Getting Along With Your Roommates

Part of the excitement of going away to college is getting to know new people, and some of the first people you will meet are your roommates. Sharing a living space is an important educational experience because it helps students adjust to new situations, exposes them to different kinds of people, teaches them how to resolve conflicts, and improves communication skills.

Living at home, you may already have shared a bedroom with a brother or sister, but living with several roommates at college can be different in many ways. Your roommates may come from different backgrounds, lifestyles or parts of the world. They may be complete strangers, friends or acquaintances from home. In any case, your relationship with these people will be unique.

When people live in the close community of a residence hall, some disagreements and conflicts are bound to arise. Knowing something in the advance about group living can help you ease these situations before they become problems. Here are some common differences that can occur between roommates, and some suggestions for resolving them:

  • Decorating – You may like warm colors, while your roommates prefer blues and greens. When living with someone you have never met, it is best to wait until you arrive at school to shop together for items for the room to avoid major disagreements over color schemes and styles.
  • Room-keeping – You and your roommates may differ on standards of neatness, and these should be discussed early. With busy schedules, it may not always be realistic to expect perfect tidiness from your roommates (or from yourself, for that matter), but it is reasonable, for example, that your room look neat when friends visit. You and your roommates can try to inform each other in advance when you plan to have guests so that the other can make the bed, straighten up, or do whatever you agree is acceptable. (In case of unexpected guests, you might agree to put the other person's stray possessions in a closet or elsewhere out of sight.)
  • Sharing of personal possessions –- At the beginning of the school year, clearly express your preferences about the sharing of clothing, cosmetics, sports equipment, food, appliances or other possessions with your roommates. When in doubt, always ask permission to borrow or use someone else's belongings. Remember, it is perfectly OK if you decide not to share your things with others if that is your preference.
  • Developing friendships – As the school year progresses, it is natural for strong friendships to develop between students who are not roommates. Although you and your roommates may become close, try to also seek out different people and avoid becoming overly dependent on your roommates for companionship. If you and your roommates do not become friends, you can still be friendly and respectful toward each other. Choosing a friend or acquaintance as a roommate does not always mean that everything will go smoothly. The old adage is true - you never know a person until you live with him or her. As a new college student, you may find that it is better to live with someone you do not know so that you and your friends from home can develop broader social circles.
  • Visitors to the room – There may be times your roommates would wish to entertain and you want to study at your desk or go to sleep. By discussing these needs, you probably can come up with compromises that allow each of you to have your way at least some of the time. Planning and informing each other in advance, when possible, will make it easier for all of you to adjust to each other's habits.
  • Study habits – Some people study better with music in the background; others need total quiet to concentrate. Some students like to study in their rooms; others prefer the library. You and your roommates will have definite preferences, and you can expect that they will not always be the same. It can be helpful to talk about your needs early in the year, and later, if you find that your habits change.
  • Noise – In every student's life, there comes a time when the room or building will seem too noisy. Someone's (or your) music is too loud, an alarm clock rings at 4 a.m. or your roommate gets a phone call late at night. These may be occasional, unavoidable annoyances or situations that disturb you regularly and that calls for discussion.
  • Personal habits – Chances are, there will be some habit or personal preference of one or more of your roommates that will eventually become a problem. It may be the quiet rumble of your roommate's dresser drawer opening and closing loud enough to awaken you in the morning or the fact that one of you may sleep better in a cold room, while the other likes to turn up the heat at bedtime. Whether you decide to speak up will depend on how really inconvenienced you are and whether some reasonable solution is worked out.

Occasionally, situations arise when roommates are unable to solve a particular problem. The Residence Life staff will attempt to work with the students to establish some sort of an agreement among all roommates. Roommates who are having disagreements must meet with their RA before they ask for a room change. If you and your roommates still are unable to resolve your problems, then the RA can recommend a room change to the Coordinator. If the Coordinator feels that one or both parties involved in a conflict situation are unwilling to compromise, the Coordinator may recommend that one or both individuals move to another space on-campus.

Since it is important to talk about various issues before they arise, the Residence Life Office strongly encourages you to utilize the "Roommate Contract" form. All students are given this form at the beginning of the year and a signed copy of the completed form is kept by the Residence Life staff. If problems arise between roommates, the roommates can utilize this form to settle disputes or issues.

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