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Becoming a Better Roommate


As you already know, residence hall living can be pretty intimate. Whether you’re sharing a room with one roommate or with three in a suite, you’re living in close quarters.

With intensive class workloads, you need to take special care to be supportive of each other. More often than not, things work out fine. You discover mutual interests and respect each other’s needs for privacy and quiet time. In many cases, you’ll develop lasting friendships—even for a lifetime. But occasionally things don’t run so smoothly, despite your best intentions. How can you become a better roommate?

Talk It Out, Write It Down

Without question, the most important action you can take—even before roommate relations take a downturn—is to open the lines of communication.

Getting things down in writing is a really great way to avoid miscommunication later on. Sit down with your roommate or suite-mates and create a questionnaire with categories of needs and preferences. Each of you should check off your priorities and rank your preferences. What should your list include? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Are you an early bird or a night owl?

  • Do you like to have a lot of visitors?

  • Are you shy or outgoing?

  • What are your music preferences?

  • What items are you willing to share? (With permission, of course!)

  • What are your study hours?

  • When would be the worst time for me to have visitors?

  • Rate yourself on a neatness scale of 1 to 10.

  • I like it when…(mention likes)

  • I do not like it when…(mention dislikes)

After you’ve customized and reviewed your questionnaire, draw up a “Roommate Contract.” Set specific rules about schedules, use of workspace, shared items and whatever else comes up on your radar. Identify in what areas you’re both willing to compromise—this doesn’t mean giving in to someone’s demands, but agreeing on certain terms—such as replacing printer cartridges and cleaning materials when they run low.

Viva la Difference!

Despite differences, don’t forget positive feedback! Express your appreciation when your roommate is great to live with, and differences won’t be such big obstacles.

What If It’s Not Working Out?

Instead of seeking other arrangements immediately, it’s important to give a the roommate relationship a fair shot. Miscommunication is the primary reason for conflict, especially when someone jumps to conclusions. Time will tell if you’re not able to iron out your differences. Avoid setting the stage for combative and counterproductive arguments—"you stepped on my toes so I’ll step on yours"—by taking these communicative actions first:

  • Review and renegotiate your “Roommate Contract,” if you’ve created one

  • Talk about the good aspects of living with your roomie before you describe your concerns

  • Don’t attack the person; describe the problems instead

  • Talk it over with a counselor at the school’s counseling center

  • Seek third-party mediation—discuss your concerns with the RA together

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