Living with a stranger: tips for surviving college roommates

College is a time for new experiences. Living with a roommate is one of those unique experiences. Here are some tips from SAS alums and authors of college survival manuals that will help you survive college roommates and residential halls.

  1. Respect your new living partner and make rules before you need rules.

For many of you, this is the first time you will be living with a complete and total stranger. Even if you know the person well, roommates are bound to face disagreements. It is important to face these disagreements head on and communicate with your roommate about what is making you uncomfortable. Harlan Cohen, author of the book The Naked Roommate suggests having “a conversation early in the roommate relationship and making it clear you want to get along.”

Before you settle down, make sure you are comfortable communicating with your roommate. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.
Before you settle down, make sure you are comfortable communicating with your roommate. Creative Commons license

  If you don’t like having guests in the room after a certain hour, tell them. If you don’t like the loud music they play, also tell them. When you open that line of communication from the beginning, it becomes easier to talk later. In his book he also suggests asking “your roommate to let you know when you do something that makes him or her uncomfortable” (98). This gives roommates the permission to discuss uncomfortable situations and allows you to do the same.  

  1. Don’t expect to be best friends–friendship is a bonus.

In the age of social media, it is easy to find out information about a person. This easy access to personal information can make it seem like you know your roommate before you have even met them. Having the ability to select a roommate online often gives people the impression that they are going to be best friends with the person they are rooming with. David Ho, a Singapore American School graduate and current freshman at Rutgers University, said that this is not the case. He cautions students to remember “not everyone will be best friends or hang around their roommate.” However he suggests trying to “maintain a healthy relationship” and making the most of the situation.  

Don't expect to be best friends with your college roommate. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.
Don’t expect to be best friends with your college roommate.Creative Commons license
  1. If you have issues, go to the RA.

Each dorm typically has a resident assistant, also known as a RA for short. An RA is often a student employee who lives in the residence halls with the students and is there to make sure those living in the dorms are comfortable and following the rules. It is important to remember that resident assistants are there to help you. If you are having problems with your roommate, contact the RA living in your dorm. That is what Claire O’Brien did. O’Brien, a freshman at Wake Forest University, “went straight to the RA” when she was “having issues” with her first roommate. Although it was “scary to go to her,” she believes “building a strong relationship” with her RA was important. Just remember, the RA is there to help you, if you are having issues they can be a mediator between you and your roommate.  

Hinton Hall residence dorm at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.
Hinton Hall residence dorm at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Creative Commons license
  1. If you can, sign up.

College is a land full of opportunities and it is important to take advantage of the opportunities available to you. This includes signing up for living-learning communities. Living-learning communities are groups of students that live in the same residential hall and share common academic goals, attitudes, and interests. Of course, living-learning communities aren’t for everyone, but they are a good opportunity for people to make fast friends with students who share common interests.   Living with a roommate who likes the same things you do means that you will instantly have something to talk about. Ho says it was “one of the best decisions [he] made as an incoming first year.” One of the major perks of living in a residential learning community is that you often have the same classes as the people in your hall. For Ho, those classes had “smaller class sizes” because of the business living-learning community he signed up for. Especially in a big university, smaller class sizes and having the same students can make a big university appear smaller.  

Signing up for a Living and Learning Community means that you can live with people who share similar interests as you and take classes with them. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.
Signing up for a Living and Learning Community means that you can live with people who share similar interests as you and take classes with them. Creative Commons license
  1. Be nice.

The fifth and final rule, although simple, is very important: treat others how you want to be treated. If you expect your roommate to treat you kindly, you have to be respectful to them. Just because you are living with someone, does not mean you get to throw your manners away. O’Brien believes “a little effort towards being cordial goes a long way!” Although it is perfectly acceptable to say to your roommate, “Hey, I have a 9 a.m., would it be okay if we turned off the lights? Feel free to use your desk lamp.” O’Brien said “as long as you’re doing it nicely and making sure you are not making them feel like they don’t have a place in the room you can ask for this type of stuff.”  

Treat your roommate as you would like to be treated. Creative Commons license
Treat your roommate as you would like to be treated. Creative Commons license

Bottom line, treating your roommate with kindness will create a more peaceful living environment for you and the person you are living with.

Author: Mackenzie Hirsch

Mackenzie Hirsch is a Senior and a new addition to the Eye Staff this year. She is originally from Greensboro, North Carolina but has lived in Singapore for 5 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming for the SAS varsity team and traveling to new places.

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