Living with a college roommate can be fun. From the first day of freshman orientation, you and your roommate may end up bonding and sharing a lifelong friendship.
However, having a roommate can also be full of stress and conflict. Most colleges use an interest survey to pair college students as roommates. Even if you have things in common with your roommate, it is the little things that can wreak havoc on a relationship.
For instance, you may miss dinner because of a study group, but you are relieved when you remember that mom and dad stocked your dorm room mini fridge on their recent visit. Much to your dismay, when you get home, you reach into an empty fridge and realize that your roommate ate your food.
Or maybe you're dealing with a messy roommate. The smell of rotten food in the garbage has made it almost impossible for you to be in your dorm. You've taken the garbage to the trash chute since the beginning of the semester. Your efforts to force your roommate into doing her part seem to have failed.
If you're facing these issues and more, it's important to talk to your roommate right away about your expectations and set up guidelines for how you will share your living space. Some colleges even provide roommate contracts to help students establish mutual rules for living together. Communicating with one another is key, but you can seek the help of your Resident Assistant (RA), if push comes to shove.
Here are some common problems and college roommate advice to help you navigate the experience.
1. Your Roommate Doesn't Clean the Bathroom
This may be the first time that you've had to clean your own bathroom. Even if you are neat and tidy, you may be surprised at how hard it is to keep your bathroom clean with someone else involved. Try dividing up the tasks and set deadlines for getting them done. If your roommate doesn’t pull his weight, talk to him about it.
2. Your Roommate Throws Parties
There is nothing more annoying than an impromptu party thrown in your living space, without your consent. A party may be a fun social gathering, but it can put you and your roommate at the risk of student conduct sanctions and affect your grades. If you suspect that a couple of friends hanging out is about to turn into a big social event, pull your roommate out into the hall and be firm about the party moving to a different place.
3. Your Things Have Gone Missing
There is nothing more important than trusting your roommate. If you discover that your personal items are missing, you must act fast. The first step is to talk to your roommate. It may be that a friend “borrowed” your items, or that the room was left unlocked. If you don’t get any help from your roomie, consider asking your RA for help, or requesting a room change.
4. Your Roommate Is Loud at All Hours
As a student, you need your eight hours of sleep per night. If you roommate regularly arrives home in the middle of the night and makes a lot of noise, it can be extremely disruptive to your sleep schedule. Rather than yelling expletives on the fly, establish quiet hours to avoid this problem. If the midnight outbursts continue, explain your needs to your roommate.
5. Your Roommate Invites Overnight Guests Without Asking
The independence to go out whenever you want or have an impromptu sleepover is a luxury of college life. It can be a problem when the sleepovers are awkward, noisy or involve a significant other. Even if you have a signal system on the door that indicates that privacy is needed, regular interruption of your living space is inconvenient. If sleepovers become an everyday occurrence, you may find it impossible to come home to your room. Approach your roommate in an understanding way and suggest a compromise. Offer to create a schedule that coincides with chunks of time that you are out of the room.
6. Your Roommate Doesn’t Take Out the Trash
College may be your first opportunity to discover that the trash doesn’t empty itself. An overflowing trash basket is a common college roommate problem. If you roomie is “forgetting” to take out the trash, set up a signal system. A blue sticky note on the trash can is your week to manage the garbage and a red sticky note is for your roommate. Gently remind your roommate if it is a red week and the trash remains full.
7. Your Roommate Falls Asleep with the Lights On
Maybe your roommate falls asleep while studying or leaves the lights on after partying too hard. In any case, sleep hygiene is important and it's hard to go to sleep with the lights on. Talk to your roommate about getting a small bedside lamp with a dimmer lightbulb. If that doesn’t work, ask your roommate to buy a flashlight that she can use to navigate the room after dark. As an extra precaution, you can get an eye mask pillow that will block all light out.
8. Your Roommate Is Loud in the Morning
If you are lucky enough to have avoided early morning classes, it won’t seem like a luxury if your roommate wakes up early in the morning. Ask your roomie to get dressed in the bathroom and keep all the lights off in your room when getting ready.
9. Your Roommate Eats Your Snacks
Snacks and leftovers are perfect for a late-night study reward. If you continually find that your food goes missing, try a labeling system to mark your goods. You can start the conversation with your roommate by suggesting the system and then mention that you are willing to share, if your roommate just asks you first. If that doesn’t work, buy a cabinet that locks to store your prized eats and treats.
10. Your Roommate Doesn’t Respect Quiet Study Time
It's hard to study when your roommate is blasting music or TV. Compromise is a necessity. Try setting up a study schedule so that you and your roommate can establish study or quiet hours. If this doesn’t work, you may have to use the lounge or library for your study time.
No matter what the problem is, you need to learn how to be a good college roommate yourself and approach each issue with patience and understanding. Usually, as long as you talk about your feelings instead of attacking your roommate, everything should turn out fine and your living situation should improve in no time.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.