You will spend months searching for the “right” college, filling out application forms, taking entrance exams, gathering recommendations, and applying for scholarships. Finally, “THE” acceptance letter arrives. You call all your friends to celebrate and then you start shopping for all the things you will need. In the fall you arrive on campus and you are excited about meeting your first official college friend—your roommate. But wait a minute—things are not going so well. After all the effort you put into selecting the “right” college you discover that you are less than thrilled about dorm life. Your classes are great but whose idea was it anyway to put two strangers into a tiny room and expect them to live together and get along day in and day out? What about your privacy? What about your roommate’s annoying habits?
This is no laughing matter—roommate pressures can cause stress related illness and impact your academic performance. Personality clashes, schedule conflicts, personal habits or issues with your roommate’s friends can often be the source of difficult relations. Not to worry. You may not be instant friends with your roommate, but these tips for roommate harmony will help you survive and even enjoy life in a college dorm room.
First of all, reduce the potential hazards of a totally random roommate match. Think about your personal habits and be honest when you fill out the roommate questionnaire provided by your college. Keep in mind that this is your only opportunity to express your personal likes and dislikes to the person who is making the roommate assignments. You may increase the odds of a good match if you reveal some details about your interests, the type of person you are, and those special “pet peeves” or “quirks” that make you unique (early riser or night owl, talkative or quiet, sloppy or neat, studying with music or totally quiet please, fresh air or turn up the heat, etc.)
Talk. Communication is essential. Call your roommate and start to get to know each other before you arrive on campus. Don’t make a snap judgment. You may have different tastes in music, movies, clothes, friends, etc. and you may even have different socio-economic, religious or cultural backgrounds–but none of these things mean that you can’t be respectful of each other’s differences and learn to live together.
Write up and sign a “roommate agreement” at the beginning of the year. Start by comparing your schedules, daily habits and the specific activities that are appropriate for your room. At home you may have used your room to do a lot more than just sleep. There will usually be other locations on campus besides your room to engage in many of those activities—but getting a good nights sleep and a nap or two in your own room will be important to both of you! Try to find ways not to disturb a sleeping roommate—be considerate. Privacy and alone time in the room, taking care of personal hygiene, telephone conversations, playing musical instruments, CDs or video games, computer use, watching television, entertaining friends—time limits, boyfriend/girlfriend visits, etc., keeping pets, studying, engaging in hobbies, smoking, alcohol or other recreational drugs, eating in the room and keeping the room clean, etc. are some items worth discussing. Decide together which room activities are okay and agree on time slots when it is okay—use a spreadsheet. Set a date to review the agreement after testing it for about a month and make adjustments if necessary. Keep your word!
Clean up after yourself and share cleaning tasks! Reduce the chances of illness during exam week—practice good sanitation and minimize the spread of germs.
Keep lines of communication open. Be clear about your expectations, set boundaries and stick with them. Be courteous. Speak to your roommate without yelling, screaming or using profanity. Be honest. Be realistic. Be tolerant.
Be considerate of a roommate’s feelings. Gossip can ruin a relationship. Living together means you may learn personal information—keep your roommate’s business private!
Negotiate and be willing to compromise when there is a conflict. Focus on behavior, not your roommate’s personality, e.g., say “I don’t like it when you make a mess in the room and don’t clean it up!” rather than “You are such a slob!” Seek out a third party, such as your Residence Advisor, to mediate if you can’t resolve the issue.
Respect differences and accept people for who they are. Be aware of your roommate’s pet peeves, likes and dislikes.
Respect each other’s privacy, belongings and personal space. Ask before you “borrow” anything! Discuss the sharing of supplies, food, and personal belongings. Never use your roommate’s stuff without asking permission and do not allow your friends to do so either. If you do use or break something, you need to apologize and pay for a replacement.
Control the noise level in your room. Unless your roommate doesn’t mind, you should use headphones when you listen to music or play a noisy video game. Be aware that telephone conversations can annoy others—leave the room and find somewhere else to have that hour long chat with family or friends. By the way—ear plugs may be useful in a noisy dorm.
Find something you enjoy doing with your roommate at least once a week—have dinner together or find an activity outside the room to reduce roommate stress “issues.” Doing something helpful or nice for your roomie on occasion is also a great idea.
Be careful about lending money. Pay money back as promised if you borrow.
Be mindful of the security of your room. Keep the door locked when you are out of the room. Store your valuables in a locked box or trunk. You may trust your roommate but there can be times when visitors to your room may not be as trustworthy.
Know residence hall policies and follow them
Be positive, stay flexible and remember no living situation will ever be perfect!