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Happy Housing: 8 essential college roommate rules for a harmonious habitat

Kristina Ericksen By  Kristina Ericksen  |  @Ericksennnn  | 

Roommate-Rules

Making new friends. Navigating campus. Choosing a major. First-year students like you have a lot on their minds — after all, the transition to collegiate life is nothing short of monumental. Some may worry about keeping up with rigorous coursework and maintaining their grades — and rightfully so. You're in college to obtain an education, but there's so much more to it than the hours spent in the classroom.

A centric part of the college experience is learning to live away from home for the first time. But how can you set yourself up for success when you're being matched up with a roommate at random? How can you achieve dormitory bliss with a complete stranger?  

"Few things are as upsetting as living with someone whom you can't stand, who annoys you, or with whom you can't communicate," says Irene S. Levine, PhD, psychologist, friendship expert and clinical professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. "Setting up ground rules in advance, can help avoid misunderstandings and disappointments."  

A positive living situation is the foundation to a successful student experience. Keep reading to discover the most essential roommate rules you'll want to put in place to ensure a year of harmonious housing.  

8 roommate rules you'll want to set  

Communication is key to a successful roommate relationship. Once you and your new roommate get settled in, sit down together and decide what expectations you each have for your shared space. You may not meet eye-to-eye on everything, so be willing to compromise.  

"Having the conversations early and often is crucial to successful roommate pairings," says Elliott Johnston, Interim Director of Residential Life at The College of St. Scholastica (CSS). "What it boils down to is communication."  

He adds that everyone comes from different backgrounds, so what may have been normal for you growing up could seem completely odd to your roommate.  

Once you've had the discussions, document what you agree on. This will allow you both to live up to your promises throughout the year. "A way to begin to establish these norms is to write a simple note after you have talked about them," says Kathryn Schellenberg, USC alum and founder of Beyond Tutoring. "This can be the difference between a good year and a bad one."  

Setting the guidelines from the start can help you avoid a disastrous dorm experience. Check out the following topics that could be beneficial for you and your roommate to discuss together.  

1. Big purchases and shared items

Why it matters: The unfortunate truth is that dorm rooms don't typically offer the most spacious living quarters. For this reason, you'll want to share bigger household items. You won't have room for two futons, two TVs or two mini fridges. Larger items like these will most likely need to be shared between roommates.  

What you need to do: Discuss who will be purchasing what items ahead of time and how you will care for them. Will you be splitting the cost? If so, who will take the items at the end of the year? Will you split the responsibilities of cleaning the fridge or coffeemaker? These are all small details that can turn into bigger issues if ignored.  

2. Having friends over

Why it matters: Some students prefer their dorm room to be a quiet retreat to study or relax. Others want theirs to be a social hub for friends to gather. Roommates with mismatched preferences may not make for the most peaceful pairing. After all, everyone deserves a place of their own to suit their needs.  

What you need to do: Ask your roommate how they'd like the room to be - a quiet study space or a lively living area? If you two don't see eye to eye, agree to split times for studying and times for having friends over.  

3. Having guests stay the night

Why it matters: Whether it's friends staying for a visit or a significant other spending the night, if both roommates aren't on board with overnight guests, it might put one roommate out in the cold. Laying out clear expectations can prevent uncomfortable situations down the line.  

What you need to do: Discuss your feelings about hosting overnight guests. Are friends alright? What about significant others as well? How far in advance does the roommate need to be alerted? Will you agree to allowing guests on weekends only? These questions can help lay out some ground rules and keep everyone happy.  

4. Locking the door

Why it matters: Something as simple as keeping your dorm door locked should be easy — right? Unfortunately, many students overlook this critical roommate rule. Safety is a basic right everyone is entitled to, so make sure you and your roommate are on the same page.  

What you need to do: Discuss your expectations for locking the door of your dorm. Are you relaxed about door locking, or are you a diligent door locker? Should the door be locked when you're down the hall talking with friends? When you go shower? At all times? Discuss your expectations to keep your room secure and also to avoid locking one another out.  

5. Bedtimes

Why it matters: Sleep is a precious commodity in college. It should be respected and prioritized within the confines of your shared dorm room. After all, it's one of the few, if not only, places that allows for it.  

What you need to do: Be honest with your roommate about your sleep preferences. Are you a night owl or a morning person? Do you have a specific time you like to go to sleep? When someone is sleeping, should the other roommate leave the dorm to finish their work? What about mornings — how can you maintain a restful environment if one roommate wakes up earlier than the other? Cover these questions to remain well-rested roomies.  

6. Cleanliness

Why it matters: Everyone has different cleanliness preferences and expectations. You may be the neatest person you know, while your roommate could be the messiest. But if roommates have different expectations on keeping clean, tensions will build.  

What you need to do: Be honest about how you like your living space — neat and tidy? Or are you more relaxed about housekeeping? There's personal cleanliness, and then there's cleanliness of the entire room. How often will you clean the room? Who will be responsible for cleaning? How will the duties be split up? And what will the expectations be for personal belongings?  

7. Sharing items

Why it matters: Some items will obviously be shared in your dorm room — futons, perhaps a TV, a coffeemaker — but clothing and other personal items are more of a gray area. You need to discuss expectations for respecting personal items, or they may be used without your approval.  

What you need to do: Be clear about what items in the room are to be shared and how you'll go about sharing them. Do you want your roommate to ask before using certain items? You'll also need to assert which items are hands-off.  

8. Study times

Why it matters: This one's a no-brainer. You're enrolled in school to study, but not everyone's study habits are the same. Some prefer the quiet retreat of a dorm room, others like collaborating with a study group.  

What you need to do: Talk with your roommate about your studying preferences. Should your dorm room serve as a study hub for friends, or should you do your studying at the library? Agree on expectations for having study groups or friends over. What about the night before a big exam? Never let an unpleasant living situation hinder your academics.  

Ready to achieve housing harmony?  

Start your college experience off on the right foot by establishing roommate rules right off the bat. It will help you avoid miscommunications and it will let you and your roommate to stay true to your bottom line: maintaining a happy housing experience!  

Now that you've mastered the basics of dorm life, you'll have more time to focus on your academics while in college. Determining which career path you'll follow can come with a lot of pressure and difficulty — especially when you only have so much time to declare a major! That's why we created a handy infographic to help you decide if you're headed in a direction that's best suited for you. Check it out! You might just find the major that can lead to your dream career. 

Kristina Ericksen


Kristina is a higher education content creator who writes on behalf of The College of St. Scholastica. She researches and creates student-focused content to enlighten current and prospective students through all stages on their path to a rewarding education. 

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