How to be a good college roommate—5 landmines to avoid and 5 things you must do

No one wants to be in an uncomfortable living situation, and most people don’t want to put another person in an uncomfortable living situation, either. But being a good roommate doesn’t always come naturally—especially at college, where you’re potentially living with a stranger for the first time in your life.

To be a good roommate, you need to understand your roommate, set clear boundaries, and learn to be flexible. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, the tricky part is doing these three things without sacrificing your own happiness.

By using some simple tactics, you can make your dorm room or apartment a space that your roommates are happy to come back to, and in the process increase your own satisfaction as well.

Do all college students hate their roommates?

According to Georgetown’s Student Health Services department, approximately 1 in 3 college students int eh US reported problems with their roommate in a given year. At Georgetown, 10% of students felt that roommate woes hurt their academic performance.

While these aren’t massive percentages—certainly not a majority of students—they’re still a meaningful number. It’s important to understand why college living situations become toxic, and how to prevent it from happening to you.

College roommates grow unhappy with each other for five reasons:

  1. Personal space issues
  2. Personality clashes
  3. Clashes in habits (sleeping hours, cleanliness, etc.)
  4. Property disputes (Check out our guide to sharing belongings with your roommates.)
  5. Inconsiderate or selfish behavior

To be a good college roommate, you must learn how to avoid and/or mitigate these 5 potential downfalls for your dorm room.

5 tips for being the world’s best roommate

Being a great roommate can be as simple as following five tips. These tips sound simple, but what makes them difficult is that you need to keep following them day in and day out, all year long. Everyone loses their wits at some point or another; it is on these occasions that you’ll want to scream, break things, blame everything on the person sleeping just a few feet away from you. The key is to minimize these occasions, and to find a way to pause, take a break, and come back to your roommate(s) with a good attitude.

In the end, being a great roommate comes down to three vital skills: proactivity, consistency, and communication.

Start following the 5 tips below early—and keep your deviations from them to a minimum. Start before you even get to school, if you can manage it! By openly communicating about your strong desire to keep the living arrangements as positive as possible, and demonstrating your willingness to put in the work to make this happen, you’ll increase your odds of getting your roomies to show you the same consideration.

1. Accept that you and your roommate don’t need to be best friends—at least not all the time

Many college roommates turn out to be lifelong friends! Then again… many don’t. Either way, it is okay! There are tons of ways to make friends at college. While it would be nice to click with whoever shares a room with you, what is really important is that these people are your good roommate(s), not your good friends.

Focus on being the best roommate possible, rather than being the best friend possible, and you will avoid the trap of expectations for your relationship being too high. You’ll both have an easier go of things if you don’t feel obligated to invite each other to every social gathering—especially if your friendship isn’t a natural fit.

2. Set clear boundaries and ground rules

Boundaries and ground rules will differ for each set of roommates; different things are important to different people. Your roommate may care about cleanliness, you may care about sleeping hours. Your roommate may care about having quiet study time, you may care about the number of guests in your room during the day.

Figure these things out early. Sitting down and listing them out on a piece of paper—as silly as that might sound—will likely be the best way to flush out priorities that you both didn’t even know you had! Some potential things around which you and your roommates should set boundaries:

  • cleanliness
  • quiet hours
  • sleeping hours
  • noise level
  • guests—frequency and duration of visits, and number of visitors
  • sharing electronics
  • sharing kitchen equipment
  • study habits
  • decorations
  • odors (yes! Things like cologne/perfume use, candle scents, etc.)
  • security (i.e. locking the room)

Luckily, there are a million guides out there of the kinds of things about which you should set boundaries with your roommates (here’s one!). You should do some more reading and thinking on what topics are important for you, and how you might establish boundaries and/or ground rules around them. And very importantly, you must invite your roommate(s) to do the same.

3. Acknowledge that your habits and lifestyles differ

The success of relationships of any kind hinges not on your similarities, but your ability to mutually accept your many, many differences. Rather than trying to make yourself like your roommate—or, worse yet, expecting your roommate to adjust their behaviors to better match yours—you should acknowledge that you are different people who find happiness in different ways. Similarly, you will become frustrated by different things.

Keep an eye out for what makes your roommate(s) happy and what seems to tick them off. These things may not be what you would instinctually expect. And on the more fun side, be vigilant for what makes them happiest! Is it a hug? Gifts? A joke? Alone time? Whatever it is, try to give them more of it whenever it is convenient for you.

4. Demonstrate patience

You should not expect your roommate to be as conscientious as you. You’re the one taking the time to study up on being a good roommate, after all—not them! This doesn’t mean they are a mean or inconsiderate person. Rather, it just means that they might not have thought to put in the extra effort. This means you will likely need to be vocal and direct, without being pushy.

Although it may seem difficult, it is possible to make your voice heard without sounding like you’re being demanding. The trick is to refer back to them. For instance, mention how, just like they need their alone time to recharge, sometimes you do, too. Or let them know that you have a big midterm coming up and could really use some extra “quiet hours” in the dorm room, just like you allowed them when they were working on their last essay.

5. Find a space where you can go to “get away”

Dorm rooms are small. Over the course of a full year, they get cramped, dusty, and maybe even a bit smelly. When shared with one or more people, they can get downright claustrophobic. That’s why it’s important that you identify one or more getaways. For your own sanity, and the sanity of your roommate(s), try finding some spots on campus where you can go to get out of your room. This will help you recharge your batteries, and give your roommate some valuable time to themselves. It also means that, should you find yourself getting frustrated, you always have somewhere you can run off to to cool down.

Great campus getaway spots include:

  • The library
  • Dining halls
  • Common rooms
  • Friends’ dorm rooms
  • Empty classrooms
  • Cafes
  • Outdoor areas, such as park benches

For more advice on being the best college roommate, check out this great visual guide from Risla.

Source: Risla

What should I do if I hate my roommate?

Okay, let’s say you give it a shot, and your living situation doesn’t work out. What then? Check out our guide to learn more about how to handle a toxic living situation.

Learn more about living with college roommates:

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