Learning to live with roommates or suitemates can be among the most challenging experiences for new students. Check out this guide to explore how make the most of your college roommate experience.
What to Expect from a New Roommate
Living with a roommate is different from living with your family. You and your roommate(s) may have vastly different backgrounds and personal habits, but you can still have a successful roommate relationship. Even in the most successful roommate relationships, it is normal to encounter challenges. But remember that this experience will help you build crucial interpersonal and problem-solving skills that will help you in all aspects of life.
Preparing to Live with a Roommate
Remember that having a good roommate situation involves being a good roommate yourself. Whether you are living with a new acquaintance or an old friend, it's important to keep the lines of communication open to maintain a positive roommate experience. Take some time to think about what is important to you regarding personal and common spaces, noise, privacy, and sharing. Writing down each roommate’s habits may help you think about what agreements you’d like to make with your roommate(s) or suitemates.
Being able to express yourself clearly will help prevent conflicts or misunderstandings.
After you’ve discussed all of your habits, you may decide to create a roommate contract that you all write and sign together which will outline your agreements for the shared space.
Get to Know One Another
Take the initiative to get to know your roommate(s). Share with each other where you are from, what program you are in, and what you like to do for fun. Grab a meal with your new roommate(s) and walk around the city together. Find your similarities and your differences. Knowing each other well will help you develop a healthy roommate relationship. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to be friends with your roommate to have a successful roommate relationship, but getting to know her or him better doesn't hurt, and may even help your relationship.
Establish Ground Rules
Establishing ground rules is key to good roommate communication. Practice being a good roommate by being courteous and respectful. Set rules about topics such as:
- Cleaning — This is one for the biggest areas of roommate conflict. Talk about who is responsible for chores each week, such as vacuuming and taking out the trash. Write it down to keep each other accountable.
- Sharing — Talk about items you are okay with sharing. If that includes something like a printer, talk about who buys paper and toner, etc. When in doubt, always ask for permission.
- Sleeping — Talk about what time you both usually go to sleep and wake up. Agree on how to handle music, TV, lights, and guests when one of you is sleeping.
- Socializing — Establish your level of comfort about having guests over in the room. Are you okay with friends/boyfriends/girlfriends spending the night? How about when you are studying for midterms or finals?
- Study Habits — Discuss how you each like to study (in the room, at the library, etc.) and set up any rules for when one of the roommates is studying (e.g. “If you are studying for midterms, I will keep my social activity outside of the room.”)
- Music/Noise — Talk about the circumstances under which you are okay with playing music or watching TV. Again, you might instate different rules for midterms or finals season or when writing papers.
Respect One Another's Personal and Shared Spaces
Be aware of your roommate’s privacy and personal property. Tidy up your side of the room and keep the noise down when they go to bed.
Defusing a conflict can be challenging; here are some guidelines to help:
- Talk about the problem as soon as possible. Don’t wait for it to go away on its own.
- Find an appropriate time to talk—not when your roommate is running out the door or with friends.
- Be assertive, but not aggressive. Think about how you would want your roommate(s) to approach you with a problem.
- Listen to your roommate(s) and respect their point of view. There may be something going on in their life that you don’t know about.
- Focus on the behavior you would like to see changed instead of the personal characteristics of your roommate—they less likely to become defensive if you take this approach.
- Compromise. Come up with a solution that you are both comfortable with.
Reaffirm Your Agreements
Throughout the year, it may be necessary to sit down and revisit any agreements you may have made. Revisit the roommate contract together and clarify any agreements that need to be specified (i.e., “Trash needs to be taken out twice a week instead of once,” or “Let’s change the ‘no music after 12:00 a.m.’ to 11:00 p.m.”) Run through scenarios to make sure you are both on the same page.
You've Tried Everything, But It's Still Not Working Out
Talk to your resident advisor (RA) or community advisor (CA) if you are still having trouble with a roommate(s). They can help mediate some problems or help you find better solutions.