Living with a roommate can be one of the very best parts of the college experience — or one of the worst.
Although most of the students I advise end up being good friends with their roommates, or at least peacefully coexisting with them, I have had the occasional student come home with a nightmare story: the student who practically lived at the library because his roommate had a constant stream of friends in the room, making it impossible to study, or the one whose roommate helped herself to her clothes, food and even makeup, even after she was politely asked to stop.
While a few of these roommate relationships may have been doomed from the start, I suspect that most could have been salvaged if both students had been a little more honest from the start — and perhaps a little more willing to compromise. Living with someone in a tiny dorm room, even someone you thought you knew pretty well from high school, is not easy. And when you consider that many of today’s freshmen head off to college never having shared a bedroom with a sibling, it’s no wonder that sometimes things get a little rocky.
That’s why I always suggest that students start drawing up ground rules early, whether they are rooming with an old friend or have a potluck roommate that they meet for the first time on move-in day.
It may feel awkward to bring up certain subjects, like alcohol use or dating, with someone you barely know. Start with the small stuff. Is it OK to eat each other’s snacks, wear each other’s clothes or borrow each other’s shampoo? Even if you both agree that sharing is fine for most things, it’s a good idea to ask permission at first — at least until you know what’s off-limits. Of course, never drink her last Coke or use the last of the paper in his printer; nobody likes those kinds of surprises.
Once the easy things have been tackled, move on to those that might be more difficult to agree on. What kind of noise level can you both live with when it comes to music? Are you a neat freak or more on the messy side? What if you’re an early riser and she’s a night owl? Do you want your room to be party central or do you prefer to limit visitors so you have time to study? What about visitation rights for boyfriends or girlfriends?
Don’t feel you have to come to ironclad agreements on every issue right off the bat, but know your limits on the issues that are important to you. It’s always easier to settle disagreements early on, when the issues are still small, rather than halfway through the semester when grievances have started piling up.
With the ground rules established, students can relax a little and let their friendship develop naturally. While it’s great when roommates strike up a fast friendship and develop a comfortable routine — maybe going down to dinner together every night at 5:30 or hosting a weekly watch party for a favorite TV show — I always advise students to make sure they give each other some space, too.
Living with someone in a tiny dorm room can become overwhelming, so make sure you both develop your own friends and your own interests. Keeping separate lives will help you tolerate the quirks that your roommate no doubt has and help her tolerate yours.
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You just may see your question answered in a future column.