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Getting along with your roommate

Most people who live at college wind up having a roommate. And whether you’re literally sharing a bedroom with another person, or just sharing an apartment, living with a roommate is a whole new world compared to living with your parents. Nothing can truly prepare you for the experience of coexisting in close quarters with someone who’s quite possibly a complete stranger, but these tips can help. So find a comfy spot somewhere your current roommate isn’t reading over your shoulder, and let’s get started!

1. Make a roommate agreement

Even if things seem great now (or you haven't started living together yet), one proactive way to prevent conflict is to make a roommate agreement. That's because, even if you’re BFFs, it’s inevitable that some kind of disagreement will arise. And the moment you have a disagreement is the worst time to decide to draw up some house rules.

Now, a roommate agreement doesn’t have to be a formal, notarized, watermarked document. It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. All it needs to include are a few standards the two of you agree to abide by, as well as the procedure for handling disagreements or violations of the standards.

That second part is the key. Don’t just make a list of what you should and shouldn’t do–make a plan for what you’ll do when things go wrong.

Here’s an example:

1. Lights out at 1 am.

2. Inform each other of overnight guests.

3. Take turns taking out trash when it’s full.

4. When conflicts arise, we will first talk about them with each other. If that doesn’t work, then we’ll ask for the help of our RA to mediate..

5. We’ll be open, honest, and polite when the other person does something that bothers us.

Signed,

YOUR NAME

YOUR ROOMMATE’S NAME

Your RA will probably have some kind of template you can use for this, and there are of course dozens floating around online.

2. Treat it like a business partnership

business-arrangement-newspaper

In the same vein as making a roommate agreement, be realistic about the roommate experience. Despite what you see in movies, there’s no need for the two of you to be best friends or hang out a bunch (although having dinner together every so often can be good for keeping open communication).

Having a roommate is, at the end of the day, a way to make efficient use of limited living space while also saving money for both of you. It is, in essence, a business arrangement. As long as the two of you respect each other and live together pleasantly, that’s all you need.

3. Be self-aware

If you’ve never lived with someone before, it’s easy to take for granted that yours is the only way of doing things.

Your different lifestyle, however, could be a source of potential discomfort or annoyance for your roommate. Because of this, it’s important to remain aware of how your actions might affect your roommate. In practice, this is pretty simple stuff.

For example, if your roommate is trying to study, don’t blast heavy metal. If you come back and find them asleep, don’t turn on all the lights. Simple stuff, but it goes a long way towards getting along.

4. Practice empathy

It’s easy to get mad at your roommate and think that they’re some kind of villain put in your life to torture you. But no matter how incompatible the two of you are, no matter how much you may disagree, remember that your roommate is still a person with feelings, hopes, and dreams.

Practice empathy, and recognize that from their perspective you’re the one who’s in the wrong (which, in some cases, you probably are, at least partially).

5. Address disagreements openly and respectfully

The keys to resolving disagreements with your roommate are respect and open communication.

The respect part is especially key. Respect means being honest without being rude. It’s the difference between “Hey, can you get your stupid dirty underwear off the floor?” and “I know you’re really busy with class and school, but you keep leaving your underwear in the middle of the floor. Could you find a different place for it?”

(Tone is also really key here. The second statement can still come off the wrong way if you say it sarcastically).

And if your roommate doesn’t understand your request, don’t get mad. Just explain how you feel.

Obviously, this goes both ways. Don’t brush off anything that your roommate brings up. In essence, follow the Golden Rule.

6. Appeal to a third party when necessary

justice-with-scales

If you and your roommate can’t work out a disagreement, don’t be afraid to go to your RA (or, if you live in an apartment, a trusted impartial third party). Sometimes it can be tough to work out a sensitive issue together, and these are cases when having an impartial mediator to hear both sides of the argument can make a world of difference.

Again, there’s a right and a wrong way to do this. Your RA is not the police or the teacher watching the playground. Don’t go to them for every single little problem that comes up.

And if you do have to approach them, don’t accuse anybody of anything. Just explain your problem as objectively as you can and listen to their advice. They (hopefully) have training in how to mediate conflicts, so be sure to actually let them help you.

7. Think twice before you live with your best friend from high school  

room-clutter

Assuming that you can choose your roommate (which isn’t always the case your first year of college), think carefully before you decide to room with your best friend from high school. 

Living with your best friend sounds like a dream come true. But much like moving in with a romantic partner, living together can reveal some, well, less savory aspects of people’s personalities. And personal hygiene.

I’m not saying that rooming with your best friend will be a disaster, but often it can put a strain on the relationship at the very least. So although your friend’s messiness may never have bothered you when you spent the night at their house every couple of weeks, now it’s right there in your personal space. And the fact that they stay up till 4 am every night chatting with their significant other on Skype–that’s suddenly very relevant to your sleep schedule.

All this is to say, if you want to room with your best friend, hold off for at least your first year of college. Living with your friends can be great, but it can also destroy friendships. Don’t let that happen to you.

8. Treat it as a learning experience

writing-and-learning

Some of the most important learning that you’ll do in college happens outside the classroom. College is kind of like practice for being an adult but with a large support system and safety net. And one of the most valuable skills you can learn is how to get along with other people, especially people who are very different.

Your roommate experience, for better or worse, is a chance to learn about conflict resolution, empathy, and how to have a sense of humor when life gets weird or unpleasant. This is a tricky thing to do in the moment, but it’s key to making your life a lot less stressful.