfway towards their goal, while those without a plan have only scraped up about 10% of what they want to save. Parents with savings plans have an average of $53,900 socked away, versus the average $21,400 families without a savings plan have amassed.

MONEY Kids and Money

What It Costs to Raise a U.S. Open Champion

Serena Williams of the U.S. raises her trophy after defeating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in their women's singles final match at the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York September 8, 2013.
Does your kid want to be the next Serena Williams? Start saving now. Mike Segar—Reuters

Want your kid to win the U.S. Open? Start shelling out $30,000 a year.

Serena Williams won her first U.S. Open at age 17 and her fifth at age 31, just last year. But can she defend her crown against the newest upstarts? It all starts on August 25, when Williams goes head-to-head with rising star Taylor Townsend. And 18-year-old Townsend won’t be the only young talent to watch in Queens: 20-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard is seeded no. 7, and 19-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios will try to build on his surprise upset against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.

If those youthful feats fuel your kid’s dream of tennis stardom, then get ready to open your wallet. In the United States, families of elite tennis players easily spend $30,000 a year so their kids can compete on the national level, says Tim Donovan, founder of Donovan Tennis Strategies, a college recruiting consulting group. That can start as early as age 11 or 12. At the high end, Donovan says, some parents spend $100,000 a year.

On what, you might ask. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Court time. Practice makes perfect, but practice can be expensive, especially if you need to practice indoors in the winter. In Boston, where Donovan is based, court time costs about $45 an hour. In New York City, court time can run over $100 an hour.
  • Training. Figure $4,500 to $5,000 a year for private lessons, plus $7,000 to $8,000 for group lessons—in addition to the aforementioned court fees to practice on your own.
  • Tournaments. National tournament entrance fees run about $150. Plus, you have to travel to get there. Serious players will go to 20 tournaments a year. Donovan estimates that two-thirds of the tournaments might be a few hours away, but elite athletes will need to fly to national events six or seven times a year. Want to bring your coach with you? Add another $300 a day, plus expenses.
  • School. You’ve already racked up $30,000 in bills. But if your kid is really serious, you might also spring for a special tennis academy. Full-time boarding school tuition at Florida’s IMG Academy costs $71,400 a year.

So what’s the return on investment? While most parents don’t expect to see their kids at Wimbledon, many still hope that tennis will open doors when it comes time to apply to college. But the reality is that athletic scholarships are few and far between. In 2011-2012, only 0.8% of undergrads won any kind of athletic scholarship, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com.

Opportunities are particularly limited for boys. Donovan notes that because of Title IX—which requires that schools provide an equal number of scholarships for men and women—a Division I college with a football program might offer eight full tennis scholarships for women, but only half as many for men, because male scholarships need to go to the football players.

Bottom line: If you spend $30,000 a year hoping your tennis star will go to college for free, you’ll probably be disappointed with your ROI.

“Recipients of athletic scholarships graduate with somewhat less debt than other students but not significantly so,” says Kantrowitz. “The main benefit of athletic scholarships is providing access to higher-cost colleges without increasing costs, moreso than reducing the cost of a college education.”

That’s where Donovan comes in: For $3,500 to $10,000, Donovan Tennis Strategies provides different levels of assistance with the college application process. Oftentimes, Donovan’s clients are able to pay full tuition but want additional help leveraging tennis to get their kids into better (and more expensive) schools.

The strategy can pay off. According to Donovan, recruited athletes have a 48% higher chance of admission, sometimes even with SAT scores that are more than 300 points lower than those of non-athletes. “The coach can go in and significantly advocate for somebody and change the outcome,” he says.

So if you’re a parent to a budding tennis star, can you foster his or her talent for less? The IMG Academy does offer scholarships to promising young athletes whose parents can’t pay full freight, and the United States Tennis Association offers some grants and funding. But ultimately, players need to log hours on the court to get good, and that costs money.

