The Article About The Housing Lottery

Correction (April 28, 2024 8:02pm) — In the Bechtel Suite Picks section, the original article incorrectly stated that “historically unaffiliated” means unaffiliated during or before Winter Term. According to the emails from Kevin Gilmartin and Joe Bennethum, the cutoff between historically and newly unaffiliated is actually between Fall Term and Winter Term. That is, “historically unaffiliated” actually means exclusively before Winter Term. The text of the online article below has been updated to reflect this.

Given recent discourse and proliferation of misinformation regarding the undergraduate fall housing lottery process, the Tech spoke to Interhouse Committee (IHC) Chair Evan Portnoi to clarify some important points. The following is based on information obtained from the IHC, the April 25 email from Vice President of Student Affairs Kevin Gilmartin, and the Housing Office website.

Overview of Roompicks Process for Fall 2024

1. House Picks

Roompicks for all available rooms in all eight houses (Avery, Blacker, Dabney, Fleming, Lloyd, Page, Ricketts, Venerable) will occur this weekend, with rosters set to be finalized by Tuesday, April 30. Only full members of a house are eligible to live there. Participation in House Picks is opt-in; no one is signed up by default.

This year, each house will also be allocated 3 double rooms in Marks/Braun. House members can pick into these rooms during House Picks, which will give them a guaranteed pick during the Marks/Braun round later.

A number of beds in each house are reserved for incoming freshmen. This year, because House Picks will be occurring before the exact size of the incoming class is finalized (May 1), the Housing Office has instructed the IHC to determine the number and distribution of reserved frosh beds based on a prediction of 235 freshmen.

2. Bechtel Suite Picks

Remaining students who want to live in a Bechtel suite must organize themselves into groups of 4, 6, or 8 (the available suite sizes). Exactly one of the group members must submit an Unaffiliated Suite Lottery Application, due on Monday, May 13. (For groups who do not plan to participate in the unaffiliated-priority suite lottery, described in the next paragraph, it may not be necessary to fill out the application, since the pick order is determined only by the highest lottery number in the group. We have received conflicting information, and recommend submitting the application anyway.) The actual roompicks process for Bechtel suites will occur on May 15. Here is how the pick order will be determined:

The first 10 suites will be filled with a new unaffiliated-priority lottery system, as described in VPSA Kevin Gilmartin’s email sent to undergraduates yesterday. Groups will be assigned 1 “point” per Newly Unaffiliated student, and 2 “points” per Historically Unaffiliated student. Historically Unaffiliated means the student dropped their house membership(s) during Fall Term 2024 or before. Newly Unaffiliated means the student dropped their house membership(s) during Winter Term 2024. The first 10 groups will pick in order of highest “point” total, with ties broken by the best lottery number out of the group. It is unclear from the email whether the groups will be ranked by total points or as a fraction out of 2*group size, where the former would give advantage to larger unaffiliated suites.

After the first 10 suites are picked, the remaining suites will pick in order determined only by their best lottery number (irrespective of group members’ affiliation statuses).

It is possible for a “partial group” to pick into a suite with more beds than members, though pick priority will be given to “full groups”. It is unclear from the Housing Office website how the situation would be handled in the case that the last remaining suite is smaller than the next group in the pick order.

All standalone Bechtel singles will be reserved for students with CASS accommodations to pick in the next round.

3. Picks for Marks/Braun Suites, Marks/Braun Doubles, Marks/Braun Singles, and Bechtel Singles

Remaining groups of students who want to pick into a Marks/Braun double or suite (consisting of two double rooms), as well as individuals who have CASS accommodations for a single room, must submit an Unaffiliated Double Lottery Application, due on Friday, May 17. As with Bechtel Suite Picks, only one member of the suite/double (if applicable) should submit the form. The Housing Office website is unclear on whether students who chose a guaranteed Marks/Braun room during House Picks also need to submit an application, but in any case they will pick during this round also. The pick order will again be determined from the best lottery number in the group. The actual roompicks process will occur on Monday May 20 and Tuesday May 21.

4. Waitlist

Remaining students without a housing assignment will be automatically added to a waitlist in order of their lottery number.

The truth about unaffiliation status

How is it determined whether students in a proposed Bechtel group are unaffiliated, thus giving their group a higher pick?

Affiliation is ultimately managed and reported by each house’s executive committee (Excomm). The only way to change or drop a house membership is to speak to the house secretary.

The Office of Student Experience (OSE) distributed a Housing Affiliation survey last winter term. Despite the presence of conflicting information in the emails and on, the IHC confirmed that this survey was for statistical purposes only. Responses to OSE’s Housing Affiliation survey are not reflected in any house’s membership roster. According to IHC Chair Evan Portnoi, all house secretaries personally reached out to those students who identified as unaffiliated, asking them to confirm their desire to unaffiliate. Anyone who did not respond or otherwise contact their house secretary remains a member.

