Dealing with Roommates
Dealing with Roommates
MCarper /

While some schools give you the option to pick your roommate, many freshmen share their rooms with a stranger. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Try your hardest to coexist peacefully and make the best of whatever situation you’re in. Remember, most housing assignments and leases last no longer than a year.

Roommates and On-Campus Housing

Freshmen may not get a choice when it comes to their first-year roommates. Often, schools will send out a questionnaire and then match students to a roommate based on their answers. While on some occasions students may be allowed to request a roommate (e.g., if two friends happen to be going to the same school), not all institutions allow this. Check with your school’s residential life office for more information about their first-year housing policies.

How are roommates chosen?

If you want or need a roommate, you can select a specific person (if you have a friend going to the same school) or the college can choose one for you. To match you with a roommate, colleges use a housing questionnaire. They ask you personal questions about your lifestyle and living habits. They want to know if you’re a smoker, how often you drink, what time you go to bed, what time you wake up, and whether you keep your room neat or messy. Some roommate questionnaires delve deeper and ask about your music preferences, what types of books you read, and your extracurricular and academic interests.

It’s important to be honest as it will only benefit you. You wouldn’t want to be paired with someone who said that they were a night owl on their questionnaire, but in reality turns all the lights on at 5:00 a.m. each morning. These lifestyle choices affect your happiness with your living situation, and colleges pay attention to them. Oftentimes, you’ll be matched with a student who gave similar answers (so if you’re messy, you’ll be paired with someone else who self-identifies as messy), but colleges may try to match students from different geographical backgrounds in an attempt to help you branch out. Rarely will you end up living with someone who went to your high school, and it’s likely that you and your roommate won’t even hail from the same state.

Should I accept a random roommate assignment or request to live with someone I know?

If you know someone who is planning on attending the same school as you, you might consider requesting him or her to be your roommate. Before you do, think about whether this person shares your lifestyle. Would you answer similarly on the housing questionnaire? If not, don’t request to room with this person; your relationship will be better if you don’t live together. If it does seem like a good roommate match, discuss the possibility with him or her first. Never request to be placed with someone unless he or she knows about it.

Remember, too, that college is about growth. While it feels good to live with someone you know, will it inhibit your ability to make new friends? Is your friend the type of person to cling to a familiar face and prevent you from branching out? Are you that type of person? When you start college, most freshmen will be in the position of not knowing any of their classmates. Don’t shut yourself off from the opportunity to meet new people right off the bat by creating a roommate clique. If you’re an extravert, this probably won’t be a problem, but introverts beware! Note that this is really only important to think about before your freshman year; upperclassmen are usually given the option to pick their roommates.

If you don’t know anyone headed to your same school, that’s okay. There is no need to scramble to meet a potential roommate online or at an accepted students event. Receiving a random roommate assignment is nothing to fear. In fact, most freshmen who live on campus decide to live with a random roomie and in many cases, freshmen roommates are still friends when it comes time to graduate.

What if I don’t have anything in common with my roommate?

It’s not unusual for two randomly assigned roommates to become best friends, but the opposite is true as well. As long as you live well together and respect each other, you don’t need to force a friendship. If you live with a friendly person who is mindful of your privacy, study time, and separate social life, there’s no need to switch rooms just so you can live with your best friend. Hold off until next year if a switch is not absolutely necessary.

Your roommate should be supportive of you. For safety reasons, you need a roommate who notices if you don’t come back to the room at night and who remembers to lock the door. It’s also important that you have a roommate who makes you feel comfortable. Often, this means that you two communicate with each other about your class, work, sleep, and social commitments. If your roommate acts dangerously or makes you feel unsafe in any way, talk to your RA and the residential life office. Your safety and well-being take precedence over the hassle of finding a new housing situation.

I’ve never lived with a roommate before. What do I need to know?