“The more you’re playing, the better you’re going to be,” Donovan says. “That’s pretty well documented … and that adds up over time.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 21

1. Perspective matters: To tell the stories of Ferguson, America needs black journalists.

By Sonali Kohli in Quartz

2. After James Foley, America’s policy against paying ransom to kidnappers deserves a public debate.

By David Rohde at Reuters

3. To keep American democracy alive, citizens need to use their voice and their votes.

By Robert Reich in Guernica

4. Climate change will make the coffee of the future bitter and pricey.

By Jessica Leber in FastCo.Exist

5. Business school students have much to learn from the “Market Basket” family-corporate feud.

By Judith Samuelson in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

MONEY College

How To Get Full Credit When You Swap Colleges

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B.O'Kane—Alamy

Transfers typically lose an entire semester's worth of credit and tuition, a new federal study has found. Here are three ways to avoid missing out on that money and time.

The more than one million Americans who transfer from one college to another each year find that about 13 credits on average—or about a semester’s worth of courses—are refused by their new school, a new analysis by the Department of Education has revealed.

Depending on the college, that means you typically spend anywhere from about $1,300 to more than $13,000 in tuition for classes that don’t get your closer to a degree when you transfer.

The federal study, which examined a large sample of college transcripts dating back to 2003, found great variation in the amount of lost credit. About 40% of transfer students lost all of their credits when they transferred. On the other hand, almost a third got credit for all of their courses. Overall, about 35% of college freshmen ended up transferring, the study found.

“This is pretty disturbing confirmation of problems in our system of higher education,” says David Baime, spokesperson for the American Association of Community Colleges. Other studies show that such wastes of time and money cause many students to give up and drop out, Baime notes.

The good news, Baime and other experts say, is that the new research, along with new laws and new web tools, can help your improve the odds of transferring all of your hard-earned credits.

Choose the Right Starting and Target Schools

More than 80% of students transferring out of for-profit colleges lost all of their credits when they jumped to a public or private non-profit school, the federal study found. (Noah Black, spokesperson for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, says that many schools’ transfer rules have changed recently. he added: “The question should be posed to other institutions as to why they are not accepting of credits from accredited institutions,” such as the for-profit colleges that make up his group.)

But the typical student at a public community college who transferred to a public university paid for 38 credits at the two-year school, and got credit for about 30 at the university, a loss of 21%. The researchers found that private colleges generally gave transfer students from public colleges credit for about two-thirds of their courses.

David Bergeron, vice president for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, notes that students who take a community college curriculum that qualifies them for admission to a selective private college also tend to win credit for most of their courses. “So try to go for the most selective college you can,” Bergeron says, adding that a growing number of private colleges are recruiting and awarding aid to community college transfers students. “Families should be exploiting that,” he says.

Check New State Laws

A growing number of states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, are requiring colleges to make credits more transferable among public colleges, Baime notes.

Take Advantage of New Web Tools

While budget cuts have forced some public colleges to cut back on counselors who might help you figure out which courses will transfer, there are a growing number of web tools that you can use to find the courses that will be approved for transfer. One site Baime recommends is CollegeFish.Org, which is sponsored by Phi Theta Kappa, the International Honor Society of Community Colleges. And many colleges, such as the University of Virginia, now have tools that allow you to look up the transferability of each community college course.

 

 

 

 

MONEY Ask the Expert

Why You Might Want More Than One College Savings Account

Robert A. Di Ieso

Q: I have college savings for my children in both education savings accounts (ESAs) and 529s. Is there a difference in the way those accounts are calculated for potential financial aid? Would there be any benefit to consolidating into one type of account? — Mike Spofford, Green Bay, Wisc.

A: The good news: There is no difference in how Coverdell ESAs and 529 savings plans factor into your child’s student aid, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com, a website that helps people plan and pay for college.

Both of these education accounts are considered qualified tuition plans. So as long as they are owned by a student or a parent, the plans are reported as an asset on financial aid forms and have a minimal impact on your aid eligibility (federal aid will be reduced by no more than 5.64% of the value of the account). What’s more, your account distributions are not considered income, Kantrowitz adds.

Education savings accounts and 529s share other appealing features: Your savings grows tax-deferred and withdrawals are tax free as long as the money goes toward qualified education expenses. If you spend it on anything else, you will be hit by income taxes on the earnings as well as a 10% penalty.

