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Advice for New College Students From a Recent GradCambria Pilger
Your student may be at school for a week, a month or even a year, but they're going to have a roommate issue.
For most students, it’s short-lived and worked out with simple coping mechanisms and conversations. For others, it’s gut-wrenching and traumatizing — for them, and possibly for their parents, too.
My son and daughter dealt with roommate issues throughout their college years. Like most freshmen, it was my daughter’s first experience living with people who had different beliefs, cultures and upbringings. It was only natural there would be clashes and disagreements. Over the course of four years, she learned to live with just about every personality type imaginable. My son, on the other hand, knew how to cope — he had previously spent four years in the Marine Corps.
Roommate conflicts are problems your student should be expected to resolve on their own. Learning to get along with all kinds of people is part of the growing up process. Encourage your student to address any issues first with their roommate and, if they aren’t resolved, enlist the help of their RA.
Knowing there will be both good and bad roommates and how to cope with them will help you and your student during the next four years. Here's a breakdown of 10 different types of roommates your student might encounter in college and how to respond to them. As you look over these different “types,” see if you recognize your own student. I certainly did! Remind your student that it's a two-way street — they're responsible for communicating and adapting as well.
The Hermit prefers the comfort of the dorm room and rarely attends class. He might be found playing endless video games or binge watching the latest Netflix series. Showering and leaving the room is usually out of the question and, when asked to participate in any activity on campus, he usually grunts and ignores the invitation. My son shared a dorm room with this one his freshman year.
How did he cope? He tried to include him in social activities, but the roommate preferred to stay in. He also invited friends over and tried to include his roommate in the conversation. After multiple failed attempts, I advised my son to watch for signs of depression or anti-social behavior in his roommate and report it to the RA if it worsened. After one semester, however, the boy was put on academic suspension and returned home.
If your student isn’t the tidiest, this type of roommate is a challenge. The Neat Freak insists on her bed — and her roommate’s — being made every morning. She cleans non-stop and insists that the room be clutter-free and spotless at all times. You might think this is a blessing, but after a month of snide remarks and innuendos about your student’s hygiene standards, it will get old. My daughter was a Neat Freak and struggled throughout college when her roommates didn't share her passion.
How did she cope? She concentrated on her side of the room and tried her best to ignore the mess on the other side. As long as her roommates didn’t encroach on her space, she was relatively satisfied. Once she moved into a suite and multi-bedroom situation, she was much happier. Does your student live with a Neat Freak? Encourage them to have a little compassion and try to keep the mess to a minimum.
The Slob is one of the hardest roommates to coexist with, especially if you're a Neat Freak. My daughter’s junior year was spent in a suite with several slovenly students. They refused to wash their dishes, trash their empty food containers or pick up their shoes from the common room. The fine line between “lived in” and “unsanitary” was crossed often.
How did she cope? She started with a conversation. It worked for a few weeks, but old habits die hard. Possibly the other roommates were allowed to live like this at home. Since my daughter simply couldn’t stand the odors and disarray, she and another student cleaned on a weekly basis. What is your student able to tolerate? If the room is actually unsanitary, and bugs (or worse) start appearing, it's time to involve the RA.
Freshman year, my daughter's roommate developed a serious relationship with another student. "Serious" meant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They went to class together, ate together, studied together and slept together — most of it in my daughter’s one room double. It was awkward for my daughter because she took her study time seriously and her roommate didn’t seem to care. They had no shame when it came to activities reserved for the private bedroom.
How did she cope? She learned to knock first if the door was closed. She also expressed her desire to study, relax and entertain in the room as well. After multiple conversations and a few awkward interruptions, her roommate got the hint and spent time with her S.O. away from the dorm room. As the semester progressed, they couple broke up and my daughter got her roommate back.
If your student has a roommate with an ongoing romance from high school, she can expect her to be on the phone constantly — talking and texting. The roommate may be an emotional roller coaster: crying over fights, analyzing every conversation, moping, and possibly needing continuous comfort over breakups (which may happen with regularity).
How does your student cope? Be patient. Most high school relationships fizzle out as the student becomes more involved in college and meets new people. Try and be compassionate, but don’t let the roommate's relationship woes ruin your college experience — and don't let it prevent you from getting out and meeting people.
According to my offspring, this is the worst type of roommate. There is constant tension, but direct words are never spoken. The roommate leaves notes or uses snarky comments to convey their disapproval. If your student doesn’t get the hint to take out the garbage, he may find a trash bag on his bed after returning from class.
How does your student cope? Most passive-aggressive behavior can be avoided by having a roommate discussion at the beginning of the year. Roomates agree to communicate openly about what bothers them. If the roommate refuses to engage and continues the P.A. approach, try and respond to the hints and any reasonable requests in a positive manner — take out the trash.
Sophomore year, my daughter moved in to a two-person dorm room. She didn't know her roommate and met her for the first time on move-in day. As the weeks progressed, my daughter saw less and less of her. They barely interacted and it was obvious the roommate wasn't interested in becoming friends. My daughter was basically living alone.
How did she cope? She didn't like the lonely feeling so she spent her time away from the dorm room, returning only to change clothes, shower and sleep. She had friends across the hall and sorority sisters who lived in suites, so that's where she hung out. For students who like solitude, the Ghost might be a godsend. But for those looking to make friends —particularly first-year students — this situation could prove difficult.
The social butterfly who brings friends over all hours of the night to party can be a problem for a student who are trying to focus on academics (and sleep). Some freshmen especially, carried away with their newfound freedom, take the partying too far. If your student is a partier, too, he might not complain. If not, this routine is going to get old very fast.
How does your student cope? Have a conversation. You're not trying to ruin the roommate's fun, but it's reasonable to agree on quiet hours, both at night and in the morning. Most first-year students are underage and drinking isn't allowed in residence halls, but there will be students who break the rules. If this happens, or your student is worried/bothered by a roommate's excessive drinking, they may need to enlist the help of the RA.
The Mooch assumes “what’s yours is mine.” She wears your daughter’s clothes, eats her food and uses her makeup. She takes things without asking and rarely returns borrowed items. My daughter lived with a Mooch senior year.
How did she cope? She tried her best to set boundaries once she realized there were none. They settled on certain items that were shareable and others that were not — such as food she'd purchased, her jewelry and her shoes. Once her roommate understood and agreed to these limits, there were few disputes.
Many students luck out and get a dream roommate in college who becomes a best friend. They enjoy the same things, have compatible personalities and want the same things when it comes to the room they share. If your student's freshman living situation isn't ideal, advise them to be proactive to improve things — and take heart. Few people leave college without rooming with their perfect match at some point along the way.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.