Boris Tsang/Sun File Photo

Students who are qualified for the new upperclassmen early selection process share their views on the process.

September 14, 2023

Upperclassmen Housing Selection Kicks Off, Sparks Mixed Views Among Students 

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Cornell University is in the midst of their brand new housing selection process, in which — for the first time — rising juniors and seniors get first choice of rooms. The process for upperclassmen room selection began earlier this month on Sept. 5, and will last until Sept. 21, as announced in an email sent to students by Housing and Residential Life on Aug. 25. 

In an email to The Sun, Senior Director of Campus Life Marketing and Communication Karen Brown said that the changes were based on student and family feedback from the last several years and an assessment process that included student focus groups over the last two semesters.

Previously, housing was done in a lottery system in which rising sophomores, who are required to live on campus with some exceptions, were given priority. Upperclassmen in select dorms had the option for continued occupancy — however, housing was not a guarantee. 

Cornell Housing and Residential Life initially announced the new plans in May 2023, but some students do not recall hearing about it until August. 

“I found out about the changes probably a few weeks into the school year,” said Luke Shao ’26. “[The new timeline] did kind of change my plans because it forced me to decide [housing plans] earlier.”

Others who were also unaware of the changes felt the September start date did not give them adequate time to make an informed housing decision. Jonathan Scardon ’26 said he felt “pigeonholed into making a decision now.”

In an email to The Sun, Brown expanded on the reasoning behind the earlier timing.

“Our goal with this year’s changes to the housing selection process for rising juniors and seniors was to give these groups their first choice of on-campus housing and reduce the anxiety that resulted from waiting until the spring semester to learn their options on campus,” Brown wrote. “This process change helps to align the timelines that students have to explore options both on and off campus.”

For those initially looking to live off campus, the move comes with its own set of challenges. 

“[For off-campus housing] the market is so competitive — to find a decent place you have to start looking about a year to a year and a half in advance,” said Diane Garcia ’26.

Garcia, who was aware of the changes after the initial May announcement, decided to get a jump start on her search for off-campus housing. 

“I guess everyone else had the same idea — people started rushing all at once, which made it even harder,” Garcia said.

According to Brown, this competition has historically been a challenge to upperclassmen. 

“We have heard for years that our students have felt pressure to select off-campus housing and sign leases earlier and earlier in the fall semester, and that timing makes it hard to make such decisions,” Brown wrote.

As a result of the changes, Garcia has opted instead to live on campus another year. 

“It relieves a lot of stress, especially for having to find off-campus housing so soon in the year,” Garcia said. “I’m really happy that I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to live next year and can just stay on campus.”

Colleges and universities across the country have struggled with housing their students on campus. In 2022, students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte were assigned to live in hotels a mile away from the central campus due to limited on-campus housing availability. Northeastern University, located in the heart of Boston, was forced to turn singles into doubles in order to house incoming students after having a record-breaking admissions cycle. 

Cornell is not a stranger to these issues, with controversy sparked earlier this year when students were assigned to live in forced doubles and triples, or lounges converted into living spaces during move-in. 

With a steadily increasing number of applicants and admitted students, Cornell is struggling to accommodate larger class sizes, leaving students with uncertainty regarding rooming situations. The University has attempted to combat these issues with projects like the North Campus Residential Expansion, in which a total of five new dorms and over 2,000 additional beds were made available for North Campus residents in 2022. 

As Ithaca is one of New York state’s most notoriously expensive cities to live in, finding affordable housing off-campus poses a challenge for students and Ithaca residents alike. In her statement to The Sun, Brown said the University hopes to alleviate some of the strain on Ithaca’s housing market by encouraging more students to opt into on-campus housing. Scardon, who originally considered moving off campus, shared a similar perspective.

“I feel like the push for on-campus housing will be beneficial to Ithaca residents, because hopefully they will not have to compete as much with Cornellians for housing,” Scardon said.

As a resident of Cascadilla Hall, Scardon felt relieved by the changes, as having priority would not only guarantee him a spot on campus, but also give him a better chance to find a more conveniently located dorm. Nicholas DeMayo ’26, who will be a continued resident in Hans Bethe House, also appreciated the security of completing his housing selection so early into the year.

Brown did note that, for students looking to stay in the same room, like DeMayo, all belongings will have to be vacated from the room at the end of the academic year and then moved back in August 2024. When asked if the University had any plans to change this, Brown wrote that students could not store belongings in their rooms as a result of scheduled summer hostings and cleanings.

Jacob Seto ’26, a resident of Founders Hall, a Gothic of the Flora Rose House, shared that the possibility of moving into a main house lent a much better chance to him staying on campus another year. As Seto did not want to continue living in the Gothics, he originally believed off-campus housing would be the only other viable option.

Differences in dorm quality have also been a common complaint amongst students, with some dorms remaining without elevators, air conditioning or consistent hot water. As a result, upperclassmen assigned later time slots were often unable to choose from any of the newly built or renovated dorms.

Overall, Seto, along with other students, are in favor of the process.

“I’m very happy that juniors and seniors get priority selection,” Seto said. “I think it’s very important for retaining upperclassmen.”

Juneau McGee ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].