One of the biggest differences is how much you can put in. ESA contributions max out at $2,000 per child per year, while 529s have no contribution limits. However, if you put more than $14,000 a year into your child’s 529—or $28,000 as a couple—the excess counts against your lifetime gift tax exclusion and must be reported to the IRS. You can get around that by using five-year tax averaging, which treats the gift as if it were made over the next five years.

Coverdell ESAs give you more investment options—from certificates of deposit to individual stocks and bonds to mutual funds and ETFs; you’re usually limited to a small number of mutual funds in a 529 plan. But you don’t need that much investing flexibility, Kantrowitz notes, since you want to keep risks and fees to a minimum over the short time you have to save for college.

Another key difference is that ESA funds can be spent on K-12 expenses; 529s must wait until college. ESAs also come with age restrictions. You can contribute only while the beneficiary is under 18, and to avoid penalties and taxes you must spend the funds by the beneficiary’s 30th birthday (with a 30-day grace period).

You can get around this age limit by changing the beneficiary to an under-18 close relative of the beneficiary. Or you can roll it over into a 529 plan with no tax penalty. (You cannot roll your 529 into a Coverdell ESA, however.) In fact, later-in-life education is one of the only reasons to consolidate plans. Otherwise, says Kantrowitz, there is no compelling reason to combine your two savings accounts into one.

MONEY College

12 Things We Wish We’d Known When We Were 18

Girl moving off to college
Eric Raptosh Photography—Corbis

Suze Orman and other experts share their financial advice for the Class of 2018. Follow these tips to keep your college experience from becoming a major money mistake.

Prepping for freshman year at college typically includes activities like shopping for dorm essentials, reviewing orientation packets, and Googling your new roommate.

Most students don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how they’ll manage their money in this new phase of their lives.

And yet, what you do in those first few years of parental emancipation can affect you for years—or decades—to come. Students graduated last year with an average $35,200 in college-related debt, including federal, state and private loans, as well as debt owed to family and accumulated via credit cards, according to a Fidelity study. Half of those students said they were surprised by just how much debt they’d accumulated.

To make sure the class of 2018 gets off on the right foot, MONEY gathered sage advice from top financial experts about the lessons they wish they, their kids, or their friends had known before starting school.

1. Limit your loans. “Do not take out more in student loans than what you are projected to earn in your first year after college. If you only expect to make $40,000, you better not take out more than $40,000. The chances of you being able to pay it back is close to nil. If you need to take a private loan, you’re going to a college you can’t afford. Remember, going to an expensive school doesn’t guarantee success. The school never makes you, you make the school.” —Suze Orman, host of The Suze Orman Show and author of The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke

2. Finish in four. “Many kids are finishing school in five or six years. But every extra year is potentially an extra $30,000 to 40,000 in expenses. Map out your coursework and figure out exactly what you’ll need to do each semester. Be vigilant about sticking to your plan. Try to catch up on any credits by taking classes at a community college over the summer.” —Farnoosh Torabi, author of You’re So Money

3. Study money 101. “Sign up for an economics or personal finance course. This way, when you graduate, you’ll be better equipped to manage money for the rest of your life.” —Brittney Castro, CEO of Financially Wise Women

4. Leave the car at home. “Everyone feels like they need a car, but with the combination of sharing services like Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and public transport, that isn’t always the case. If you’re living in a major metropolitan center or on campus, consider leaving your car behind. It’s much cheaper to use one of these car services than it is to pay for insurance, gas, parking, car maintenance and car payments.” —Daniel Solin, author of The Smartest Money Book You’ll Ever Read

5. Lead rather than follow. “Especially in college, you’re going to be surrounded by people doing dumb things financially. You’ll see people financing their lifestyle with student loans or their parents’ money. Don’t feel bad if you can’t afford the same things as others. I knew a student who was financing his whole college experience with debt and he was always asking people to go shopping with him. If I’d tried to keep pace, I’d have ended up in the same debt-ridden place as him.”—Zac Bissonnette, author of Debt-Free U

