Living with a roommate can be one of the most rewarding, fun, wonderful and - especially before you arrive - worrisome aspects of coming to college. Movies and TV shows portray roommates as your best friend or your worst enemy. Rarely is either situation the case. The truth is that a roommate relationship is like most relationships – it requires mutual respect, understanding, a common set of goals and a good sense of humor. Most roommates become good friends and grow to value and enjoy each other’s company. Some become life-long friends. A few simply aren’t compatible, even after putting extra effort into the relationship. In those cases, we work to make the living situation as good as it can possibly be and, if necessary, we make room changes.
To best prepare yourself for life with your roommate, we’ve put together the following guidelines. Remember that the college experience isn’t just about the education you will receive in the classroom; outside of the classroom you will also grow by challenging yourself and your identity, and exploring the kind of adult you are becoming. Your relationship with your roommate is a great place to begin this process. Even if you are living with someone you already know the experience of reflecting on your own beliefs and behaviors is a valuable one. Read on, and be ready to learn something about yourself.
1. Understand yourself first
Let’s begin with you. Start by thinking honestly about yourself. Are you a private person? A social butterfly? Do you have a “mi casa es su casa” attitude about your belongings, clothes and living space? What about sleep schedule? Music? Do you avoid conflict or relish the thought of a challenging debate with someone? Are you flexible? Are you willing to change some of the habits you currently have? What do you need to be successful academically? What are some values you have you’re not sure you want to part with? What about some values you think are open to change? After answering these questions, you now have an honest impression of what is important to you. This will help you in presenting yourself to your roommate and as you negotiate together the lives and space you will share. Finally, think about what you want to gain out of living with a roommate and by living in a residence hall. These will become some of your goals for the next year, and keeping these in mind is important, as they will shape your decisions and behaviors.
A final note – if you have any chronic conditions, dietary restrictions, health or other concerns you would like to share with your roommate, think through how you want to express these before you begin talking. Be sensitive to the fact that this may be a lot of new information for your roommate, and help him or her understand the information in a way that doesn’t feel threatening.
2. Get to know your roommate
Once you’ve received your roommate assignment, you’ll want to contact that person. We’ll provide you with an email address so you can start getting to know one another . Begin by introducing yourself and providing some general information. Here are some topic ideas:
- City and state (or country) where you are from
- Family background and information
- Your anticipated major and career aspirations
- Activities in which you participated in high school
- Activities you plan to participate in at C of I
- General personality traits
- Who will bring what to the room (small refrigerator, bean bag chair, television/stereo, etc.)
- Favorite movies and music
- What you can’t live without (GLEE, American Idol, Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Weight lifting every morning, you get the picture …)
- Sleep and study habits (A note: be cautious with this one; many students change their sleep and study habits while in college.)
Remember to be interested, ask lots of questions and to be a good listener. You don’t have to cover everything in one email, and perhaps it is best if you don’t. You may not “click” right away, and that is okay. Be respectful of differences and continue to keep in touch. You might find that this person, who at first seemed so different, becomes your best friend!
3. Moving In!
Even if you have become fast friends over email or the phone during the summer, actually meeting one another can be scary. The following ideas will help you better make this transition:
- If possible, arrange a time when you can both meet at your room. This helps both of you feel like the room is a shared space. If this can’t happen and you are the roommate who arrives first, be sensitive to how your roommate would like to decorate and use the room before you put up all of your things.
- Get to know other people on your floor. While your roommate is important, your floor community will make up the people you spend the most time with. It is healthy for both of you to widen your circle of friends as soon as possible.
- Get to know your Resident Assistant (RA) and First Year Mentor (Mentor). These student leaders will be some of your best resources on campus. If you are having problems, are concerned about anything or need help, they will be happy to assist.
- Talk through your class schedule and basic room principles: bed time, which things can be borrowed, guests and visitors, where messages should be left.
- At the floor meeting your first night your RA and Mentor will lead activities for the floor and have you fill out a roommate worksheet. This worksheet will act as your contract for your room.
4. Roommate Success Tips
At the heart of being a good roommate, (and a good partner, a good employee and a good friend) is good communication. The following is a list of tips to help you communicate well:
- Avoid gossip and making assumptions
- Be direct, especially when covering difficult subjects
- Make eye contact
- Use “I feel” statements, rather than blaming statements. An example, “I feel uncomfortable when your boy/girlfriend is in our room all the time.”
- Watch body language
- Agree to disagree if necessary
- When stating a problem, offer a solution as well
Advice from current students and alums:
“Don’t make judgments about your roommate too quickly. At first, my roommate and I were polite and friendly, but not friends. We weren’t very much alike and wouldn’t have been friends in high school. I was disappointed, but I figured I could find another roommate if I needed to. To my surprise, by the middle of Fall Term, she and I were spending more time together and by the end of Fall Term we were best friends. I lived with her all four years and we are still friends today.”
“Roommate problems nearly always arise. Deal with the issues honestly, resolve them quickly and move on. You’ll find your relationship is better for it.”
“You’ll learn so much from your roommate. You’ve traveled different places, have different ideas and have different goals. Take advantage and learn a new perspective!”
“Communicate your expectations early and respect one another. If you show respect, you’ll get respect back.”
A roommate relationship is often one of the most important relationships you will have. Through living with someone else, you will learn more about yourself than you could have ever thought possible and hopefully, you will make a good friend as well.