Three male roommates sitting in desk chairs, on bed in dorm room with blue walls

Strangers or Besties? Developing a Good Dynamic With Your College Roommates

It's not hard to get along with your college roommate(s). All you have to do is follow this advice from a student who adjusted to living with many of them.

Imagine: It’s move-in day, your first year of college. It’s hard to fathom how your life is about to change. But you finally feel it in your bones: You’re a college student. Armed with independence, cups of Ramen noodles, and way too much caffeine, you think nothing can stop you from having the time of your life. Then you meet your roommates…

We all hear the campus horror stories: passive-aggressive roommates, roommates who party in your room too much, and roommates who eat your food without asking. It feels like an endless list of incompatibility. If you’ve come here for suggestions on how to woo your future roomies into becoming your college best friends, I regret to inform you that life isn’t so simple. Suggesting anything different would belie the complexities of friendship. However, getting along with one or more roommates is definitely an achievable feat. They, just like you, want to have an enjoyable semester—and you’ll be well on your way to doing just that if you follow this advice.

The roommate agreement

When my roommates and I moved into our campus suite, our proctor (or as other schools call it, our RA) suggested we create a roommate contract for us all to square away typical living situations and sign—and it was great advice. It may seem daunting and uncomfortable to sit down essentially with strangers and hash out your collective bathroom routines on paper, but this step is so important when living with someone. Plus, making your own roommate agreement really isn’t that hard, and you’ll start the year off understanding each other’s idiosyncrasies and living habits.

One of your roommates might be an athlete who wants quiet time before important games. Maybe one of your roommates has a sensitive nose and would appreciate it if you sprayed cologne or perfume after leaving the room. Also definitely talk about significant others and guests in general, including when and how often they can come over. These are all things that should be discussed briefly in your roommate agreement. Although what you write down in a roomie agreement may not be law, it does give everyone general guidelines of how to be considerate to one another.

Related: Dorm Etiquette: 7 Simple Ways to Be a Considerate Resident

Far from home but close together

Leaving home for college is hard for most students, but it can be especially tough for those who have traveled very far from home to study. From Colorado and Georgia to South Africa and Singapore, all my roommates traveled a considerable distance. With this comes varying levels of homesickness for everyone, especially during your first year when everything is so new and scary. Connect to your new roommates over this shared experience.

Whether you go to a close-to-home state school or travel far away, you’ll face homesickness in college for yourself and your roommates—maybe both. The best way to handle these situations is always with compassion. If you feel comfortable enough, offer an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. It’s hard for everyone to adjust to such a different lifestyle and providing your roommates this space to express their feelings (and you yours) will only help you grow closer.

Wording woes and avoidable embarrassments

Did you know that flip-flops in South Africa are referred to as “slip slops” and flashlights are “torches”? No? Well, I didn’t either, and I had to learn the hard way when our school had a power outage and my roommate rushed to light her “torch.” As I panicked and rushed to stop her from lighting the dorm on fire, she returned with a flashlight innocuously strapped to her forehead, looking—understandably—confused. Though our miscommunication was comical, sometimes these phrasing faux pas can get out of hand if you’re not sensitive to your roommate’s life background. This is something unique about the roommate experience that people overlook and could potentially cause problems. To avoid misinterpretations and possibly offending one another, try to be clear in your intentions and patient in your explanations. Also, give them the benefit of the doubt if they say something offhandedly that rubs you the wrong way. If a disagreement does arise from different views or opinions, it’s best to be respectful of the other person’s perspective, even if you don’t agree with them.

Related: 3 Easy Ways to Connect With Your International Roommate

To sleep or not to sleep?

Ah, the age-old question. Sometimes the night’s relationship with your roommate is very different than yours. If your roommate is a morning person but you’re prone to staying up into the witching hour (same here), then you might run into problems regarding keeping lights on or waking each other up. The key to this common college roommate issue is communication and compromise. Some nights you can study at the library rather than keep your roommate awake with the lights. Your roommate can be respectful of your sleeping by being quieter in the mornings when they wake up. If you talk out your problems instead of letting them stew and boil over, your living situation will be much more accommodating.

Netflix nights or party prep

Between classes, extracurriculars, and internships comes the hidden curriculum of your college experience: your social life. Of course, what defines this depends on the type of person you are. If you’re more of a homebody, you might prefer to spend your Saturday nights staying in, watching movies with friends. If you’re outgoing, you might be at parties and events every weekend. Maybe you want to do a little of both! However, your roommate’s version of a social life might conflict with your own. Again, discussion and open communication are truly key. Make sure there’s a clear delineation between work time and socializing that doesn’t infringe on either of your daily lives. Don’t hog the room, but don’t be afraid to speak up either if your roommate is. In fact, maybe you could trek to a party together or stay in and catch up on The Office in your room. Doing activities together can foster a better bond and ease your living arrangements.

Related: 4 Fun and Easy Activities to Get Dorm Residents Together

Having roommates is a foundational part of the college experience. They might simply be cohabitants, or they can be your best friends. In either case, they’re going to be a large part of your life, and you should develop a working relationship with them. If you’re communicating, open to change, and respectful of your roommates, you can strike a balance in your dorm or apartment and have a great year doing so.

Want to learn all the ins and outs of living with other people in college? Check out all the articles and advice we have under our "roommates" tag

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