Lawn room timeline puts pressure on third-years

Early off-Grounds leases, late room decisions create conflict for Lawn applicants

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While many students sign off-Grounds leases in September and October, third-year students who apply to live on the Lawn do not hear a decision until February. This creates conflict as students decide whether or not they should sign a lease early or wait until acceptances are released.

Celina Hu | Cavalier Daily

Each year, a committee of student leaders selects 47 rising fourth-year students to live on the Lawn. For many, a Lawn room signifies a student who has poured countless hours and spirit into making the University a better place. However, the prestige of the Lawn can obscure the stress these students face when determining housing for their last year of college. By the time Lawn room decisions come out in the spring, priority deadlines for on-Grounds housing have passed and most students have already signed leases.

The Lawn room selection process

Jessica Humphreys, director of information technology and assignments for Housing and Residence Life, expects around 275 students to apply for the 47 spots on the Lawn this year. The Office of the Dean of Students allocates the last seven rooms through a different process.

The large number of qualified applicants compared to the number of rooms makes the process highly competitive. Current Lawn resident Tori Travers, a College student, said the application process is partly a matter of faith.

“[Applying to live on the Lawn] was kind of like throwing my University experience into an application pool and hoping they would view it as giving back in a way,” Travers said.

For many students, receiving a Lawn room is validation of the work they have put into the University community. However, UJC Chair and Lawn resident Mitch Wellman, a student in the College, said a student’s involvement is not solely defined by a Lawn room.

“Your contribution to this University is recognized in so many other ways besides accolades,” Wellman said.

The Lawn Selection Process Organizing Committee is composed of various University deans and 11 student leaders who decide the timeline and process for selecting future Lawn residents. The committee has yet to discuss its timeline for the year ahead, so specifics of the upcoming application process remain unknown.

This past year, the applications were due in early January and applicants were notified of their acceptance on Feb. 17. For students who want to live off-Grounds, the decisions come months too late.

Off-Grounds housing

The off-Grounds leasing process starts soon after the beginning of the fall semester. As students attempt to acclimate to the new school year, they must also consider housing options for the year to come.

Sarah Drumheller, MSC Apartments senior regional property manager, said the early signing dates are driven by student demand.

“From year to year, we look back and say, ‘When did people start calling? When did people start lining up at the door?’” Drumheller said. “When we have people who want to sign leases, it’s hard to turn them away.”

For potential Lawn applicants, the process is complicated by the uncertainty of Lawn room acceptance. The legal obligations of leases can create financial and social pressure to find an approved roommate to take one’s position in a lease agreement.

Third-year College student Jake Hitchcock said it is hard for someone thinking about applying to the Lawn to find friends to live with due to the uncertainty of finding a subletter to fill the lease.

“The weird thing about it is that it’s not even guaranteed that I’m going to apply for a Lawn room, but just the mention of that to anybody will lead them to exclude you from housing plans,” Hitchcock said.

For some students who do manage to make housing plans, like third-year College student Sarah Kenny, the decision to sign a lease comes with a feeling of guilt.

“[Housing this year] was stressful in terms of finding out how to find a subletter,” Kenny said. “I am definitely nervous about disappointing [my roommates] if I don’t find someone they’re going to enjoy living with.”

Current Lawn resident Naveed Tavakol, an Engineering student, signed a lease with his friends and later found someone to take his spot after reaching out to different Facebook groups and posting on the University’s off-Grounds housing site.

“There’s no guarantee at all that you’re going to get a Lawn room,” Tavakol said. “I don’t think it’s smart to bank on getting one and not sign a lease.”

Travers, who had signed an off-Grounds lease, also said it is helpful for Lawn applicants to have a backup plan. She found someone to take over her lease after her acceptance to the Lawn.

“I think it’s a lot more secure to end up signing a lease,” Travers said. “I think there definitely is a market for people who will be looking for leases in the spring when decisions come out.”

Although some students choose to live in off-Grounds residences, the University does offer on-Grounds housing — an option which alleviates the pressure of signing binding leases for many students.

On-Grounds housing options

The University offers on-Grounds housing options — including Lambeth Field Apartments, Faulkner Apartments, Copeley Apartments and the language houses — for students as an alternative to off-Grounds housing.

Although not all students are guaranteed housing on-Grounds, Humphreys said there are typically spaces available up until May, June and even once school begins.

Wellman chose to go the on-Grounds route when he renewed his housing contract at the Spanish House last fall.

“[I] knew that switching from a University contract to another housing option is easy,” Wellman said. “They don’t even ask you any questions.”

Humphreys echoed that switching housing areas from a University complex to the Lawn is easy and stress-free.

“If you signed up to live in say Lambeth or Faulkner and you’re accepted to the Lawn, we just automatically transfer that and you’re all set,” Humphreys said. “It’s a good benefit for on-Grounds housing.”

Improvements to the Lawn application process

The University cannot control when rental companies in the area decide to begin offering leases to students, but the Lawn Selection Committee can decide when to release Lawn acceptances.

Wellman said although it is frustrating, the current Lawn application process timeline works best.

“If you think about it, what other date would you choose?” Wellman said. “It’s in that third year that you see so much growth within students and you see them taking on the leadership and you see where their trajectories are going.”

Although the date the committee releases acceptances is seemingly fixed, Kenny said the University should work harder to provide more information about the process to students.

“I think there’s a huge information gap about the actual process and the timeline,” Kenny said.

The University has many resources, including information sessions and a website with off-Grounds options, but there are few resources for third-year students looking to apply to the Lawn.

Kenny suggests holding information sessions for Lawn applicants in which current Lawn room students answer questions about how they approached housing.

Due to the competitive nature of the process, Commerce student and current Lawn resident Raj Das said students should minimize stress by organizing living arrangements with close friends.

“Honestly, I think you have to prepare as if you’re not going to get the Lawn room and just have a situation you’re comfortable with,” Das said. “There’s definitely social pressure, but I think it just helps to be with a group of close friends.”

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