One of the most important factors in your success as a college freshman is your rapport with your roommate. College officials say that while incoming freshmen often worry about tackling 15-page papers or getting invited to the best parties, avoiding conflict with a roommate is integral to a student's happiness in their first months on campus.
Many schools go to great lengths to help students find a roommate with whom they will be compatible. St. Catherine University, in St. Paul, Minn., for instance, has matching software dubbed "roommate finder" that is used to pair students with similar preferences and interests. Other schools, like Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, in Needham, Mass., ask simple questions (Are you a morning or night person? How neat are you? Do you study while listening to music?) to attempt to find suitable matches. Ultimately, however, it doesn't matter how many common interests or habits you and your roommate might share. If you're unwilling to take the necessary steps to communicate, conflict will arise when stress levels spike. You don't have to be best friends with your roommate, but follow these five rules laid out by college housing officials to, at the very least, make the relationship cordial and conflict free.
1. Call, don't click. Once you've found or been assigned a roommate through your school's matching service, it's fine to look them up on Facebook, but don't judge them based on what you find online or let that be the extent of your pre-college contact, experts say. Give them a call simply to introduce yourself or to divvy up who is bringing the TV and who the mini-fridge. "Be more than an electronic friend," says Donna McGalliard, dean of residence life and housing at Wake Forest University. "Don't just rely on Facebook, Texting, Twitter, etc...to get to know someone. People are more than the pictures they post on social network sites."
2. Don't let problems pile up. No matter how well you might get along with someone, if you spend a majority of the day cooped up in a 300 to 400 square-foot room with them, their idiosyncrasies might start to grate your nerves. If they have a habit that annoys you, or there's a more serious problem, have an honest conversation, experts say, or risk unleashing a tirade near semester's end. "The first one to know about a roommate conflict should be the roommate," says David Tuttle, interim vice president of student affairs at Trinity University, in San Antonio. "Students often hold onto stuff and blurt it all out when things get to be too much."
3. You don't have to be best friends. There are a lucky few who form lifelong bonds with their freshman roommate, but according to college housing officials, it's not the norm. The only expectations you should have of your roommate is that they respect you and the living space. Anything beyond that is a gift, not a mandate. "Most freshmen feel a pressure to become best friends with their roommates," says Debra Waller-Frederick, director of residence life at Mount Saint Mary College, in Newburgh, N.Y. "This isn't necessary nor is it realistic. They merely have to live together. If the end result next May is that they are best friends, well, that's great."
4. Compromise. Many college freshmen arrive to school having grown used to having a room to themselves. However, that's usually not the case when living on campus, so be prepared to compromise, housing officials say. A steady give and take between you and your roommate will ease the tensions that can arise in a shared room. "It is about sharing and coming up with workable compromises that both you and your roommate are comfortable with," says Rick Moreci, director of housing services at Chicago's DePaul University. "Compromise does not have to mean sacrifice. It means working together with your roommate to determine the rules for your new living arrangement that you can both be comfortable with."
5. Set rules. Though it may be awkward at first, having a frank conversation with your roommate in the first few days in an effort to set some rules will prove to be helpful long term. Whether it be about cleaning the room, listening to music or having friends over, letting your roommate know what might make you uncomfortable is important. "Roommates should discuss 'Can guys stay the night? Can girls stay the night?' " says Matthew D'Oyly, residence life coordinator at Hope College, in Holland, Mich. "Even if it is against campus policy for that to happen, be sure to have the conversation."