6. Find free fun. “You can still do fun things at school, without spending a lot of money. You’re paying an activity fee in your tuition, so you ought to make sure you’re taking full advantage of whatever the school offers for free—be it concerts, trips, lectures. The school I went to provided grants to help students travel abroad and offered free plays and trips through different clubs.” —Farnoosh Torabi

7. Be purposeful with plastic. “The idea that you need to build credit in college is wildly overrated. It’s not a bad idea to build credit, but having built up a bad credit history will hurt you more than having no credit history. You don’t need to feel pressure to get a credit card. You can get by just fine with cash and a debit card; no one is expecting you to have a ton of borrowing history when you’re getting your first apartment anyway.” —Zac Bissonnette

8. Put your budget on autopilot. “Keep track of the money you’re getting in from loans and your parents, as well as your expenses. Use an app like Mint.com, which lets you link your debit and credit cards to your online account to track your spending and easily help you keep on budget.” —Daniel Solin

9. Enlist Mom and Dad. “Check in with your parents once a month and review your spending with them. Talking about this will help you to avoid what I call ‘budget creep,’ where all of a sudden you’re spending $30 a day on food and entertainment. All those little extras add up and you could be spending over a hundred a week… on what?”—Neale Godfrey, chairwoman of Children’s Financial Inc.

10. Protect your stuff. “College students may not think they have a lot of valuable possessions. But think about the value of electronic devices alone, not to mention textbooks, clothes, even that ratty futon. The good news is that renters insurance is typically inexpensive and can protect you from fires, theft and other incidents. The even better news is that students’ stuff may be covered by their parents’ homeowners insurance. Check the policy prior to hitting the books.”—Kara McGuire, author of The Teen Money Manual

11. Establish rules with roomies. “If you’re renting an apartment with friends, be sure everyone and their parents sign the lease. Try to have everyone’s name on the utilities bills as well. Kids will take advantage of other kids, and you don’t want to be the one who is stuck being responsible for everything. If you can’t attach everyone’s names to all the bills, have them prepay. Also, make sure everyone chips in for general expenses like cleaning supplies and toilet paper, so you don’t end up paying for all of that as well.” —Neale Godfrey

12. Share with discretion. “Social networks are a public record. Your future employers will look you up on your social sites and judge you based on what they see. So something that you thought was cute in college could keep you from getting the job. Know that every move you make on those sites could have a direct consequence on your ability to land a job.” —Suze Orman

 

MONEY College

How to Save up to 70% on College Textbooks

Carrying textbooks
Image Source—Alamy

While the cost of class materials is going up, students are spending less on average. Here's how they're cutting their costs—and how you can, too.

Ask Sandra Kerley how important it is that she’s able to get textbooks for free, and she’ll you that this seemingly minor benefit is “life changing.”

“It helps us pay the electricity bill; it helps us put food on the table for the kids; it helps us buy other supplies for class,” says the 35-year-old Kerley, a third-year business administration student at Tidewater Community College in Virginia. Her school’s “Z Degree” program relies solely on free, open-source textbooks to eliminate a substantial part of what’s driving up the cost of college: the often prohibitive expense of class materials.

The price of new printed textbooks continues to rise—up more than 7% last year alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 82% between 2002 and 2012, as calculated by the Government Accountability Office.

Even as these costs soar, however, the average student is actually spending a bit less now than in the past. Between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 school years, the U.S. Department of Education reports, the average amount students spent on books and supplies declined by 2% at public, four-year universities and colleges and a little less than 1% at private non-profit institutions. The average outlay is now around $1,200 for students at both types of schools.

Here are three reasons why students’ outlays have come down—and how you can make sure yours do, too:

1. A burgeoning rental market. More and more students are renting their course materials instead of buying them, which can save hundreds of dollars over the course of an education. In 2009, roughly 300 colleges and universities had rental programs. Today, more than 3,000 do, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

That has pushed down prices throughout the rest of the market, says Richard Hershman, v.p. for government relations at the National Association of College Stores: “Textbook rental programs … [have] created a lot of residual competition and forced publishers to sell digital products at better prices.”