  • Branch out. College is the best time to make friends. You’re surrounded by people excited for new beginnings. Leave your door open when you’re in your room hanging out, and be sure to cultivate friendships outside of your dorm, too. Even if you and your roommate are best friends, it’s fine for you to keep some friendships separate.
  • Personalize your space. Decorate your side of the room. This space is your home for the next academic year, so it’s important to feel comfortable and relaxed. Allow yourself to express who you are and allow your roommate to do the same. Do not take down or critique your roomie’s decorations, even if they aren’t to your taste.
  • Don’t expect privacy unless you ask for it. Alone time is never guaranteed. If you’d like to have your lab partner or significant other over, let your roommate know in advance. Try to work around his or her schedule. Don’t just lock your roommate out and expect him or her to respect your wishes. You may get away with it the first time, but it could cause problems in the future.
  • Be careful what you share with roommates. Germs and bacteria live on anything from cups to bathroom towels. Bring your own.
  • Compromise. Take turns picking the music or television show. Keep track of whose turn it is, if you must. Likewise, share the tab when you order pizza or open a Netflix account.
  • Respect your roommate’s sleep schedule. Staying up late to do homework while your roommate sleeps is sometimes inevitable, but you should be courteous if your roomie needs some shut-eye. Use a desk lamp rather than an overhead light, and direct the glare away from your roommate so that he or she can sleep. Otherwise, find your way to the common room or library and turn off the bedroom lights on your way out.

How do I make the best of a lousy roommate situation?

RAs only suggest a room change in the most necessary and urgent cases. These conflicts are messy, and they often involve vandalism, theft, violence, threats, or bullying. A good rule is this: If you feel unsafe, talk to your RA or your residential life office about an immediate room change. If the problem is smaller, you’re going to have to be patient.

  • Talk to your roommate. Of course, it’s frustrating to live with someone who annoys you or has a completely different sleep schedule than you do. Before you do anything drastic, talk to your roommate diplomatically and respectfully about your concerns. Your roommate could very well be surprised to learn that the habit bothered you at all. If the problem persists, talk to your residential assistant. Some schools encourage roommate counseling to instill patience and tolerance before they will recommend you for a room change.
  • Mark your territory. Before you split the room down the middle with duct tape, talk to your roommate about your expectations and your comfort level. Be respectful but firm with your roommate. “It makes me uncomfortable when you wear my sweatshirt,” or “Please shoot me a text before you take my umbrella,” are great ways to communicate politely but assertively.

When is it time to move out or request a new roommate?

If your roommate has become physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive toward you, your situation is urgent. The residential life office will prioritize your application to change rooms.

You might also consider changing rooms if you’ve tried your best to show respect, courtesy, and patience with your roommate but haven’t received anything in return. These situations are usually slow to resolve. Chances are that your RA will first speak to your roommate in private or offer roommate counseling before recommending you for a room transfer.

How do I change roommates?

Schools decide on their own policies, so talk to your RA or residential life office to find out how to request a room change. If your housing situation is dangerous, you will be moved immediately. Otherwise, you may have to attend roommate counseling or meet with an administrator to describe the situation before you will be approved for the switch. Once you receive approval, you may be given several housing options. You may be offered a single for the remainder of the year, or you could be placed into a larger room. Your school may allow you to meet the current tenants of larger rooms so that you can decide which placement would serve you best.

Roommates and Off-Campus Housing

If you’re moving off campus, you get to choose your new roommates. Instead of living with strangers, you can share a house with friends, acquaintances, significant others, or relatives. You might even prefer to find a roommate online who may or may not be a student at your school. Living with someone new, regardless of your previous relationship, is an adjustment.

How do I pick the right roommate?

Most students would rather live off campus with other students than with young professionals. This is because students share similar goals, schedules, and social lives. Living with your best friend is tempting, and many people have great experiences. For others, it ruins the friendship. Before you decide to live with a close friend, or anybody, consider whether the situation would help or hurt your relationship. Ultimately, the decision is up to you.

  • Social habits: Do any of your roommates smoke? How frequently do they party? Do they deal or buy drugs? Would you feel safe around their friends and house guests?
  • Organization: Are your roommates messy? Would they clean up after themselves in the common area? Would they split chores with you?
  • Trust: Do you respect your roommates? Do you trust them?
  • Responsibility: Would your roommates pay the rent on time? Would they keep track of bills and comply with the terms of the lease?
  • Schedules: If your new apartment is spacious enough for everyone to have their own rooms, your separate class and sleep schedules may not interfere. If you are sharing a room, be sure to consider how noise at night or early in the morning could disturb your sleep.

