My College:
Housing & Residential Life

Secrets of Roommate Harmony

Kate Gallop

Living with a roommate can be a challenging part of the transition to college but harmony is possible! Here are five tips to share with your first-year student.

1. Go in with an open mind.

Before I got to college, I thought picking my roommate would be the make-or-break factor of freshman year. I imagined worst case scenarios, best case scenarios and everything in between.

Two years in, I realize how important it is to enter a new living situation with optimism and openness. My first-year roommate became someone who made me feel less lonely during my adjustment. College is a new experience for both of you. You will find what works for you and learn what you want in a sophomore roommate.

“If you shake off your expectations as best you can, you will have a more natural and positive relationship. I loved my freshman roommate, but even the people I know who didn’t learned more about themselves and learned to live with others better in the process.” – Sophomore, Washington University in St. Louis

2. Set expectations before problems arise.

Unspoken expectations are at the root of a lot of conflict. Make your needs clear while also remaining open to your roommate’s preferences.

Many colleges will connect random roommates through a short survey about living styles, and you will probably need to fill out a roommate agreement (going over things like cleanliness, schedules, visitors, etc.) in the first few weeks. Not all conflict is about room logistics, but having those expectations clear from the start can make living together much easier.

It’s necessary to talk about conflict as it comes up, but many misunderstandings can be avoided by talking upfront. This means giving your roommate the space to express concerns, too. Your RA can be a great resource for advice and conflict resolution if needed.

My roommate would stay up a lot later most nights and I had a hard time sleeping with her desk light on. After this kept happening, I asked if she could find a common room on our floor to study in when I’m trying to sleep. She was really understanding, and it made living with her a lot easier.” – Sophomore, CU Boulder

3. Be respectful of your shared space.

For many people, college is the first time sharing a room. Keep in mind that things which may seem harmless to you could be frustrating for your roommate. Make sure to communicate, especially in the first few weeks as you establish a routine, and know that you might have to make some compromises.

There are a lot of ways to make life easier for your roommate:

  • Use headphones when they are in the room
  • Don’t go through their belongings
  • Ask before borrowing things
  • Take out trash before it smells
  • Don’t snooze your alarm
  • Study in a common room if they go to bed early
  • Ask before taking a call
  • Check in before bringing other people into the room

Being considerate of your roommate will encourage them to do the same.– Junior, Washington University in St. Louis

4. Recognize that a good roommate and a good friend are different things.

Living with someone is very different from being friends. There are so many things I don’t care about when making friends: what temperature they like a room, how often they clean or take out the trash, and when they go to bed.

It’s good to get to know your roommate, but let go of the pressure to be best friends with them. Some of my friends with the best roommate relationships had nothing in common with them, but they respected each other and lived well together regardless.

In the beginning of my freshman year, my roommate and I would go to events and grab food together, but as the year progressed we met more people, made different friends, and spent less time together. Even then, it was so nice to come back to my room and have someone to talk to about my day.– Junior, University of San Francisco

5. Spend time outside of the room.

My favorite thing about starting college was having a full campus to explore. I found my favorite library, stayed on campus between classes, and enjoyed meals in different cafeterias.

Leaving my room during the day and spending time away from my roommate made getting along much easier. Plus, then we had things to catch up on. Being out and about also makes it easier to meet new people.

Even if you’re good friends with your roommate, still make an effort to develop other friendships. Talk to people on your floor, look for a club that interests you, and be friendly to people in your classes.

"Get to know your roommate, but get to know other people, too. Find clubs or other activities to do that aren’t with your roommate so you both have space and alone time in your room." – Junior, Miami University, Ohio

Your student’s living situation is only one element of their freshman experience. Encourage them to take advantage of all the opportunities out there to find connection on campus!

Kate Gallop is a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, where she majors in English and minors in psychology and WGSS (women's, gender and sexuality studies). Kate's work has appeared on Creating Cultures of Dignity’s blog and in Canvas, a teen literary journal. Aside from writing, she enjoys creating graphics for WashU Dance Marathon and playing club basketball.
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