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Most Freshmen Get Top Choice Under Revised Lottery System

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Editor in Chief

Outbursts of joy far outnumbered cries of protest in and outside computer clusters across campus as students learned of their dormitory assignments.

This year's lottery results are vastly improved from previous years, said Program Director of Residential Life Philip M.Bernard, who administrates the lottery.

No students received a dormitory ranked lower than third, Bernard said, and only 10 students received their third choice.

However, while screams of joy rang through halls at MIT, the overall success of off-campus rush remains in question with only 231 students pledging residential fraternities and independent living groups as of 5 p.m. yesterday, Bernard said.

The results so far this year represents a significant dropoff from previous years. Last year, 332 freshmen pledged off campus living groups. In 1996, 362 freshmen decided to live in fraternities and independent living groups.

In the end, over 250 students will likely pledge fraternities and ILGs, said Neal H. Dorow, associate dean of RLSLPand adviser to fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups.

As of now, four houses have closed their desks, indicating all of their bids have either been accepted or declined, Dorow said. Rush officially ends at the end of the week.

Lottery improves over past years

Last year, six students received their fourth choice and 29 students received their third choice, even though only 676 students were placed. This year, 744 students were placed in dormitories through the lottery.

More significantly, 85 percent of those entering the lottery received their first choice this year, compared to 69 percent last year, when some algorithmic improvements were added. In 1996, 76 percent of those entering the lottery received their first choice.

The principal reason for the improvements in the assignments were a variety of alterations to the lottery program written by Eliot S. Levitt '89, a former staff assistant in the Office of Residence and Campus Activities, which is now a part of the Office of Residence Life and Student Life Programs.

Levitt improved the algorithm used to assign students to dormitories by adding additional optimization levels, he said. In previous years, only one optimization was used; this year, the program then attempted to make two- and three-way swaps in order to further optimize the selections.

Crowding in system increases

As a result of the relatively low number of freshmen pledging fraternities, the crowding level in the system is at around 175, higher than in previous years.

This year's algorithm also worked to set the crowding levels in particular dormitories, Bernard said. As a result, 16 lounges in MacGregor House will be converted into doubles this fall.

On the other hand, East Campus will not be as crowded as in some previous years. The changes in crowding levels were designed to increase the number of students getting their first or second choice.

At the same time, the system was not allowed to completely decrowd facilities, said Associate Dean for RLSLPAndrew S. Eisenmann '70. The lottery was generally allowed to select the number of people"within five or 10"of a target, Eisenmann said.

The program received upper and lower bounds for the number of students in each dormitory, Levitt said.

The use of Tang Hall as an undergraduate dormitory for 130 students has significantly relieved pressure on the dormitory system this fall, Bernard said.

Other improvements to the system include corrections to ensure that being in a roommate group does not enhance or decrease one's chances of getting a choice, and the removal ofMcCormick Hall from male selection lists, Levitt said.

McCormick down, Baker up

There were some significant changes in the number of students picking certain dormitories this year.

Demand for female-only housing appears to be on the decline. McCormick Hall, traditionally the most oversubscribed dormitory, was chosen first by only 71 students, with 67 slots available. Last year, 100 students selected it first, and in 1996 225 students placed it first.

Baker House, which was undersubscribed for the last several years, this year was the most oversubscribed dormitory, with 119 students vying for the 80 available slots in the partially-renovated dormitory.

Senior House, which was oversubscribed for the last two years after its renovation, became undersubscribed this year with 23 students applying for the 30 slots.

East Campus continues to be the most undersubscribed dorm, with 52 students ranking it first for 79 slots. Last year, 37 students ranked the dorm first while 107 were assigned to the facility.

The results this year came out just after the announced time of 5 p.m., causing anxiety for many waiting for their results. "We were all like, what's going on,'" said Erin Syron '02.

New system planned for next year

While this year's program produced results far better than in previous years, next year's freshmen will likely be lotteried into their dormitories using a new program, Levitt said.

Work is progressing on a new Java-based program that could potentially use genetic algorithms instead of multiple levels of optimization to achieve its task,Levitt said.

The current system has been used in some form since 1990,Levitt said, adding that the interface for student additions has changed twice since then. Initially, staff members entered the data into the computer system. Later, students used a bank of Macintosh computers in the StudentCenter, and most recently an Athena and world wide web interface have been used.

Levitt plans to conduct a statistical analysis of lottery results over the years in developing next year's algorithm.