Housing Lottery Process To Be Upgraded

Friday, March 16, 2018

Sleeping overnight on a sidewalk to receive housing is not an appealing option to many people, but there was a time when students had to do this just for a chance at getting a housing contract. Students literally slept outside on the sidewalk in front of the Shields Building with the hope of receiving their ideal room assignment, and often, many were turned away. Housing contracts were stock cards, about the size of a postcard, and were given out to students on a first-come, first-served basis.

In 2006, the University launched the eLiving system – a custom-designed software program to manage all aspects of the housing contract for the nine residential campuses. This change initially caused quite a stir – it was a lottery system and was portrayed as not being fair to students, even though it provided students equal opportunity to receive an offer, and did not require a sleeping bag.

As the years progressed, students became accustomed to conducting business electronically, and the housing process naturally became a part of the expectation to conduct business online. As new housing options were introduced to students at University Park, the number of housing lotteries increased. Last year, there were nine lotteries just at University Park.

Based on continual student feedback, staff knew that an upgrade was needed for the housing process. The system hadn’t been refreshed in a decade, and the number of lotteries was confusing. So for the past year, work has been progressing on providing students an updated, streamlined housing contract process that will work for all Penn State residential campuses. The ultimate goal is to provide students more control over what type of housing option to live in and to select the students they want to live with.

The new process is currently in development, and will be rolled out this fall semester for the 2019-2020 academic year, and will offer these features:

  • Streamlined application: simply submit “yes, I am interested in living on campus”
  • Rolling invitations: invitations will be sent every Monday and Thursday in November and February (until either all students have been invited or space is no longer available)
  • Transparency: Invitation offer displays how many spaces are available for each housing option
  • Roommates: after a student selects a housing option, the student can add 1-3 roommates to receive the same type of housing option contract offer (number of roommates depends upon housing option)
  • Convenience: once a Housing and Food Service (HFS) Contract offer is created, it will be conveniently located in the student’s Shopping Cart
  • Mobile responsiveness: eLiving will be updated to make it easier for students to use and navigate the system from any device.

Another great feature of the new process is the further development of Gender-Neutral Housing options for upper-class students. Based on an initiative created by The Association of Residence Hall Students (ARHS) in 2016, Housing began offering gender-neutral housing. The current version of the housing lottery process did not work well with this initiative and students often struggled to take advantage of the option. The updated housing contract system will fully-incorporate Gender-Neutral Housing in the process. A group of students who wish to live together will now have the opportunity to find an appropriate space and invite each other without staff involvement.

The process to accept the actual Housing and Food Service Contract will remain very similar – students will need to update preferences, agree to the terms and conditions, and click the almighty “Accept” button before the expiration date. Each student will have to individually accept the offer before the expiration date

Interested in learning more?

Join us for a test run! Staff will have three drop-sessions to gain student feedback on the process – we’d love to hear your opinion! And you may walk away with a delicious treat and meal on us!

  • Tuesday March 20                   11:30am – 1:30pm      HUB Engagement Space
  • Wednesday March 21              11:30am – 1:30pm      Findlay Commons
  • Wednesday March 21              5:00pm – 7:00pm        Redifer Commons ***CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER CONDITIONS***


Update 03/21: We received some really great feedback from students!! Our plan of action is to make some additional improvements to the process, based on the feedback, and then schedule additional sessions for students to join us again and review the process. Stay tuned!