If you're like most college students, your roommates up to this point have been family members. There were probably power struggles, breaches of privacy ("Oh! Dad! I didn't know you were still in there!"), and miscommunications. There was also probably love and affection. And squabbling siblings. Moving out on your own can be so difficult and such a relief—and then you realize you aren't really on your own at all. You have a roommate (or two or three) and life is about to get very interesting.

You might end up being best friends with your first-year roommate, but don't even consider it yet. The first thing to do is simply to establish a friendly relationship that includes both freedoms and responsibilities for both people. This chapter will include:

  • a description of a good roommate
  • recommendations for developing a good relationship with your roommate
  • strategies for dealing with difficult roommate situations

The Good Roommate

Chances are you didn't have to worry about being a good roommate back home. If you weren't one, Mom or Dad or a sibling was right there to remind you of your duties and check your attitude. You knew the rules of the house and every- body's boundaries. Living with a roommate is different because 1) you haven't grown up with him/her, 2) you won't have the usual cues to remind you of your household rights and responsibilities. Good roommates...

Show consideration. Good roommates are considerate and think about their impact on the people around them. They respect their roommate's rights, property, and independence. They appreciate their roommate's individuality— including culture, religion, political beliefs, values, musical taste, and appear- ance. Good roommates show gratitude and appreciation.

Compromise. Good roommates are willing to do what it takes to make the living situation pleasant for both people. They keep reasonable hours or, if they don't, they don't let their late nights or early mornings affect their roommate. They respect their roommate's right not to have a constant stream of visitors.

Are accountable. Good roommates are accountable for their behavior, admitting when they are wrong, owning up to mistakes, and working to resolve problems.

Communicate well. Good roommates speak to each other respectfully and are willing to listen.

Be a good roommate and expect your roommate to be the same. If he or she isn't, we have some tips for dealing with difficult situations later in this chapter.

Tips for Living with Roommates

Get to Know Your RA, Too!Just like any new relationship, it's important to get off to a good start with your new roommate. Here are some tips for doing just that:

Get to know your roommate. Try to contact him or her before the move-in date if possible. We recommend calling your roommate. Students have shared with us how awkward some first connections have been because they relied on Facebook correspondence or texting.
Speaking of Facebook, if you do become "friends" with your roommate in this medium before you actually meet her or him, remember the limitations of the format and, well, don't judge. Once you feel comfortable with your roommate, you can begin discussing your living arrangements, including the kinds of items each of you will bring (no need for two microwaves— there will hardly be space for one!). If you and your roommate live near each other, try to meet up before the big move-in day.

Keep an open mind. Forget about your dream roommate (and forget about your nightmare roommate, too). Whoever you meet will broaden your perspective of the world and your under- standing of people. Try not to make assumptions.

Don't expect too much. You may end up being
close friends with your roommates, but it's not a given. On the other hand, sometimes roommates are very compatible because they don't spend all their time together.

Establish rules. Some colleges publish a roommates' bill of rights and responsibilities that clearly outline the "rules of engagement" of rooming together. Even if your college doesn't produce such a publication, make sure you and your roommate sit down early on and establish rules to live by. Your rules should cover the use of the telephone, radio, or computer; sharing clothes and other personal items; quiet time for studying and sleeping; cleanli- ness and cleaning duties; guests, including overnight guests; privacy.

Important Roommate Conversation Starters:Communicate. Communication is essential to a functioning roommate relationship. Let your roommate know if something is bothering you about the living situation; also, let him or her know if you are appreciative of something he or she did. If you find that you and your roommate are unable to communicate, talk to your resident advisor about mediating.

Respect your roommate. Every successful relationship is rooted in respect—respect for each other's individuality, privacy, property,
opinions, and values. Living with someone different from you is not always going to be easy, but you will learn from it.

Dealing with Difficult Situations

You've heard the horror stories. And, while those stories make great anecdotes years later, you might be able to avoid them altogether. Here are some scenarios to help you deal with difficult situations:

Living with a friend or relative. It sounds ideal to live with someone you already know and trust, but it doesn't always work out well. In fact, living with a friend can be even more difficult than living with a stranger because friends have higher expectations for each other than strangers do. Make sure you establish expectations and rules and maintain respect for each other.

Changing roommates. Sometimes a living situation is unbearable and an issue is not resolvable. Some colleges will allow you to change roommates, though you may have to wait until the end of the term or until another living arrangement becomes available. Review your college's policies regarding roommate changes, and contact your resident advisor or housing department to find out more. Before taking this action, however, make sure you've done everything in your power to try to resolve the situation yourself.

Living with roommates off campus. Off-campus living is attractive—the freedom, the cool houses, the non-cafeteria food. If you and your roommate decide to live off campus you won't have the support network of the housing department and resident advisors. You will be on your own to pay the bills, fulfill the lease requirements, and care for the apartment. These responsibilities can add to tension between roommates, so do your best to map out a plan for dealing with off-campus living issues.

Living with more than one roommate. Multiple roommates mean a cheaper monthly rent and a lot of potential miscommunications. There are additional rules to keep in mind when it comes to living with more than one roommate:

  • Don't gossip or backstab. It's easy to fall into the trap of talking about one roommate behind his or her back. If you have issues or problems, go straight to the person who can actually help resolve them—the source.
  • Don't gang up. If you need to approach a roommate about a particular issue, do everything possible to ensure he or she doesn't feel like you and the other roommates are ganging up on her or him.
  • Be honest. Fess up if you ate the last piece of pizza. Acknowledge when you haven't done your share of the dishes.

Legal issues. Very rarely, college students find themselves in situations that are bigger than they can deal with alone. Sometimes roommates steal property, refuse to pay the rent, commit illegal acts on the premises, or even threaten their roommates. If you suspect that your living situation has become dangerous or that your roommate is involved in unlawful activity, seek help immediately to keep yourself safe and on the safe side of the law. If you live on campus, your resident advisor should be able to help or point you to a resource that will help. If you live off campus, you may need to seek the help of your landlord, law enforcement or college legal assistance.

Roommates Exercises

  1. With a partner or small group, draft a Roommate's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. When you are finished, compare your draft to other students' drafts. If your college has a Roommate's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities or a similar document, compare your draft to that, too.
  2. If you haven't done so already, talk to your roommate about which expectations you share, where the two of you might need to compro- mise, and how you can prevent awkward situations.
  3. Write a letter to future college students about how to get to know your roommate—and what not to do!


for more resources and exercises.