Your move: Investigate renting. A new copy of the 10th edition of Campbell Biology lists for $230, but a paper copy can be rented from Chegg.com for $67 (with a December 19 return) or $110 for an e-book (with a 180-day subscription). This option doesn’t make sense for a book you’ll need to refer back to later. Nor does it make sense if you’re tough on books or are likely to miss the due date—you could end up having to pay the list price minus any rental fees. In those cases, buying an ebook rather than renting it ($160 from Amazon for Kindle) or getting the book used ($179 on Amazon) may be a better option.

2. More advance warning. The 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act required publishers to disclose their prices to faculty or whoever is in charge of selecting course materials. Universities and colleges, in turn, have to list that information on their online course schedules so that students can start shopping around early.

Your move: Start comparison shopping as soon as the list is released, since you won’t have time to be as price sensitive if you begin the day before class starts. Check out all the different ways you can get your hands on the book. The electronic edition could be cheaper than the rental or vice versa. Buying it online could cost less than shopping at the campus bookstore, or vice versa. Keep in mind that stores sell out of used stock quickly, so you’ve got to get there early to get the pre-owned copy.

3. The open-source revolution. Groups like PIRG are advocating for more open-source textbooks, which would be free to students online and relatively cheap to download.

Tidewater isn’t the only school that has started to integrate these materials into their courses. The University System of Maryland ran a pilot program last spring at the behest of its student council. Eleven faculty members from seven institutions across Maryland participated. Roughly 1,100 students saved a total of around $130,000 in just one semester.

“Faculty are open to this, and they are eager to do what they can to cut costs for students, but they have to balance that against quality of the materials,” says M.J. Bishop, director of the Center for Academic Innovation. “That will be the biggest hurdle going forward.”

Your move: Lobbying faculty to move toward open-source texts is noble, but probably won’t realize savings this semester. Because there are those who believe all information should be free, you can find pirated copies of many texts online for free, but keep in mind that this is illegal. You can stay on the good side of the law by looking up books that have exceeded their copyright dates and are now in the public domain—most useful for literature courses—at sites like Project Gutenberg or Google Books.

4. Students opting out. The other reason for the decline in what students pay for textbooks is more troubling, says Nicole Allen, director of open education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, an alliance of research libraries based in Washington, D.C. “There is a really alarming trend of a lot of students not buying their textbooks because the price is too high,” she says. “Overall student spending on textbooks may be down, but the question is how much of that is because students haven’t bought the books they were supposed to because they can’t afford them.”

That trend was confirmed by a report released last year by PIRG, which surveyed more than 2,000 students at 150 universities and found that roughly 65% had decided against buying a textbook at some point because it was too expensive.

Your move: Really can’t afford the book? Find a friend to share with: Either someone who took the same class last semester who still has their book or someone who’s in the class with you this term. You could also ask the professor if he or she has put a copy on reserve in the campus library, and if not, whether a previous edition of the book will suffice. You can save as much as 70% by purchasing even just one version prior. Campbell Biology 9th edition used, for example, will cost you only $69 used and $30 to rent on Chegg.com.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

Related stories:

Free college idea picks up momentum
Colleges try to speed up pace at which students earn degrees
Testing your way to a degree is not only faster than taking the conventional route. It’s much, much cheaper
Want to refinance that student loan? It’s getting easier

MONEY College

The Important Talk Parents Are Not Having With Their Kids

College tuition jar
Alamy

The new Fidelity College Savings Indicator survey reveals that parents are only on track to pay a third of college tuition—and that they're keeping mum on the topic.

Moms and dads expect their children to pay for more than one-third of college costs—but only 57% of parents actually have that conversation with their kids, according to a new study out by Fidelity today.

The cost of college has more than doubled in the past decade, and parents are having a hard time saving for it, Fidelity’s 8th annual College Savings Indicator study shows. While 64% of parents say they’d like be able to cover their kids total college costs, only 28% are on track to do so.

