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Monday, April 04, 2011

A guest blogger from the Housing office!

 I'm so happy to share some words from John Evans, the Director of Accommodations in the Housing Division at UVa.  Be sure to check out the first year page on the housing website.  It has a lot of the information you're probably seeking (floor plans, pictures, FAQs).  First, here's some general information about residential life at UVa...

 Congratulations on your admission to UVa!  That is a big accomplishment and a strong endorsement for the work you’ve done to this point in your education.  We look forward to meeting you and helping with your continued academic success and personal growth and development.  I will try to give you a general overview of issues related to Housing and where you will live once you arrive On Grounds.

Where you live and who you live with are a big part of the first year experience that you will have… but that doesn’t mean that it’s something that you need to be stressed or worried about.  I want to first assure you, that no matter where you are assigned to live, you will love it.  Every year we get lots of calls about every imaginable question or concern from people who are stressed because they believe that if they don’t control all of the variables, the outcome won’t be what they want.  

Roommate choice is at the top of that list for many people.  Fortunately, a lot of research has been done on roommate matching and roommate success.  I can tell you that, as important as it seems, statistically, all types of roommate matching produce the same results.  You need to decide what you are comfortable with.  The University of Virginia matches first year students, unless you and another student both select each other as roommates.  We believe that the experience of spending your first year here, living with someone that is new and different from you is a valuable experience.  I also want to assure you that in most cases, it turns out just fine to let your roommate be a random selection.  Many in-state students do have friends coming here and many decide to be roommates.  I don’t want to discourage you from doing that, but I would ask you to consider that during your first semester and year away from home, you will make a lot of changes – more than almost any other periods in your life.  Sometimes that process can be difficult when you live with someone who feels that they know who you are/were when you were in high school.  If you don’t live with those friends, you have someone that you can still hang out with and spend time with, but then you both will have a new circle of friends that you can share with each other and expand your connections.   

The roommate matching that we do asks some basic questions about your life style.  People want to believe that this should be more extensive and sophisticated so that no one will ever have a bad roommate experience.  There aren’t any instruments that can do that.  I joke with groups sometimes that the divorce rate is about 50% in this country and that the screening process I hope that most of us go through before we commit to getting married is pretty intense and personal.  We all have to be willing to discuss and work through our differences, compromise and be sensitive to each other’s needs.  If you are willing to raise issues and give your roommate a chance to respond to your needs when issues arise, in most cases, you will be fine.  If you let things fester, passively live with things you don’t like and don’t give your roommate the chance to make a change, then you will have problems.  That’s why the University feels that the experience of sharing a room is so valuable for you.   All of your potential roommates are people who have just successfully completed the same admission process as you.  You are the same age and are going through the same changes and challenges.  You all automatically have a lot in common with each other.  

 If you feel that a single room is what you need, we also have that as an option.  Almost all of the single rooms are in the Gooch/Dillard complex.  This complex will contain all first year students for the first time this year.  The buildings contain mostly 6 person suites and there is room for over 600 first year students in the complex, so you can have your private space and still be a part of a close knit group.  There are also a small number of “stairwell” single rooms in the McCormick Road complex.

The programs you can choose from are also a regular topic of concern.  For first year students, there are really two different options that you can choose from.  Almost all of the class will live in one of the three complexes that are exclusively for first year student housing.  These include the Alderman Road, McCormick Road and Gooch/Dillard complexes.  In these areas, all students are assigned randomly.  You cannot designate preference for an area.  This is also part of the University’s making sure that you have as diverse a living experience as possible.  Above the roommate level, we do not allow students to group themselves.  This is something that will be new for any parents who are alums, but it is something that they have to get used to.   
Within the Alderman Road complex there is space set aside for scholars housing.  The students who are a part of the Echols, Rodman and College Science Scholars groups will automatically be assigned to the spaces reserved for those programs.  

