Take schools that have a house system, but don’t have a magical hat to sort students into the various houses. Who makes that decision, and what do they base it on? And does it happen on day one, or after a year, or even two?
I think in some cases, it’s done with a hat - that is, names on slips of paper are drawn from a container (traditionally a hat).
In my children’s school, though, there is a rule that siblings will always be put in the same house (if their attendance at the school overlaps, that is), so that there is no intra-family rivalry.
I went to school in England for a year when I was 9 and they had a “house” system of sorts (this was at what we in the US would call a public school, btw); it wasn’t a boarding school or anything but the classes were divided up into teams of a sort, based somewhat on where you lived and somewhat by the teacher. Each team or house or group would accumulate points and every week at the regular assembly the team with the most points got possession of a travelling trophy.
Points were awarded based on things like test scores, sporting competitions and other normal school activities.
That any help? Like I said, the individual teams didn’t actually live together, nor were we separated out by teams during the day, you just knew which team you were part of. I got the impression that this was normal in many schools over there.
When I was sorted into a house I was sorted on the first day and it was by name (almost).
The head of year had a long list of names and went down the list assigning people to houses (there were 4) in the following manner:
Name A House 1
Name B House 2
Name C House 3
Name D House 4
Name E House 1
Name F House 2
Name G House 3
Name H House 4
and so on.
I didn’t go to a private or boarding school. It was supposed to build links between the forms, but I don’t think it did at least not whilst I was there.
ETA: We had similar inter-house competitions (sports, grades, debit/credits).
At the secondary school I attended, the numbers were sufficiently large that entire tutor groups were assigned to the same house.
Harvard has a house system. Freshmen all live in a certain group of houses their first year and assignment was pretty much random, as far as I could tell, although I was allowed to room with a friend from high school that was also there.
Subsequent years, assignment was done by lottery, although once you were in a particular house, you stayed there, unless you applied for and were granted a transfer. You were allowed to list your top few choices of rooming situation, but whether or not you got any of them depended on your lottery number.
One other thing I just remembered is that some houses did have reputations for having a certain type of character–one was the Artsy House, one was the Jock House, one was for the Future Lawyers and Politicians of America and so forth. Most were just a mix, though.
When I was a student at Caltech in the early 80’s, this was the system they used for the undergraduate houses:
The first week of school, you were assigned to a house at random. During that week, each night you ate dinner at a different house and participated in that house’s social activities. At the end of the week you got to pick four houses that you wouldn’t mind living in. Meanwhile, during the week, in a somewhat secret process, the upperclassmen in all the houses were ranking all the incoming freshmen as to who they thought would fit in best in their house. (The houses all had somewhat different cultures and atmospheres.) At the end of the week there was what amounted to a draft in which the house presidents went in turn and each picked his or her top choice among the remaining freshmen, with the restriction that a freshman could only get into one of his or her four choices.
This was called “Rotation”.
I have no idea if they still use this process today.
We were just selected randomly- we had the same rule about siblings though. None of the houses was known for anything in particular though.