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How to Be Smart When Picking Your College Roommate

Choosing a college roommate can be intimidating. You're expected to live with this person for at least a year! Here's how to be smart when finding a roommate.

There are a ton of things about planning for your first year of college that can be downright stressful. Something you might be curious about is living with someone outside your family for the first time. You have many choices here, from living with a random roommate, choosing your own, or even living on your own in a single dorm. Let’s go over your options as far as college roommate selection goes so you can stop worrying and start getting excited about your future on campus!

Choosing your own roommate

Choosing your own roommate may seem like the obvious choice, but don’t be fooled—even a really good friend can make a really bad roommate. You never know what it’s like to live with someone until you’re actually cohabitating—and it may not be worth risking a friendship. With that being said, it’s absolutely possible to pick a roommate who’s a great match (and possibly a great friend)! Just remember to do the following:

Talk about expectations

What’s most important to you about your living space? Is it cleanliness, comfort, or something else? Make sure your roommate understands your expectations and has similar standards. If you’re an extremely tidy person, for example, you need to make sure your potential roommate is on the same page about keeping things neat and clean. If not, arguments will break out regularly, regardless of how well you get along.

Related: 7 Secrets to Finding the Perfect College Roommate

Consider schedules

Your class schedules don’t need to align completely, but it may be quite a bummer if your roommate is waking you up at 6:00 am each day when you don’t need or want to get up until 8:00. It’s also worth considering if you’ll be working a part-time job at school; if you land a serving gig and won’t be home until late at night, it’s important your roommate is unbothered (or a deep sleeper).

Set boundaries

Are you comfortable with your roommate having friends or significant others over or staying the night? Make sure you discuss boundaries before you decide to live together. It’ll only get uncomfortable for everyone if you decide to wait until a stranger is on your couch to say your piece. You can even draft up a roommate agreement—sort of like a contract to establish your boundaries and expectations (and have a concrete point of reference if issues arise).

Know what you like and don’t like

While it’s valuable to broaden your horizons and discover new things you enjoy, there are other things that might matter to you or your roommate that are worth discussing. Consider these things: 

  • Taste in music, movies, and television: If your potential roommate is a country music lover and you only listen to metal, are you both okay with only listening to your favorite tunes through your headphones?
  • Dorm decor preferences: If you’re hoping for fairy lights, soy candles, and muted colors but your roommate wants a disco ball and blacklight-activated posters, can you reach a compromise?
  • Sharing and borrowing philosophies: Some people, especially those from big families, are used to sharing just about everything. Others might be more protective of their things (or food). Living in a dorm together can mean lots of things should be shared, but do you have similar opinions on what that looks like? If not, can you respect each other and your respective things regardless? 

Related: Strangers or Squad? How to Live With Your College Roommate

Opting for a random roommate

The most hands-off option, of course, is letting your college pick your roommate for you. Many schools have a system that connects students with similar interests, (e.g., area of study or sports) which guarantees you’ll have common ground to build upon. Many other colleges and universities have student surveys in place to ensure you and your “random” roommate assignment are compatible in terms of your lifestyle and preferences. That takes out the awkwardness of asking someone questions like “Is your room constantly cluttered and messy?” The survey takes care of that for you! 

At most colleges, students of the same sex are also usually paired together. There are about 150 colleges that offer “gender-neutral housing” or co-ed rooms. If some of the survey questions you encounter seem a little intimate, don’t be alarmed! Answer them as truthfully as you can and resist the urge to sugarcoat a response. The more honest you are about your packrat-messy ways, the less likely it is that you’ll be saddled with a neat freak.

Selecting a single dorm

Whether you’re an extremely light sleeper or just value your privacy, a single-occupant room may be the most appealing choice for you. While it’s not always an option for college freshmen, many colleges and universities offer single dorms, and first-year students may land a single if the institution uses a housing lottery system. However, keep in mind that it may be considerably more expensive than a double room. Some schools that have single dorm options for freshmen include:

If it’s not typically an option for freshmen to live in a single room at your dream school, there may be other ways to finagle one. If you have special circumstances like a health condition or a severe allergy, you may be eligible for one. Another option to consider is a suite or apartment-style dorm. For example, the University of South Florida has a freshman dorm with four-bedroom apartments—and a pool right outside. Major perk alert!

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

Living at home

Whether you’re going to a local four-year school or a community college, it may make the most sense—financially or otherwise—to live at home. Though it may mean a commute, you’ll probably spend much less on gas or public transportation than you would for on-campus housing. Some benefits of staying at home include:

  • Not having to move your stuff. Hauling your clothes, decor, and prized possessions to a college campus on move-in day can be arduous.
  • Free laundry. No coin-op machines for you! Consider it a bonus if you have a clothesline too.
  • Home-cooked meals. Whether you’re a magician in the kitchen or one of your family members does the cooking for you, having a full-size kitchen is not a luxury most college freshmen have.

COVID-19 considerations

Many colleges and universities returned to campus last September after sending students home in March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. However, some schools encouraged students to stay home and attend class online, while others let students live in dorms and offered the option of virtual classrooms and strict safety protocols. The pandemic has been hard to predict, and hopefully we’ll have seen the worst of the virus before the Class of 2025 heads to college in the fall. But this whole experience may have some students thinking twice about living on campus or reconsidering attending college at all. Be sure to keep in touch with your college about campus updates. If you have concerns, don’t be afraid to ask questions about your school’s plans to keep students safe.

Related: Resources Students Need During the COVID–19 Pandemic  

Remember, all of these campus living options are perfectly acceptable. Which one you choose really depends on your individual circumstances and preferences—basically, just do what’s best for you. Good luck!

For an inside look at what life in college is going to be life, check out the blogs and articles in our Student Life section.

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