Four young men and women standing on rooftop looking over the city

Living With Strangers: How to Prioritize Safety and Privacy

Protecting yourself in a new living situation is crucial for living a fulfilled life in college. Here's how to take precautions and find a great roommate.

One of the best things about college is the thrill of meeting new people. While it’s the friends you make along the way who make this time in your life so special, the majority of students find themselves living with strangers at some point in their college lives.

While this has become a typical part of the college experience, it also presents challenges in the 21st century where privacy is at a minimum and people are generally more cautious of who they live with. In the age of COVID-19, these challenges are maximized—especially where health safety is concerned. Choosing a roommate is no longer a case of who you might want to put up with while you’re trying to study but the person you’re locked indoors with for months at a time. It’s important that all college students know how to prioritize their safety and privacy while living with strangers. This guide aims to teach these essential safety and analysis skills for the next time you pick a college roommate, whether you’re living on or off campus.

Get to know your roommate before they move in

It’s best to have a clear picture of who you’re going to be moving in with—not just to avoid a personality clash but to make sure you’ve made a safe pick and found a person you can trust. Tools such as SpareRoom allow you to put up ads and assess potential roommates before inviting them over for an apartment viewing. These websites typically feature user profiles that give you insight into a potential roommate’s hobbies, interests, and personality before you agree to let them live with you. Alternatively, if you’re using a service like GumTree, you can request additional information, such as what they’re looking for and what they’re studying, in an introductory email.

Interviews are a common procedure when looking for a new housemate. Inviting someone to take a look at your apartment gives you both a chance to get an idea of each other and see whether you’re a good fit together. In the age of COVID-19, virtual viewings have become commonplace, with students more than happy to view the place and get to know you over FaceTime or Zoom. A quick 10–15-minute interview is essential when looking for a new roommate. It helps you root out people you wouldn’t want to live with and start to immediately build a relationship. Of course, if you’re just starting college and you’ve been assigned a roommate in a dorm, it’s likely your school will provide a way to get in touch with your roomie. 

Related: Adulting 101: Your First Apartment Search

Learn to set boundaries

Once you’ve found or been assigned a roommate, make sure you don’t leave the important conversation about personal space off for too long. It’s important to set boundaries early and establish where and how everyone in the living space can have an opportunity to step away and be by themselves. On top of this, it’s important for everyone to acknowledge what’s an acceptable use of the shared spaceboth during and after of COVID times. While there’s nothing wrong with having friends over, having strangers around every night of the week can make it difficult to relax and study. There’s more to cohabitation than picking the best room. Establish a chore schedule, acceptable times of the week to have friends and partners over, and how stuff can be shared. Sentimental value and safety around the home aren’t things to be taken for granted.

Protect your assets and belongings

It’s no secret that college students may not take as good care of their living space as they will in adult life. That doesn’t mean you should accept a litany of charges from your landlord or the school’s residential life office at the end of the semester. Protecting your assets and creating a safe environment for both your possessions and the furniture provided is a key part of making the most of your college living experience. Protecting your living space is important, even if you’re only renting it for a semester or two. This is particularly important when you’re living with people you’re not familiar with who may have more destructive habits and a less careful approach to living. Forgetting about a lit candle or running bath can cause a lot of damage! 

Thankfully, there are flexible services ideal for student renters looking to protect their assets and get coverage in case of an emergency, such as tenant’s insurance. Tenant insurance covers three things: your own personal liability, additional living expenses, and contents coverage. Even if you end up living with a roommate from hell, you won’t be hit with a huge unpayable charge on the back end. In general, it’s best not to put all your belongings on show until you get to know your roommate a bit better. While suspicion isn’t a great way to build a friendship, it’s important to establish boundaries and not leave yourself open to damage or theft.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Living With Roommates vs. Living Alone

Choosing the perfect college roommate

It’s important to make the right choice when finding a college roommate. Even if you don’t end up becoming great friends, this is someone you’ll be around during one of the most defining periods of your life—you at least have to put up with them when you’re studying for exams. Here’s how you can make sure you’re picking the best college roommate for you.