That jibes with reality: For current students, parents’ income and savings now only cover one-third of college costs on average, according to Sallie Mae’s recently released report How America Pays For College. Kids use 12% of their own savings and income. Loans taken by students and parents account for 22% of the funds, while another 30% comes from grants and scholarships.

Experts urge parents to have a frank conversation well in advance with their children about how much college costs and how much they are expected to contribute, either through summer jobs, their own savings or part-time jobs while in school. “If children know that they are expected to contribute to their college funds, they are more likely to save for it,” says Judith Ward, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price.

A T. Rowe Price study released earlier this week found that 58% of kids whose parents frequently talk to them about saving for college put away money for that goal vs. just 23% who don’t talk to their parents about how to pay for school.

There’s also reason to believe that parents shouldn’t feel so bad about not being able to take on the full tab. A national study out last year found that the more money parents pay for their kids’ college educations, the worse their kids tend to perform. In her paper “More Is More or More is Less? Parent Financial Investments During College,” University of California sociology professor Laura Hamilton found that larger contributions from parents are linked to lower grades among students.

Apparently, kids who don’t work or otherwise use their own money to pay for school spend more time on leisure activities and are less focused on studying. It’s not that these kids flunk out, according to Hamilton. She found that students with parental funding often perform well enough to stay in school, but they just dial down their academic efforts.

Given all these findings, parents should feel less pressure pay the full ride for their kids—especially if it means falling behind on other important goals like saving for their own retirement. “Putting your kids on the hook for college costs is better for everyone,” says Ward.

MONEY 101: How much does college actually cost?

MONEY 101: Where should I save for college?

TIME Internet

The New Science of Pairing College Roommates

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Students Working Together Moving Dormitory on University Campus YinYang—Getty Images

At one school using the new app RoomSync, roommate approval was up 40 percent

This article originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Eight years ago, when Robert Castellucci worked for a housing complex at the University of Florida, his main job was to pair roommates based on a few simple lifestyle questions. But what had once been a straightforward task – matching smokers with smokers, separating early risers from night owls – was getting difficult thanks to social media. “We’d get 30, 40, 50 calls a day asking for a new roommate based on their Facebook profile,” he says. “They didn’t get the roommates they wanted, and I couldn’t get my job done.”

(MORE: Before Belle Knox: 8 College Sex Scandals That Got ‘Extra’ Curricular)

So in 2009, Castellucci launched RoomSync, a Facebook app where students fill out a finely tuned questionnaire. An algorithm suggests possible dormmates, and students themselves get to decide whose dirty underwear they’ll be stepping over for the next two semesters.

More than 60 schools now use RoomSync, with promising results. At New Mexico State, 50 percent of students used to ask to switch roommates the school chose for them. But among students using the app, that number dropped to 10 percent, according to Julie Weber, director of housing. RoomSync user GPAs were .25 points higher, at 3.05, and their re-enrollment was up 6.6 percent, to 96 percent.

(MORE: Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth’s Hazing Abuses)

For decades, universities believed that acclimating to the quirks of a complete stranger was an essential part of college. That’s still the case at schools like NYU and Stanford, where the 1,700 incoming freshmen are hand-paired by two upperclassmen. “Education’s about putting people in uncomfortable situations so they start to learn about themselves,” says NYU housing head Thomas Ellett. “[Programs like RoomSync] are a good customer-service tool, but there’s a big difference between customer service and education.”

(MORE: 50 Things Millennials Know That Gen-Xers Don’t)

But in the past half-decade, universities have moved to more modern systems – by 2012, about 70 percent allowed incoming freshmen to select roommates, according to one informal survey. Besides RoomSync, there are similar programs like Roomsurf and RoommateFit; some schools have proprietary systems, like Oregon State, which lets incoming freshmen use a school-only social network to choose future bunkmates.

But as all are quick to admit, one reason these programs work so well is that students are less likely to complain when they get to pick their own roommate. “That way, they are more invested in who they have selected,” says Weber. “They can’t blame us for it.”

(MORE: In Pics: Millennials’ Most Earth-Shaking Sexual Moments)

 

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