You're used to your own space, but pretty soon you'll be sharing a dorm room. While you might worry that your new roomie will be your opposite or keep you up playing loud music, many college roommates end up as lifelong friends.
In fact, how well you get along with your roommate can have a huge impact on your college experience. Dana Manzo, lead mental health counselor at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, believes that even if you don't end up being friends with your roommate, it's critical that you find a way to get along.
"If we have problems and tensions at home," she said, "we are more likely to have issues at work or school including irritability, lack of patience, anxiety, inability to concentrate and lack of motivation."
Here are some helpful tips for ways to connect with your new roommate that will help you manage the inevitable conflicts that arise and even, hopefully, get you sharing a popcorn bowl and binge watching your favorite show together in no time.
Start on the Best Footing
If someone's first impression of you is that you've arrived early, covered the room with your stuff and claimed the best bunk, they probably aren't going to be telling you their life story later that evening. Start bonding with your roommate early by reaching out via e-mail or video chat.
"Connecting prior to move-in day is helpful," said Manzo, "because it allows you the opportunity to become familiar with the person you will be living with and helps to increase your comfort level in your new environment."
It also gives you a chance to discuss what you're both bringing to the room beforehand so that you don't end up with two mini-fridges or TVs. Sharing the cost of bigger items or dividing up the purchases could also help you save money.
Even if you reached out beforehand, meeting in person is an important moment in your relationship. Consider bringing them a small gift like homemade cookies or something from your home state to show that you were thinking about them and wanted to make them feel welcome.
Lynn Zakeri, a therapist in private practice based in the Chicago area, frequently works with college students and suggests students try to be accommodating on the first day.
"First impressions do matter," she said. "Be a listener and compromise. If it is not that important to you if you have the top bunk or if you raise your beds, then don't argue. When something is important to you, use 'I' statements to express why, so your roommate can empathize with where you are coming from."
Zakeri also suggests you find ways to cement an early connection.
"Ask questions. The person who is answering always feels seen and heard by a good listener," she said.
Learning more about your roommate will help you find out things you have in common, and come up with ways to bond. It could also help you understand better why certain things might cause them to get annoyed and upset.
Finally, Zakeri suggests to be helpful and kind.
"If you already know where a building is," she said, "offer to walk him or her over there."
Create Rules Together
The last thing you want to do is come back to the dorm starving only to find that your roommate ate the last of your chips. That's why it's important to make rules about things like sharing food, having people over, cleaning, borrowing things and quiet time so that the other roommate is able to sleep.
"Give your relationship the best possible shot by sitting down with each other and coming up with some agreed upon rules," said Manzo. "For example, if you are an early riser and your new roommate likes to sleep in, agree to get ready in the bathroom."
Some colleges actually ask roommates to complete a roommate contract. Zakeri suggests that you look at a sample contract online and think about what's important to you.
Address Problems Early
If you don't tell your roommate you can't stand it when they press their snooze button a million times each morning, they're going to keep doing it.
"It's essential to address problems when they arise," said Manzo. "When we hold things inside, they tend to fester and can cause us to overreact."
When you get annoyed with your roommate about hitting the snooze button or borrowing your favorite shirt, Manzo suggests you take a moment to calm yourself down and try to see things from their perspective.
"Make sure that you focus on the behavior and do not to attack him or her personally," she said. "Treat your roommate the way you want to be treated."
Dealing with a roommate is also a great opportunity to fine-tune your conflict management skills.
"Take time to understand where your roommate is coming from and what brought him or her to the conclusion he or she is reaching," said Manzo. "It's important to have grace with each other, because we all need a little wiggle room to make mistakes."
You might already feel like you spend a lot of time together. But studying next to each other isn't quality time. Schedule a fun activity where you can have a roommate check-in every week or two.
"The routine check-in provides a safe environment for someone who may be shy or nervous to bring up a concern," said Manzo.
When it comes to activities to bond with your roommate during check-ins, she suggests things like ordering pizza and dissecting your week, exploring campus, participating in campus or club activities, decorating your dorm room or creating a college bucket list of things you want to do before graduating. Once you have the list, you can tick them off together.
Learn from the Experience
While living with a roommate might seem like a challenge when you're trying to study and they're humming along to music, there's a lot to learn from sharing your space.
"Students learn how to understand someone else's perspective, the value of relationships and interpersonal skills," said Manzo. "All are important elements of professional success."