My College:
Housing & Residential Life

College Roommates — How to Make It Work

Marlene Kern Fischer

When I was an incoming freshman, my university sent out a questionnaire designed to match students with their ideal roommates.

There were questions about sleep and study habits, housekeeping and lifestyle routines. I diligently filled out the form, putting considerable thought into every answer so that they’d find the perfect roommate for me.

I’m pretty sure that either the questionnaire got lost in the mail or the people in charge of roommate selection never bothered to read it. Either way, the person selected for me was not my perfect roommate. And I was not hers.

Don’t get me wrong. My freshman roommate was a lovely person. In fact, we still keep in touch. We actually became better friends after freshman year, when we no longer had the pressure of sharing a small space. If you’ve ever seen The Odd Couple, she was the Oscar to my Felix. In addition to having differing views on cleanliness, we kept different hours; she was a night owl and needed a lot less sleep than I did. It wasn’t all bad — we had some fun together and I enjoyed our late night chats about life.

I don’t blame the university. Even when two people have similar habits, sharing a snug dorm room can be difficult. Although everyone starts off with the best of intentions, coordinating appliances and bedding, it’s likely there will be rough patches at some point during the year.

Though rooming with a friend can make things easier, it doesn’t necessarily preclude disagreements and hard feelings. And at some schools, preselecting a roommate is no longer even an option.

Whether your freshman chose their roommate or was assigned one, there are steps they can take to promote harmony (or at least avert an all-out war).

Share these suggestions with your student today!


Set guidelines for the basics.

  1. Cleaning — Who’s in charge of sweeping or vacuuming? (In my oldest son’s dorm room, the answer would have been no one, which is fine if both parties agree.) Do either of you care about clothes on the floor, unmade beds, etc.?
  2. Overnight guests — Allowed or not? This can be especially tricky; no one should be forced to leave or made to feel uncomfortable in their own room.
  3. Hours and noise level — if you don’t keep the same hours, it’s important to be considerate and quiet when coming in and going out. Residence hall life can be difficult for light sleepers; I slept with a fan running in college to drown out noise (both in my room and from the hallway), a habit I continued after college.

Don’t count on becoming besties with your roommate. If it does happen, terrific; however, you don’t have to be close for your living situation to work.


Your roommate will have a lot of abilities. I can guarantee, however, that mindreading will not be one of them. If there’s a problem, let them know about it before you get resentful. Silently fuming or talking about them behind their back won’t help and, in fact, may make things worse.

This is good advice for all relationships — openness is important. And remember, it’s a two-way street. Be ready to share your thoughts and feelings but also to hear your roommate’s point of view.


When you and your roommate don’t see eye to eye, you (yes, you) must be willing to compromise. No one gets their way all the time. If the two of you reach an impasse, find an impartial third party to help. This will likely be your RA (Residence Advisor or Assistant). Seek them out — mediation is part of their job.

There are roommate situations which are beyond the scope of what an 18-year-old is able to deal with. My oldest son’s freshman roommate was a fine, intelligent young man but had difficulties adjusting to college life. He stopped going to classes and slept much of the day. My son felt responsible for him and tried to encourage him to make it to class. When his efforts didn’t work he was unsure what to do. Ultimately the university stepped in and the young man took a leave of absence to regroup. If you feel your roommate is struggling, don’t try to solve their problems; find someone who has the training to help.

In the end, it’s hard to predict the odds of roommate success.

Sometimes unlikely pairs hit it off and others, who seemed as if they would be ideal, end up miserable.

Your freshman and their roommate will see each other through a lot: dating drama and final exam stress, illnesses and various crises they can’t foresee. There will also be impromptu celebrations and unexpected heart-to-hearts. Whether they live together for one year or all four, they’ll share memories that last well beyond the college years.

Follow Marlene on Facebook, and read more of her wonderful stories on her CollegiateParent author page and her blog, "Thoughts from Aisle Four."


Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother, food shopper extraordinaire, author and college essay editor. She has published two books: Trapped in My Sports Bra and Other Harrowing Tales and Gained a Daughter but Nearly Lost My Mind: How I Planned a Backyard Wedding During a Pandemic. Find her on Facebook at Thoughts From Aisle 4.
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