The summer before my freshman year started, my roommate and I decided to join a Residential Academic Program, or "RAP" for short.
Since we are both business majors, we knew we wanted to join the Isenberg Fellows RAP in Pierpont Hall. There is a second Isenberg RAP in Cance Hall, right next door to Pierpont, but we liked the globalization focus of the Pierpont RAP. Unlike most RAPs, the two Isenberg programs require an actual application that you fill out over the summer instead of being on a first-come, first-served basis. Once accepted, it was confirmed that we would be living in the Southwest Residential Area like we wanted.
Pro-tip: joining a RAP is one of the best ways to ensure your residential area of choice!
While our initial intentions may have been to simply secure housing in Southwest, I can wholeheartedly say that joining the Isenberg RAP turned out to be the best decision I made coming into UMass. All members of the RAP take Microeconomics 103 together first semester and Macroeconomics 104 second semester, so I was able to have an immediate support system for both of those classes right down the hall at all times. Furthermore, you are required to take a one-credit seminar class of about 15 students in the program. This was a great way to meet people on my floor, and it actually introduced me to two of closest friends at UMass! The seminar focused on globalization in the business sector and was taught by Professor Gail Cruise, who I absolutely adore. It was extremely interesting and not too difficult, making it easily one of my favorites I've taken at UMass so far. Lastly, the program also allowed me to take a special RAP section of Accounting 221 with only 40 students as opposed to 200. I got to take that class an entire semester early due to the RAP section, so I am now ahead on that requirement!
Of course I can only speak from my experience with the Isenberg Fellows RAP, but I highly recommend checking out the many RAP programs UMass has to offer. There are dozens of programs based on school/college, major, general education classes, or common interests so there is bound to be one that interests you!