 The other choices that first year students can apply for are in the University’s three Residential Colleges.  These colleges are interdisciplinary social living communities that are student self-governed and that have live in faculty members and faculty fellows that interact with students in the programs around the theme selected by the community.  Brown College focuses on individual creativity (generally), Hereford College is focused on issues related to sustainability and the International Residential College (IRC) is focused on international issues (it is not housing set aside for international students).  In each of these communities, 20% of the space is set aside for first year students.  The rest of the space is filled with upperclass students.  If you are accepted into one of these programs as a first  year, you can continue to live there throughout your undergraduate career.

Location seems to matter more here than any other university I’ve worked for.  I’m not sure why.  In the first year areas, students and parents seem to want to believe that a difference of a few minutes in how far they have to walk each way to the center of grounds will make or break their experience or will hinder people from participating in an activity or resource somehow.  That is clearly not the case.  From my frame of reference (think Big 10 schools/campuses), this is not a large campus and the bus service is excellent.  The same bus lines run past all of the first year areas and most students make one main trip to the center of grounds and back each day.  You’re young and you can adjust.  Walking is a good form of exercise.   Everyone wants to live as close as possible to the center of Grounds, but it just isn’t possible to have all of our facilities in equidistant locations.  There are old beliefs based on which student groups used to select to live in the different first year options  (you’ll still hear University Guides use the phrases “new” and “old” dorms), but those old patterns no longer exist since the selection process was randomized.  Don’t worry about the location of where you live.  Once you move in and meet the other students, it becomes the best place for you to live – no matter where it is.  

If you have medical needs, it is important that you contact the Learning Needs and Assessment Office.  Not all of the first year housing is air conditioned and with all of forest surrounding Charlottesville, this is an area that can be hard on allergy sufferers.  We will make every effort to accommodate your individual needs so that you can be comfortable and successful here.

The University has a lot invested in helping you be successful here.  One of the most important resources available to you is your Resident Assistant.  This is an upperclass, undergraduate student who lives with you.  They have been trained to work with your needs and to be knowledgeable about the University’s services.  They are also a peer who is just a  couple of steps ahead of you, so they know what you will be going through.  You will meet them when you check in and they are there when you need them.  Please get to know them and take advantage of their experience here.

There is also a lot of concern about where to live beyond the first year.  There is room in upperclass housing on Grounds for everyone who wants to remain on Grounds.   Typically, approximately 50% of the second year class moves off Grounds.  If you want to remain in on Grounds housing for your second year, you are guaranteed an offer if you apply by the December 1st deadline.  Many students are anxious to move into an apartment as second years.   Fortunately, the University offers on Grounds apartments in several areas (Bice, Faulkner, Copeley and Lambeth).  There are also the three residential colleges and there are 12 different language House programs.  For information about the Language houses, please go to the web site for the academic department.  Information about all of these options, including floor plans, photos and lists of amenities are available on the Housing Division web site.  

It catches many students and parents by surprise, but the off Grounds lease signing process for apartments in the community begins around October 1st.  I want to note it here, because it can be a shock, even though this has become typical in University towns across the nation.   The local student rental market has expanded dramatically over the past decade.  There is now a surplus of space available to students.  There is no reason to feel pressured to sign a lease until you are ready.  The stampede is always led by groups who feel that their life can’t follow the correct course if they aren’t in a specific, prime, location.  Be sure to think through what you want and what will work best for you.  Leases in the community are almost all for 12 months, not the 9 months of the academic year.  We have bus tours during parents weekend to show you around to all of the upperclass housing options and will be coming to all of the first year buildings during September to give you an overview of the process.

For now, Welcome and Congratulations!  Please contact us and also visit the HousingDivision web site and Blog for more information.   When you come to Grounds, you will notice that there is construction in the Alderman Road Area.  In May, we will be demolishing 4 of the buildings currently standing (Lile, Maupin, Tuttle and Webb).  Two brand new and as yet unnamed buildings will be finished in June to replace them.  Work will also be beginning on the next three buildings that are a part of the replacement project.  The suite style buildings in the complex are being replaced with hall style buildings. 

Take care,

John Evans
Director of Accommodations

I'm so thankful that John was willing to guest blog.  I wouldn't have been able to cover all of this great information as well as he just did.  If you post questions, I'll answer as many as I can and pass the rest on the John.  I'll post his replies in the next few days.