What about the incoming frosh?

The situation last year was exacerbated by the historically high yield rate (66%) for the incoming freshman class of 2027, bringing 271 (out of 412 admitted) students when only about 230 were expected. Since unaffiliated-priority Bechtel Suite Picks and House Picks had already happened, the only way to fit the 40 extra students was to remove 40 beds from the second round of Bechtel Picks. Despite this, the Housing Office managed to offer a bed to all students who wanted one (though several people opted out of the lottery once the only beds remaining were in Marks/Braun).

This year, in contrast, there were only 315 frosh admitted to the class of 2028. Even if the yield rate turns out higher, the class of 2028 will still end up around the target size of 215-225.

Is there an advantage to unaffiliating? (No.)

This year’s roompicks process is different from last year’s chiefly because House Picks are now occurring before Bechtel Suite Picks.

Last year, the first round of Bechtel Suite Picks, which was exclusive to unaffiliated students, happened before House Picks. This led to a large wave of unaffiliations in the Spring, just before Fall roompicks. A significant portion of students chose to drop their house memberships because (they believed that) their lottery number would give them a better chance of picking into an unaffiliated-priority Bechtel suite, compared to a room in their house if they didn’t drop.

This year, in contrast, house members will have a chance to pick into their house or a guaranteed Marks/Braun room before Bechtel Picks occur. For house members who do not get a room during House Picks, there is still a better chance of getting a Bechtel suite compared to last year, especially with the (in all likelihood) smaller incoming frosh class.

Also new this year is the change to the unaffiliated-priority Bechtel Suite Picks, as described above. This points system is a “hotfix” for the imbalance created by the wave of dishonest unaffiliations this year. By giving “historically unaffiliated” groups a higher pick, hopefully students who are truly not part of any house culture will be able to take full advantage of the unaffiliated-priority system that is intended for them.

According to VPSA Gilmartin’s email, for next year’s lottery he “will work with the IHC and other student leaders, and with unaffiliated student stakeholders, to ensure a lottery system that meets the needs of unaffiliated students, and prevents the regrettable current strategy by which students unaffiliate as a matter of convenience, to gain preferential access to Bechtel.”

So is there a risk of underfilling the houses?

The results of the OSE affiliation survey indicated that over 100 students dropped their house memberships between winter and spring term, prompting worries about whether houses had enough full members left to fill them. However, as mentioned above, the OSE affiliation survey did not actually change anyone’s membership status, and the real number of students who officially unaffiliated over this period is much less. (Although it was still large enough to motivate the modified pick order for unaffiliated-priority Bechtel suites.)

Even so, it is still possible for a house to have more beds than full members who opt into House Picks. In such a situation, there would be vacancies remaining even with reserved frosh rooms. According to IHC Chair Evan Portnoi, the Housing Office plans to fill any such vacancies with upperclassmen house members who haven’t picked into a room yet.

House Estimated Available Beds (Not Reserved for Frosh) Full Members
Lloyd 56 75
Page 59 84
Ricketts 45 74
Venerable 58 82
Avery 99 111
Dabney 44 68
Blacker 40 75
Fleming 54 77

Table 1: Estimated Available Beds vs. Full Members eligible to pick into those beds, by house. Numbers provided by IHC, updated Monday April 22.

I thought we were guaranteed 4 years of housing?

Despite rumors to the contrary, Caltech undergrads are not guaranteed four years of on-campus housing. While an average >90% of students live on campus each year, according to Associate Director of Student Housing Joe Bennethum, only first- and second-year students are guaranteed housing.

The Housing Office makes the 2-year promise clear in their Resident Guide and Housing Policies manual, available on This policy has been consistent since it was changed from promising only 1 year in 2019. The most recent time that all undergraduates were assured four years of on-campus housing was in 2010.

The confusion stems from language in the 2020 and 2021 Caltech Catalogs which vaguely refer to a “four-year residency expectation.” Bennethum clarified in an interview with the Tech that, in this case, “residency” simply refers to “enrollment.” This language was removed for the 2022 catalog.


April 25 - 28: HOUSE PICKS

May 6: Updated lottery numbers posted

Monday, May 13, 2024 – Bechtel Suite Application Due – Called Unaffiliated Suite Lottery Application on Housing website

Wednesday, May 15, 2024 – Bechtel Suite Picks

Friday, May 17, 2024 – Marks/Braun and Bechtel Single Application Due – Called Unaffiliated Double Lottery Application on Housing website — even though it’s also for people who need singles

Monday, May 20 - Tuesday, May 21, 2024: Marks/Braun and Bechtel Single Picks