Justin Gaither is the founder of Roomsurf and Textsurf, which connects college students with roommates and textbooks. Also, he is the co-founder of eCampus Ventures.
Gaither went to high school in Long Island, New York. But he decided to go to college at the University of Miami. That is when his entrepreneurial mindset was sparked. As a student, he started a couple ventures.
- Maximize space in dorm rooms by building loft beds to elevate the bed for space to add other items (sofa, TV, etc.).
- Roomsurf.com: Incoming college freshmen were trying to find compatible roommates via Facebook messages. So Justin created a much easier system for students to find roommates.
Roomsurf uses questions to help find and match compatible roommates. Questions include:
- How outgoing are you?
- What’s your policy on guests and visitors?
- What time do you go to bed?
- Are you a smoker or non-smoker?
These things matter when living with another person in small quarters. The questions relate to the student as well as who they would consider to be their ideal roommate.
Questions are weighed based on importance. That way, deal breakers can be established.
Once incoming students complete the questionnaire, their answers are processed and they receive a list of matches based on those who participate in the Roomsurf program.
The matches are ranked from best to worst and include compatibility percentages. The students can filter matches based on:
- Preferred housing preferences
- Area of Study
- Planned campus activities
“They can then browse profiles and communicate directly with potential matches and kind of figure out who they would like to live with,” said Gaither.
Students submit mutual requests to live together.
Once a student has found someone and they decide to become roommates, they submit a mutual request on their housing application to live together. Depending on the school, this request can be processed via:
- Online system
- Roomsurf website
The Good ‘Ol Days vs. Today
Before there was the Internet, college roommates did not know or meet their roommates until they arrived at school.
Now, for those who do not use the Roomsurf program or have mutual agreements, schools typical send out a brief questionnaire (not nearly as detailed as Roomsurf’s version). Then the schools’ housing department matches roommates by hand based on preferences.
“Now, there’s a social network where people can look each other up. So students were kind of checking out their roommate assignments and finding things they didn’t like about them,” said Gaither.
The students then contact their school and ask to be reassigned. Fortunately, Gaither’s Roomsurf allows students to self-select and avoid these issues.
Timeline for Roommate Selection Process
As early as November the year before a student goes to college, they could receive acceptance letters. As soon as a student gets their acceptance letter, they should try to identify a way to connect with potential roommates:
- Class Facebook groups
- Roommate-type research
Schools typically send out roommate assignments during the summer before college starts. Therefore, students often start looking for their own roommate beforehand, sometimes even before they are accepted to a school.
Roomsurf typically helps with roommate assignments for just two people for on-campus housing. However, Gaither plans to expand Roomsurf’s services to match three or more students for larger accommodations on and off campus.
Paying the price for the perfect roommate!
The cost of using Roomsurf depends on the school. Some schools pay for the services so students can use Roomsurf for free.
Otherwise, students pay a one-time $20 fee to use Roomsurf.
“There’s a lot of ways that students nowadays can connect with other students.”
“I would highly recommend that students try to engage with the community early,” said Gaither.
However, students shouldn’t rush into making a decision. They should wait until they can find the best match!
When students do not get along with their roommate:
- Depends on school policies
- Students can request to be moved to a different room
- Housing departments may or may not be able to handle such requests
Many schools are choosing to work with Roomsurf. “They want to try to reduce the amount of room changes because that’s an administrative headache for them to take on,” said Gaither.
As a freshman, it can be a challenge to be compatible with their roommate. However, once they meet more people, they can find future roommates. But a word of caution: A good friend may not make a good roommate!
Rooming with High School Buddies
Sometimes, incoming freshman choose to be roommates with their high school friends.
“It think it would be better to try and branch out,” said Gaither. Students have a lot of opportunities to meet new people who may make better roommates. “Your roommate is just another opportunity to connect with another person outside of your social circle from high school.”
If they use Roomsurf or other services, they can find someone they feel comfortable living with at college.
Gaither also created Textsurf, which offers price comparisons for textbooks. Textsurf shops prices from textbook vendors such as:
“Incoming freshmen tend to go and purchase their books at the on-campus bookstore, which…is the most expensive place to buy (their) books,” said Gaither.
They pay full list price for new books, but there are other options. They can purchase used books or new books at discounted prices.
“There’s tremendous savings to be found if you do a little research,” said Gaither.
What books will students need?
Professors send out syllabi for each course that lists required textbooks. However, it may be a good idea to wait a few days before purchasing required books because some professors tend to not actually use them during the course. It may not be worth making that purchase!
Also, sometimes schools and professors are encouraged by textbook providers and given incentives to use the most recent version of their books. But the students may not actually need the books!
Buying and renting textbooks via Textsurf:
Students can use Textsurf to find the books they do need by searching with keywords and ISDN numbers. Then the results include:
- List price
- Buying options
- Rental options
“The price differential is amazing,” said Gaither.
Out with the old!
Renting books may be a better option than purchasing books. Do you still have any of your college textbooks? Probably not!
Also, you can always try and sell your used textbooks. How much money you will get depends who you sell them to:
- Peer to peer
- On-campus bookstore
- Online vendors
“Your best bet is try to sell it to a student that is already there,” said Gaither.
Future of Textbooks
Students are sticking with hardcopy textbooks – for now.
“We don’t see a lot of transactions for etextbooks yet. But I think over time, we’re going to see a lot more of that,” said Gaither. “I think that’s the future. But I don’t think that that’s going to really take hold for quite a while.”
Currently, some younger students are being trained to use iPads and other devices as a replacement of hardcopy textbooks.
Here are a few quick tips to help parents and incoming college students:
- Visit school and take tours of the campuses
- Talk to current students
- Attend classes
- Build social circle
- Open to different types of people
Once you have a specific school in mind, do the following:
- Facebook: Go to the search bar and type in the school’s name and a graduating year.
- Twitter: Enter hash tag given by school or search for the school and graduating year.
LINKS AND RESOURCES
- eCampus Ventures
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Brad is not affiliated with Justin Gaither, Roomsurf, or Textsurf.
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