The Housing Lottery: Then And Now

Courtesy of Elizabeth Shayler and the Office of Student Life

If your father lived in Dunster, you’ll be greeted by a moose on Housing Day.

If your blocking group is on the small side, you’ll be Quadded.

Athletes are destined for Eliot.

Current Matthews residents are bound for Mather.

The children of celebrities and major donors can have their pick of the twelve Houses.


It’s the week of Housing Day at Harvard, and rumors are flying. As freshmen anxiously await the results of the lottery that will assign them to a House come Thursday morning, conspiracy theories abound.

Yet administrators assure students that all of them are untrue. Today, they say, after generations of evolution, Harvard’s ethic of randomization in almost all cases means just that—random.


Around the end of February of their first year at Harvard, freshmen form blocking groups of up to eight classmates, then submit their names online into the housing lottery.

This year, freshmen were required to turn in their blocking groups by 8 a.m. on Feb. 29.

The Office of Student Life, which runs the lottery, spent the rest of the day tracking down the roughly 10 freshmen who did not register on time.

Once all these freshmen were added to a blocking group or registered as floaters, the OSL officially closed the lottery.

Next, the OSL pre-placed the blocking groups of students who registered disabilities ranging from mobility impairment to carpet allergies with the Accessible Education Office into a House that could accommodate their needs. This year, the OSL also randomly assigned a blocking group containing the child of House Masters into one of the nine Houses outside his parents’ neighborhood.

The OSL then determined the number of incoming sophomores that each House could accommodate based on expected attrition.

Finally, at 10:50 a.m. on March 2, Sophia R. Chaknis, the director of residential programs and operations, put on her Sorting Hat—actually donning a Harry Potter prop—then turned to the lottery software on her computer and clicked a button that randomly assigned about 1,600 freshmen to the buildings most of them will live in for the next three years.


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