How to Choose and Keep a College Roommate

Your roommate relationship is an important factor in a healthy college experience, so choose wisely.

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Some college roommates become friends for life. Others put in transfer requests before their first exams. Following these suggestions may not guarantee that you are in the first group, but it can help keep you out of the second.

JULIE:

After selecting a college, choosing a college roommate is one of the most important decisions your child will make for his or her freshman year of college.

One piece of advice that we were given before Lindsey headed off to college was to room with a friend, but not a best friend. Here are some of the reasons why that suggestion is so helpful:

1. It reduces the elements of surprise. Living with a friend, or at least an acquaintance, takes much of the unknown out of the equation. That doesn't mean that it will all be smooth sailing, but your child will have at least a basic idea of his or her compatibility with the new roommate.

[Understand roles and responsibilities in roommate relationships.]

2. It can help preserve the friendship. Some best friends get along fine as college roommates, but many find that the pressures of being away at school and perhaps living with someone else for the first time are taxing on the friendship. Choosing to live apart may help keep the friendship in tact.

3. It expands your social circle. Assuming you have a very good or best friend who is going to the same school, having that friend in another room with another roommate gives you each automatic new friends or acquaintances to begin the college experience.

4. It gives you another place to get away. Dorm rooms are small and living arrangements are tight. Sometimes a student could use another place to just "be." If there's a good or best friend in a nearby dorm room, that can be just the place your child needs.

[Find out how to stay safe on a college campus.]

LINDSEY:

I followed the advice I was given before going to college and roomed with a friend that I knew I would enjoy, but not a best friend with whom I would be spending every waking minute outside of the dorm as well as inside it.

Still, many factors can cause tension between roommates, whether they were friends coming in or not. Here are some ways you can avoid conflict before it begins:

1. Make a list of expectations, and stick to them. My residence hall required that my roommate and I fill out a form with basic questions on the day we moved in. It addressed issues like visitors, quiet hours, common property, and more.

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2. Realize sharing can get tricky. Some roommates won't mind if you borrow their things at any time, but others will ask that you ask first, wash it afterward, and so forth. It may seem like you have two closets of clothes now, but your roommate may not feel that's the case.

3. Understand group dynamics. If you have more than one roommate, you could experience a whole host of other issues that comes with living in a group. When a sticky situation occurs, discuss it altogether, rather than breaking off into pairs or threesomes. Being open and honest with each other will head off most of the awkwardness that comes with fighting with someone you live with.

4. Remember that it's only one year! Things that seem crushing during that time may seem trivial after freshman year is over. Try to keep a cool head and not burn bridges with a roommate or their friends.

With that being said, talk to your resident assistant or housing representative if you experience a serious problem. They're generally very good about working with students to resolve roommate issues.