The Great Roommate Match

You may not have shared a room with anyone for years. But one of the first people you will meet on campus will be your new "roomie." Here's how to improve the odds of roommate compatibility.

Once you know where you are going to college, your thoughts will probably turn to the next big milestone: your freshman roommate.

Who's Compatible?

Somewhere among all the admissions paperwork or e-mails from your college is a freshman housing questionnaire. Here are some tips for providing answers that will help the housing office make an auspicious roommate match.

Pay attention to questions about your personal habits and preferences. The more candid you are in your answers, the better the housing office can pair you with someone with similar preferences and lifestyle. Here are some areas commonly addressed:

  • Neatness. If your idea of clothing storage is the floor, say so. Nothing drives two sane people crazier than putting up with each other's idea of order.
  • Stimulation. If you like being around high-energy people and loud music, make that clear. If you crave quiet and eight hours of sleep a night, admit it up front.
  • Smoking. If you don't smoke, ask for someone who doesn't. You will not enjoy living with a smoker. If you have the habit, fess up.
  • Your individuality. Mention hobbies, religious observance, sexual orientation, sports, recreational passions—anything that makes you who you are.

Should You Room with a Friend?

What about picking your own roommate, such as a friend from high school? While this may be tempting, take the plunge and try someone new. You will have lots of chances to hang with old friends. College is about stretching yourself in new directions. That includes getting to know new people.

Even if you are determined to room with someone you already know, consider what it might be like to live with the person. Traits you hardly noticed might suddenly drive you crazy. Why ruin a beautiful friendship by living together 24/7?

Tips for a Good Start

Take any opportunity to interact with your roommate before you arrive on campus, whether in person or by e-mail, phone, or Facebook. Once the introductions are over and you have survived freshman orientation, have a friendly conversation with your roommate about how to deal with potential sources of friction. Some colleges even encourage roommates to draw up a contract that spells things out. Here are some topics to cover:

  • Pet peeves. The more you deal with them up front, the less the resentment will build.
  • Sharing. Decide how you will share resources, such as food. Decide how much "borrowing" of each other's possessions, such as clothing, is okay.
  • Company. Decide how much in-room entertaining you will allow, and what you will do about sleep-over guests.
  • Room cleaning. Agree on what "clean" means and how you will share housekeeping duties.
  • Studying. Discuss whether to set aside certain times for study in the room.

A steady supply of friendliness, courtesy, and communication will help keep your roommate relationship on an even keel. But what if things do not work out? Some colleges allow dorm room swaps if all occupants agree to the switch. Most housing offices will consider room reassignment as space becomes available. In the end, however, you will quickly find out that a semester or even a year in college is not such a long time after all.

No matter who you get as a roommate, you'll learn an invaluable life lesson: how to live with another person. You never know, you might even end up making a great friend.