Weeding Out Roommates on Facebook

As the school year approaches and students prepare to head to college, many anxiously await news of their roommates. They wonder about their compatibility and even cleanliness.

But the days of awkward freshmen introductions in a dorm room may be ending, as many people are logging onto the social networking site Facebook.com to learn about their roommates.

Students say it's good to know a roommate before actually meeting the person. And now, even curious parents are sneaking peaks at profiles.

"I was excited," said Kristin Mueller, the parent of a college freshman. "I was anxious to find out more about her new roommate."

But it's not always love at first surf for parents.

"What I saw on Facebook was a lot of alcoholic beverages in the background, a lot of liquor bottles, beer bottles, kind of lewd behavior," Mueller said.

Mueller took action by helping her daughter file a formal request to the college's housing office demanding a change. She isn't the first parent to do so.

Across the country college administrators said they are getting more pleas than ever from Facebook frazzled parents.

"They call based on the information that they see on Facebook and they say that their son or their daughter can't possibly live with that person," said Deb DiCaprio, Marist College's dean of students.

Syracuse University has formulated a response to such a request.

"Our response to that is, we do not move students. We do not discriminate at all," said Syracuse University housing director Robin Berkowtiz-Smith.

Warnings, and Some Switching

Most schools do not allow roommate changes until after the start of the school year. Some, like the University of Wisconsin, warn incoming freshman about judging their peers based on social networking images.

But Mueller was determined to switch her daughter's assignment, even when her initial request was denied. She printed out 44 pages from the prospective roommate's Facebook profiles and took them to the university. The school finally granted a change.

"Transferring her into a quiet study dorm was best," Mueller said. "It's going to make her more comfortable, and I know I am going to be more comfortable."

But ABC News parenting contributor Anne Pleshette Murphy said parents should be careful when using online profiles to judge roommates.

"It's a mixed bag, and like most things it all depends on how you use it," Murphy said. "On one hand, Facebook is a great tool that wasn't available to me or even my daughter, who's now a senior in college. It can be a way for your college-bound child to get to know their roommate, taking some of the anxiety out of moving out and going to school."

Murphy said people should not judge the page by its content.

"There's a lot of boasting that goes on, and some kids use the page to point fun at themselves, or lampoon the whole idea of Facebook," she said. "A dangerously subversive kid is not going to be on Facebook. You have to take everything with a grain of salt."

A good way to prove this is to look at your child's page to see whether it paints an accurate picture, Murphy said.

"Most likely, you'll find that there are more than a few liberties," she said.

Some parents are even looking up school organizations, Murphy said.

"Parents are even Facebooking and Googling fraternities and sororities and complaining when their child doesn't get a bid, and so on," she said.

But she said parents should learn to give their children some room.

"As much as I understand the impulse that drives parents to do this, there is an element of 'helicopter parenting' here," she said. "These parents have to face the fact that their child is leaving home and they have to let go. Instead of being overprotective, parents should bolster their child's confidence by saying, 'Look, I believe in you and I think you can handle living with someone with different values.'"

Avoiding 'Financial Aid' Students

Murphy said she learned some parents are asking colleges to weed out roommates by code.

"One of the most disturbing things I heard from college housing administrators is the code some parents use when asking to switch their child's roommate. They don't want a 'financial aid' student, which may be code for a student of a different race or economic background," she said.

"Parents must remember that one of the most important things about the college experience is the opportunity to meet new people, from different backgrounds. Facebook information should not be used as a veil for prejudice and discrimination."

But even if a child arrives on campus and doesn't like a roommate, he or she can still make changes.

"I know of no school that won't allow students to change roommates," Murphy said. "Some will do it at three weeks. Others require the students to stay for as long as a semester. But if the situation isn't working, students can make a change. "