Updated: Jul 19, 2022
Moving in with a stranger, or strangers, in a new town, while trying to balance a brand-new lifestyle is a lot. But it’s just reality for many first-year college students. Anticipating what your roommate relationship will be like can be highly stressful. But there are strategies that can make your living situation as chill as possible.
Here, strategies to live happily ever after—or at least coexist until next semester.
Your college may offer a matching process at some point after you’ve enrolled. Be as honest as possible about your habits. Your answers will help match you with someone who has similar habits. And remember: Someone you can live well with may not be someone who will be your best friend, and that’s okay.
Depending on your college, you may not have one roommate but roommates or suitemates. The same rules still apply. You may even have the option of choosing which living situation makes the most sense for you: Living solo, living with one roommate, or living in a suite with multiple people. Keep in mind that some colleges charge different prices based on the type of setup—a solo room tends to be most expensive—so it can be helpful to double check the costs as you weigh your decision.
Some colleges make matching even more targeted by offering special interest housing for first-year students. This might include “wellness” or “community” floors, which could have certain expectations for quiet hours, or floors for people who have certain interests, whether it be a shared academic interest like the arts, computer science, or a foreign language. Special interest housing may also be centered on a shared identity, such as LGBTQ+ and allied housing. Ask your school what options they may have. In some cases, this type of housing is reserved for upperclassmen, but not always.
Get in touch prior to move-in day with your suitemates or roommates both for logistical reasons, but also to get to know each other. You might even connect on social media prior to moving in together. If you live nearby, you can even try meeting in person. You might talk through logistics such as if you need a fridge or TV. Sometimes, these decisions are easiest to make in person, once you’ve both seen the space. Regardless, if something isn’t in your budget or you don't want to contribute for a certain expense, just be upfront.
You may also decide to request a roommate you know. This might be someone you knew from high school, or it could be someone you clicked with at orientation. But just because you “know” someone doesn’t necessarily mean you know how they function at 6am or how much white noise they need to study. Talking through habits—and being honest if your habits truly don’t mesh—can help avoid mid-semester misunderstandings.
Some roommates click, while some just coexist. There is no “right” roommate relationship. But remember that your roommate is just one person you’ll meet in college. Get to know the other people on your floor, in your classes, and in your extracurriculars. While it’s nice to do things together, it’s also fine to have space, too.
Keep in mind in the lead up to your arrival on campus and during the first few weeks of living together that social media profiles are just one side to your new roommate or suitemates. When you’ve seen all their stories and follow their friends, you may have an idea of who your roomie is, but remember: You’re still strangers, and have plenty of time for your connection to authentically grow.
Come up with a wish list of things that are important to each of you. The appealing thing about going off to college is the independence you'll have. However, you still need to respect the fact that you're sharing a living space with someone else, so you might as well get all of those awkward conversations out of the way from the get go. Having a chat that at least covers the basics—like designating quiet time for studying, taking turns with tidying up, rules about snack or supply sharing, and how to handle visitors—can make for a smoother transition.
On that note, it can also be helpful to speak with your resident assistant (RA) or a member of the college life staff if you’re having a hard time or dealing with some anxiety about sharing a room. Remember: They’ve seen a lot, and are trained to help deal with situations that may arise.
Everyone has quirks and habits, so be up front about yours. Whether you snore, have a peanut allergy, or play guitar, let your roommate know about anything that has the potential to affect them in some way. Then ask that they do the same. At least if you're up front about your habits and quirks they won't come as a shock later on.
It can also be helpful to talk through schedules and expectations. For example, maybe you text each other if one of you isn’t planning on sleeping in the room one evening. Maybe your suitemates have a shared shopping list and a calendar of who’s responsible for a paper towel run. Setting expectations can help make for a seamless co-living experience.
There will come a time when you'll feel annoyed at something your roommate does, and no doubt, you'll get on their nerves as well. It's important that you recognize which things are worth letting go, and which ones are conversation-worthy. For instance, if dirty socks are left in the middle of the floor, it's probably not a big deal (unless they're still there days later).
On the other hand, if your roommate invites friends to come hang out all night during your planned study time, you might want to ask for advanced notice in the future. The key to having this conversation is to not be confrontational. It's important to work out a solution together. If roles are reversed and your roomie is asking something of you, try not to get defensive. Do your best to meet halfway. If you’re nervous about the conversation, talk with your RA. They might be able to help or mediate a conversation if things feel tense.
If issues do become serious and you're not getting along at all, or you're worried about your roommate's health, know that you can reach out to the RA for advice or guidance. In serious situations, it's possible to request a roommate swap. Hopefully it won't come to that, but rest assured that you're not expected to stay in a living situation that is potentially harmful to you in some way.
By making an effort to start off on great terms, you can make the transition from roommate to friend in no time. Also: Keep track of what worked and what didn’t work with your roommate or suitemates during your first year of college. Sometimes, you can choose your suitemates or roommates for your second-year and beyond. You also may have more options of living situations, including off campus or in special-interest housing.