Ask your friends

Someone you know will always know someone else who’s looking for a room. No matter what time of year, there will usually be a reason that a friend of a friend needs a new place to live. While it might not be formal, this is often a better way to find safe and secure roommates you can trust. Having a friend vouch for them is a great way of putting your mind at ease about a new roommate. Likewise, if you’re the one looking for a room, ask your friends if they know of anyone looking for a roommate. This saves you viewing time and also gives you a nice ice breaker when you meet them. If you’re moving in with a friend, classmate, or friend of a friend, it makes it a little less weird to check them out on social media beforehand. You may have even been to their place before and have an idea of how they like to live and treat their home. 

Related: How to Be Smart When Picking Your College Roommate

Make a list of deal breakers

When searching for someone to move in with, it’s important to have a list of dealbreakers. In some situations, you’ll be thrown in the deep end and won’t have much of a choice. But when you can, putting together a list of dealbreakers or a roommate agreement can save you a significant amount of stress and hassle. Finding a roommate can be a bit of a lottery, but occasionally you’ll have some room for choices, especially if you start hunting early. Think about your own personal rules on:

  • Cleanliness
  • Personal space
  • Inviting friends over
  • Socializing
  • COVID-19 health and safety measures

People want and expect different things for their homes and roommates. If someone does vibe with you, don’t force it. It’s better to be upfront about what you’re looking for in your initial message or profile rather than shocking someone later when you need some alone time.

Share contact details

Once you’ve found someone you think might be a good fit, make sure you share contact details. Not only does this make it easier to keep up with a move-in date, but it helps you get to know each other a bit. Moving in cold turkey can be hard and make it difficult to bond in the early weeks. You only have so much time in college, so building a relationship beforehand is an important step.

However, you may want to avoid sharing social media profiles at first. While you can block someone on Whatsapp, it might be harder to keep a low profile if you start sharing Facebook and Instagram accounts. Access to one account can often lead to someone finding another, meaning you’ll have an annoying time trying to track down and block unwanted views from prospective housemates that didn’t quite work out. 

Related: Top Tips and Tricks for Finding a College Roommate

Living with strangers isn’t easy. At best, they get in your way, and at worst, they can cause damage you’ll have to end up paying for. Make sure you do your research and find ways to protect both yourself and your deposit before having someone move in. 

Get more advice for living your best college life in our Student Life section.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Emilie Delgado

Emilie Delgado

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2013

CollegeXpress has tremendously helped me in my search for financial aid opportunities as I enter my college career. It is easy to navigate and quickly narrowed down scholarships that I could apply for. Being awarded the scholarship will greatly help me in my finances regarding books and tuition. Thank you for this opportunity. Without CollegeXpress, it would have been more difficult to apply. I would recommend this site to everyone!

Carlie Cadet

Carlie Cadet

High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me learn about an abundance of scholarships available to me and my situation. I was able to do research for colleges in my best interest with your website. I've had multiple colleges email me and offer me multiple scholarships and things of that nature because of this website! Thank you so much for uploading scholarships I didn’t even know existed, even if my life took a huge turn and I wasn’t able to go to college straight out of high school. CollegeXpress helped me a lot in high school to be even more motivated to get into my dream college (which I did, by the way). I'm looking forward to using the materials CollegeXpress has kindly provided me for free to look for scholarships to help pay for college.

Fernando Ponce

Fernando Ponce

High School Junior

College is a way of life that helps us find out who we are as a person, and CollegeXpress is a great way to stay connected with our future, even for students with little time on their hands due to the challenges of high school we face.



High School Class of 2023

CollegeXpress helped open me up to many colleges that fit my interests. I’m only a sophomore in high school, so I like having a lot to look at, and CX does a great job of picking colleges that meet my wants. It's a great website that I'll continue to use until it comes time for me to apply for colleges. I also like that it notifies me through email with options to look at. Thanks CX!

Joseph Johnsly

Joseph Johnsly

High School Class of 2021

It's an honor for me to be writing to share a little about my experience with CollegeXpress. I've been using CollegeXpress for about a year now, and the reason why I chose it is because it provides astonishing scholarships for every student around the globe. Besides that, this organization dispenses all the information necessary to help students get to college. CollegeXpress has helped me have an easier experience with applying to colleges and choosing the best fit for myself.

College Matches