College Roommates: The Basics

If you're like many students, college will be the first time you share your living space with someone other than family. This new experience can be both fun and challenging.

The Benefits and the Challenges

Here are some of the things you can expect:

  • Company: Your roommate is new to college too, so you can learn how to navigate campus life together.
  • Support: It's nice to have someone who can wake you when you sleep through your alarm or bring you soup when you're sick.
  • New perspectives: Your roommate might introduce you to a different culture or new points of view.
  • Shared activities and interests: You may have a roommate who likes to do the same things as you.
  • Lack of privacy: You may not have the privacy you're used to and may have to seek out places - like the library - to get it.
  • Lifestyle differences: If your roommate's habits, personality or schedule are very different from yours, it can be hard to adjust to living together.

Strategies for Success

Communicating often and openly is essential for any successful relationship. If you need help discussing something with your roommate, take advantage of the resources your college provides. Talking to your resident advisor (RA) is a good starting point. Here are some other tips for maintaining a good relationship with your roommate.

Make rules and respect them: A strategy that worked for Alicia, a college freshman, was coming to an agreement with her roommate early in the year that set the boundaries for how they would live together. For example, she and her roommate agreed that if one of them is trying to study, the other won't blare music or will record TV shows to watch later. After you agree on guidelines, respect them.

Compromise: You and your roommate won't agree on everything, so you'll both have to make some compromises. For instance, if one of you is messy and the other likes things neat, the untidy one should keep the shared areas of the room clean. And the neat one should overlook untidiness in the roommate's area.

Show courtesy: If you behave politely to your roommate, your roommate is likely to follow your lead. Wish your roommate luck on an exam. Ask if you can pick up something while you're running errands. As Axel, a college freshman, says, “When you have to deal with someone every day, … it’s important to stay on good terms.” His advice is to try to make your roommate happy that he or she wound up with you.

Living harmoniously with someone requires communicating, compromising and respecting differences. And mastering these life skills may be the most valuable lessons you’ll learn outside the classroom. As Jessica, a college sophomore, puts it, sharing a space can make you “a new and more open person, and you learn about yourself in the process.”