Luck of the Draw
For each Pomona student, the quest for the perfect dorm room requires an
annual rite of passage known as “Room Draw.”
The annual quest for the perfect dorm room turns intense with the
arrival of one more e-mail in students’ crowded inboxes. This message
sets off a week or so of strategizing, lamenting and rejoicing.
The e-mail contains a list of student names with randomly-generated
numbers next to them. The lower the number, the better chance a student
has of snagging a room of her own or the sweetest suite to share with
The housing hunt culminates in three nights of “Room Draw,” an annual
April ritual where hundreds of students gather to pick out their pads
for the next year. Those with low numbers get the first crack, and for
the rest it’s an unpredictable process. Students huddle around maps,
poring over them with all the intensity of generals charting an
invasion. They must find alternatives as rooms they want get picked off
by people with better numbers.
There are shades of “Survivor.” Friends seeking to share multi-room
suites must average their numbers together, and sometimes unlucky
students with a high number get dropped from the group. “It happens all
the time,” says Jim Stier ’05. “People just get thrown out at the last
The process takes into account seniority. Seniors-to-be get the first
batch of random numbers, say, one to 400, then come juniors and,
finally, sophomores. (Incoming freshmen are assigned rooms.)
Stier wound up with No. 315, which is not a good number for a senior.
“It was a pretty big letdown,” Stier says as he waits to choose a room.
“I’ll get a decent room I guess. When you’re going to be a senior you
expect to have a pretty awesome room.”
Alison Rapoport ’05 was ecstatic. She and three friends got just what
they wanted: a four-person friendship suite in the popular Clark V
Residence Hall. Their numbers averaged out to 77.
Housing arrangements are a big deal at a small, close-knit college like
Pomona where almost everyone lives on campus. The Student Life newspaper
once asked students “What body appendage would you sacrifice for a
better room draw number?” Sometimes tears are shed on the last night of
room draw, when sophomores-to-be choose from the slimmer pickings. But
they’ll have more choices next year.
As housing director, it’s Deanna Bos’ job to manage all the drama of
room draw, and make the pains¬taking preparations leading up to it. She
lays out the rules, dispels rumors and tries to keep things moving. Her
goal is to be fair and offer students as many choices as possible in the
process of divvying up rooms.
It’s not easy.
“There’s always a new challenge,’’ says Bos. “I’m not a chess player,
but it feels like sometimes I’m operating a great, big chessboard.”
Pomona’s system allows students to try to pick both whom they’ll live
with and which room they’ll live in. Other small, private colleges
across the country also use similar room draw methods.
“Because we try to make it as fair and (offer) as many options as
possible, it gets really complicated,” says Bos, a 20-year employee of
Bos works throughout the year to make sure every student has housing.
More than 95 percent of Pomona students live on campus these days.
Students want to be a part of a community, she says, and there are
practical advantages such as food served at dining halls. There are
times during the year when every single room at Pomona is taken.
Bos takes into account a mind-bending assortment of variables as she
plans for housing the student population. Students leave to study
abroad; students return from overseas. Extra rooms must be set aside for
incoming freshmen in case a greater number than expected accept
admission. Many dorm rooms are designated specifically for men or women,
and Bos strives to strike a fair division based on male/female
enrollment figures. Plus several residences, such as Oldenborg Center
for Modern Languages, have special requirements to live there.
Bos gets help from the Residential Life Advisory Committee in creating
the room draw procedures. This year the committee took steps to combat
the phenomenon of students getting dropped from a group because they
have a high number. In the past, suites for six students would be up for
grabs, then suites for five and so on. This year, all sizes of suites
were offered at the same time to encourage groups to seek their first
choice size and not have to cut a member.
Maps showing every available room, with the gender designation and other
information, are posted on the College’s Website before room draw
arrives. On the first night of room draw, when seniors get first crack,
the process begins with Bos standing on a chair and fielding questions
from the crowd gathered outside the Frank Blue Room. Students are
admitted into the room in groups based on how low their number is, and
they must show identification.
Friendship suites are up for grabs first. Groups of students seeking to
share a suite must add up their numbers to find their average, which is
verified at the door by workers pecking at calculators. The whole
process is stopped if Bos suspects shenanigans. You see “the best and
worst of human nature,” she says.
Some students clutch stacks of printed descriptions of rooms. Others
wing it. It helps to have a backup plan. A group of four students may
have had their sights on a friendship suite, but if none are available,
they may have to break into pairs and take doubles or seek single rooms.
As the night drags on, there’s a whiff of sweat in the air and the
rumble of conversation has dropped down several notches. After more than
three hours, the last students pick their rooms. Then Bos, the staff
member charged with housing hundreds of people, finally heads off for
her own home at 11:30 p.m.
She has two more nights of room draw ahead of her, with the choices for
students narrowing. And that’s not the end of it. Typically, 80 to 100
students are still left roomless when room draw is over. Somehow, Bos
always manages to find room for them before fall semester starts.
-- Mark Kendall