University of Pittsburgh

The Science of Roommate Matching

Justin Mares had a bad roommate experience his freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh.

His roommate spoke to his girlfriend in baby talk. He slept at odd hours. He rarely left the room. He liberally applied anti-itch powder to his body, leaving chalky mounds of the stuff on the floor.

The unpleasantness of that random roommate pairing inspired Mares to create RoommateFit LLC, a roommate-compatibility service for incoming freshmen. Ohio University and Cleveland State University signed up for a pilot program of the service and began pairing together more than 800 students this fall.

"Studies show that roommate conflict leads to decreased GPA, decreased happiness, less satisfaction with the university, and is a major factor of many dropouts," Mares says.

Mares, a finance major in the College of Business Administration, worked with a psychologist to develop a six-dimension personality test. Incoming students answer 42 questions, and the company's proprietary algorithm matches students who have complementary traits. Students are given their matches and can request those people as roommates.

"It's like eHarmony for roommates," Mares says.

Examples of RoommateFit's 42 questions include: I get chores done right away, my roommate should want friends in the room often, and I refuse to participate in arguments when they include personal attacks.

Mares says the personality test doesn't account for superficial interests, race, or religion - only compatible personality traits. That means there's a better chance that students will be paired with a person from a wholly different background. This separates RoommateFit from the roommate matching done on Facebook, where students naturally gravitate toward others like them.

"College should be a learning experience and not just an extension of high school," Mares says.

In fact, Mares says interviews with more than 100 college administrators have shown that students who request a roommate through a Facebook meeting have higher conflict rates than those who are randomly assigned.

Mares' goal is to bring RoommateFit to dozens of other colleges, including Pitt. So far, Mares has funded his venture with thousands of dollars in prize money from entrepreneurship competitions.

Mares won first place in the 2011 Randall Family Big Idea Competition at the University of Pittsburgh and first place at the 2011 Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper Venture Challenge. Mares also placed second in the Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization elevator pitch competition in Chicago and third in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Boston.

Michael S. Lehman, director of marketing and student entrepreneurship at Pitt, helped connect Mares to various competitions.

"Having taught and worked with Justin over the past year, I can attest to his fortitude, coachability, networking skills, and understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset. In all, he is one of the most entrepreneurial students with whom I have worked since I have been in Pittsburgh. He truly 'gets it,'" Lehman says.

After freshman year, Mares roomed with friends. He's had no roommate problems since.

For more information about RoommateFit LLC, visit http://roommatefit.com/.