How do we maintain a healthy living situation as the semester progresses?

The novelty of your living situation will start to wear off once homework piles up. To ensure that you and your roommates continue to be happy with your living situation, it’s important that you put in some work.

  • Communicate. Establish your priorities as soon as possible. Let your roommates know when you need quiet time for studying or sleeping. If you have a big project coming up, communicate that with your roommates. If you don’t talk to your roommates about it, you can’t be mad when they have friends over. Your roommates can’t read your mind.
  • Track your schedules. By living together, you get a general idea of when your roommates are home and when they have other commitments. In case something happens, however, it’s important that you can locate each other. Trade phone numbers, if you haven’t already, and ask everyone to write down their class and work schedules. Keep them in a safe place, share them on a Google calendar, or maintain a whiteboard calendar on a wall so everyone knows when to expect the others to be home.
  • Divvy up household chores. From the get-go, everyone should agree to take care of their own messes, but you shouldn’t forget about routine chores. Who will take out the trash, sweep the floor, wipe off the bathroom sink, and maintain the compost? If you’re having trouble keeping track of whose turn it is, consider making an old-fashioned chore wheel. You can also use an app, such as Chorma for iOS or Homeslice for iOS or Android.
  • Pitch in financially. It’s clear that everyone needs to pay their monthly share of rent and utilities, but who takes care of the other household expenses? Keep track of who buys toilet paper, light bulbs, trash bags, paper towels, and cleaning supplies. You might decide to elect a treasurer of the house to do so. This person can collect cash from each roommate at the beginning of the semester. When a household expense arises, the treasurer can dip into the coffer and pay for it. Otherwise, use apps like Splitwise or Homeslice to keep track of who pays for what.
  • Lay down the law. When the semester is in full swing, it’s easy to let responsibilities get away from you. Dishes pile up, laundry is on the floor, food has gone bad. While acing your finals is the priority, keeping your home clean will help you focus on your classwork. Politely remind each other to stay on top of chores to avoid a bigger mess.
  • Talk about partying. Most students who live off campus want to entertain. Be sure that you and your roommates agree on this lifestyle and respect how the others want to spend free time. Compromise if need be. Agree to host one party early on in the semester before work piles up or at the end of semester when finals are completed. Make sure that everyone can lock their bedroom doors so that you can contain parties to common areas and protect your belongings.
  • Coordinate cars and parking upfront. If you have plenty of parking for each of your cars, great! Some houses have small driveways, though, so you need to decide which roommate uses a car the most. If you’re the roommate without personal transportation, be courteous. When you need a ride, ask your roommate a few days in advance and offer to pitch in a generous amount of gas money. If you’re the roommate with a car, it’s easy to feel like you’re being used. Be upfront about how much you pay for car insurance, maintenance, and gas a month. It’s not unreasonable to ask that your roommates contribute to these expenses if they consistently borrow your car. Draw up these understandings in advance, and never spring surprise charges on your roommates.

What do I do if I can’t make it work with my roommate?

It is not wise to break most leases, as you may be liable for the full amount of unpaid rent and you could lose your security deposit on top of that. Talk to your roommate about what is bothering you and why you want to leave. Some problems can be resolved with a simple conversation. If that fails, read through your lease or ask your landlord for information about subletting or breaking the lease. If you really don’t think that you can stay in your current living situation, make yourself aware of what early termination costs.

From there, be honest with your landlord about the situation. Don’t move out without talking to him or her first (this may affect your credit score and ability to rent in the future and could subject you to a lawsuit). If you have found someone else willing to take your spot, tell your landlord. Chances are that he or she will be willing to print out a new lease for everyone who is staying and can take your name off of it. If you’re not getting any help from your landlord, can’t find someone to take your space, and can’t afford to break your lease, it may be best to suck it up and stay. You’ll know better for next time. However, if you feel like your life is in danger or that you are living in an unsafe environment, you should leave immediately and deal with the consequences later.

Page last updated: 02/2019