The Cavalier Daily
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Timing makes housing choice tough

A VALIANT knight stands at a fork in the trail. He's been on his current path a short time, but now there are two new trails veering off in opposite directions. Both will get him where he wants to be eventually, but he must choose one or the other, and there is no turning back. Every year, University students are faced with a similar tough decision. Before Winter Break, most students already have decided to either sign an off-Grounds lease or wait and see how they do in the on-Grounds lottery.

Sir Cavalot assesses his situation. The trail to the right is labeled "No Access Until March 2000." It demands fewer supplies, yet is not fully reliable. It surely will get him to the same place as the other trail, but he will have to wait on luck to see what lies ahead. The other trail is labeled, "Hurry Up and Beat the Competition." It is straight and reliable, but necessitates cooperation with other knights and significantly more funds. Sir Cavalot must choose now. Should he wait and trek to the right and hope fate shines upon him or hurry up and proceed to the left with the help of more knights and more money?

Students also must pick a path now. If they choose to live on Grounds, they won't have to throw down as much money, but will have to rely on luck of the draw in the housing lottery. Should they opt for an off-Grounds house or apartment, they will have to find friends willing to pay for higher rent, utility bills, furniture and Internet connection.

There are benefits and drawbacks to each option. Students must think about each of these before deciding where to live next year, as their housing decisions will affect an entire year of their lives. They should be able to weigh both sides simultaneously in different semesters. The University should alter the schedule for selecting on-Grounds housing to better serve the students by holding the on-Grounds housing lottery in the fall.

Each year, the search for available off-Grounds apartments becomes more competitive. In a personal interview, Felicia L. Alsop, leasing agent for Wade Apartments said that, "each year students are contacting us earlier and earlier ... this year we had six calls on the first day of class." As a result, they had to start showings two weeks early. Perhaps students are eager to sign early because they missed out on a prime property last year, or they simply want to beat the crowd. Either way, the rush to sign off Grounds by the end of first semester causes problems for students who also might consider trying to live on Grounds.

These students, who aren't sure where they want to live next year, are forced to delay their choice. If a student wants on-Grounds housing, he must wait until the second semester lottery to find out if he'll get his first choice. If he doesn't like his assignment, it's hard to find an off-Grounds house in the second semester, so the ends up living in a place he isn't happy with. If the on-Grounds housing lottery were held in the first semester, students who didn't get their first choices still would have time to find a place off Grounds.

In many ways, it is better to make choices about the upcoming year during the spring semester. This is partially due to the fact that students, especially those in their first year, will have had more time to develop relationships and find people they feel comfortable living with. Nonetheless, many students are making decisions about next year very early in the first semester. To complement this early decision process, the housing office should move the on-Grounds application phases to first semester.

The current four-phase process begins Jan. 24 and ends March 6. This leaves the unlucky students who don't get what they want on Grounds only two months to find a suitable alternative in a market that has been nearly full since December. If the housing office were to begin the process Oct. 24 and send out final offers Dec. 6, not only would students have a full semester to search off Grounds, but those who get their first choices could rest easy second semester with no hectic housing processes.

University students are faced with the same tough choices as the brave Sir Cavalot. They should be given the opportunity to consider both housing options first semester. This will ensure ample time to find the best housing possible.

(Brandon Almond's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)

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