How to Choose a College Roommate

A significant factor in the success of your transition to college is the ability to adjust to living away from home. Not only are you leaving family and friends behind in order to forge your path into the future, but in most cases you are making that transition alongside a roommate or two. Each college and university varies in their roommate matching strategy. Often schools allow for a mutually chosen intentional match. The role of social media has had a major impact on this process. Incoming classes create social media groups for students to virtually “meet” before even stepping on campus. Many of these meet-ups result in roommate requests.

What Makes a Good College Roommate?

How do you know what to look for in a good roommate? We’ve compiled some suggestions based on some successful and not so successful matches. While getting to know someone, ask simple questions that provide clues to their thoughts and behaviors in these areas.

  1. Interests can define the college experience. A person who is in the marching band, Greek life, an athletic team, or academic club often has obligations and connections determined by their involvement. Relationships are likely to develop based on those involvements. If you are looking for a new best friend, and your roommate candidate is interested in a fraternity that doesn’t interest you, it is likely their social group will be different than yours.
  2. Sleep schedules are different and can create issues for some people. Part of being a good roommate is being considerate of another person’s sleep. An “early bird” is not likely to appreciate a roommate who burns the midnight oil on the phone or by entertaining in the room. Some sports require very early starts. Swimmers who have to be in the pool at 6:00 AM, might best live with other swimmers who understand the schedule. Having an awareness of preferred sleep patterns is helpful in determining compatibility.
  3. Priorities in heading to college vary. You would think everyone has enrolled with the intention of academic success, however many students look forward to the college experience as a chance to spread their wings and explore the idea of being away from home. If academics are a priority for you, say so. Inquire as to the candidate’s study habits. Do they wear headphones and appreciate a quiet work environment? Will they study in a library or other location outside of your room? What is their major? A drama major is likely to carry a very different course load than an engineering major; and with that difference may come vast differences in free time. Do they tend to procrastinate and work through the night to complete projects? Understanding what someone hopes to get out of their first year away can help in defining similarities or differences.
  4. Values may seem too heavy of a topic to consider; however, the fundamental beliefs of a person can make or break a match. Are you or the candidate strongly connected to an organized religion? Are there activities you are not comfortable experiencing in your living environment? Under-age drinking, first-time drug use and sexual activity occur on all college campuses. Whether experimentation or a regular part of celebration, these choices place both roommates in a potentially risky situation. Be clear on the boundaries of acceptable behavior in your space.
  5. Habits and details matter! Does the candidate like to live in a clean environment? Making the bed on a daily basis may not be necessary, but generally cleaning up after your roommate gets old really quickly. Do they smoke or “vape?” Although it’s not likely a habit that will be allowed in your room, is it a deal breaker for you? Do they like to borrow and share, and you are more possessive? Everyone has habits, but certain roommate habits can become very irritating over time, especially in a small living space.
  6. Prior friendships or boyfriend/girlfriend relationships on campus can complicate your relationship. Oftentimes friends from home choose to live separately, but still maintain a tight bond. Especially if the candidate is attending the same school as a girlfriend or a a boyfriend, your double might unbeknownst to you, become a triple. Inquire as to how well they know others at the school and why they are choosing not to live with them.

While getting to know someone, compatibility is key to a great living experience. Set yourself up for a successful coexistence by having realistic expectations about living with someone else. Your roommate does not have to be your best friend, but you both should be flexible and respectful. 

Tips for Living with a College Roommate

Having some up-front conversations with a new roommate can help define your expectations and build the foundations of a good relationship. Make your college roommate experience a success by using these 10 tips.

  1. Manage your roommate expectations. Living compatibly with your roommate should be the end goal. Visions of lifelong friendships, while nice, are not necessary in a good roommate. Your entire college experience will consist of relationship building. As long as you have a comfortable person/ place to come “home” to, that should be good enough.
  2. Respect each other’s belongings. Agree on shared/ borrowed items and never test that boundary. Just because you share kitchen items, doesn’t mean your roommate is okay with sharing shoes and clothes. Always ask and respect your roommate’s answer.
  3. Discuss your thoughts and feelings about substance use. Campus rules vary, but for the most part, drugs and alcohol are not allowed in dorm rooms, especially if living in freshman housing. Although it may feel awkward, having the discussion upfront may help avoid complicated situations that put your student housing contract at risk.
  4. Discuss your study, sleep and wake needs. How do you feel about video gaming, snoozing alarm clocks, and in-room studying? Each of these can create tension if not aligned with your needs.
  5. Talk about issues while they are still small and can be easily dealt with. Keep any problems you’re having with roommates amongst yourselves- social media is never the place to deal with roommate conflict.
  6. Be upfront about an overnight visitors’ policy. Adding a girlfriend or boyfriend to an already tight living space can increase tensions, especially if it becomes an ongoing issue.
  7. Find outside friends. If your relationship is the perfect match, congratulations, you’ve hit the roommate jackpot. But if it’s not, that’s okay too. A friendly respectful relationship makes for a great roommate. Find outside friends to fill your social needs.
  8. Find your own activities. You are likely to spend more hours with your roommate than any other person simply for the fact of living in the same space. Spending some time participating in activities that meet your own interests may help avoid roommate overload.
  9. Hygiene, bathroom use, and cleaning. Some conversations in this general area are easier to have than others. General cleanliness and some shared responsibilities in keeping the room clean are a common conversation amongst roommates. No one appreciates a roommate doling out chores, however if upkeep is falling on you, it is a fair discussion to ask for more help. Personal hygiene is an altogether different matter. Resident life specialists are trained to guide roommates through awkward conversations. If a roommate’s personal choices begin to negatively impact your comfort level while in your room, seek support in resolving the issue.
  10. Bottom line: treat your roommate how you’d like to be treated.

Dealing with College Roommate Issues

How to Deal with a Bad College Roommate

Your roommate experience can have a huge impact on your academic success and your overall adjustment to college life. A “bad” college roommate is as subjective as a good one. A neat freak or a night owl could make or break your dorm room experience depending on your perspective. Remember that not every roommate relationship is a perfect match, but you shouldn't feel trapped. If you’ve tried to improve your living situation, but your roommate experience is no longer tolerable, understand that there are actions you can take.

  • Learn to let things go. All relationships take work, and some end up not lasting. Your roommate relationship may not be a lasting friendship. If you can remain respectful, it’s sometimes necessary to accept that you and your roommate will coexist for the time being and move forward into the upcoming years with a more compatible match.
  • Speak up. Sometimes, it’s best to handle a slight annoyance or pet peeve by tackling it head on instead of letting it fester. Working through conflict one on one is a valuable life lesson. If you don’t feel you can be objective, involve a neutral third party to discuss and try to reach some compromise.
  • Reach out. Speak to parents and trusted friends for tips on making your roommate relationship work. If all efforts to get along have failed, or you feel your physical or mental health are in jeopardy, reach out to your resident advisor to begin the process of reassigning your room. Note that in most cases you will be the one making the move. Once you’ve relocated, make the best of your new start. Don’t let one bad roommate define your college experience.

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