Regardless of your pre-college living situation – whether you had your own room, shared a room with a sibling, or even lived on your own – living in a dorm can be quite an adjustment.

Moving into a dorm is a great time to meet new people, one of whom will be your roommate. It can be slightly nerve-racking when you’re sharing a small space for an extended period of time with someone you don’t know, and hey, even someone you’re friends with. Either way, you will probably encounter some uncomfortable situations. Not everyone is going to be as kind after the second month of you leaving all your dirty dishes in the sink to clean up later. Not everyone is going to be cool with the fact that you’re a night owl, staying up until the wee-hours of the morning. Since you’re no longer living among family, you will need to learn how to make the best of it.

 1.       Establish Ground Rules

If you have something about you that your roommate should be aware of, share it! Maybe you have a severe peanut allergy and you can’t have someone crack open a can of Planter’s without needing an Epipen. Likewise, if you have wretched night-terrors, giving your roommate a heads-up would probably be a good idea so no one ends up calling 911 from hearing you yell in your sleep. Establishing from the get-go the idiosyncrasies of your daily life gives your roommate the opportunity to be sensitive and understanding.

 2.       Want A Cool Roommate? Be A Cool Roommate.

Just how you hope your new roomie will understand your quirks, you need to be receptive to his (or hers). Maybe you’ve never been student athlete, living by an extremely regimented schedule that begins at 4:00am and ends at 11:30pm. That can be jarring for some people. It can also lead to fights. Trust us, the last thing that you want is an upset roommate who hates that you like to watch TV until you fall asleep, while she sleeps better in silence. Understanding that other people have different lives from your own is a foundation on which your entire college experience is built. It enables you to see the world differently. While this may be a small way to experience it, it’s incredibly important.

 3.       Clean Up

One of the simplest gestures you can do to keep the peace with your roommate should be no surprise – clean up after yourself! It can be easy to become complacent (especially when you don’t have a lot of time to focus on it) but keeping your space clean is essential to making dorm life work. You may hate cleaning, but would you rather get the cold shoulder or passive aggressive notes left on your bed? Unless you and your roommate have established that you’re both into the whole indoor composting vibe and living in a mess that would give your Mom nightmares, the base assumption is that you’re going to pick up after yourself. Not only will this make living in your shared spaces better, it will encourage your roommate to pick up their half of the room.  Guilt can be a surprisingly effective method. If there is a clear Prime Meridian that divides your spaces, and they see your space clean, they’re (hopefully) going to want to straighten up their half.


4.       Lend A Hand

Periodically you and your roommate will have to have your room inspected by RAs and fire marshals. A whole litany of people who are not your roommate will come in and you need to be able to back them up if need be. You shouldn’t endanger yourself, but you may very well find yourself with your RA at the door for room inspection and an icy handle of Popov chilling in the freezer. You know it’s there and you know that the RA is going to check the freezer. Lend a hand to your roommate (because we know our readers are good and honest souls) and hide that rail-grade slurry in a sock drawer so the RA won’t find it. It’s not going to benefit you to throw your roommate under the bus – remember, you still have to live with him/her.

5.       Don’t Force A Friendship

It would be awesome if we could all be friends with our roommates. It would make disputes much easier. It would make the hard times less hard. But the fact is, just because you live with someone doesn’t mean you will like them. Conversely, they are most certainly not required to like you. This may be your first experience spending a lot of time around someone who merely tolerates you. That can be difficult to handle and lead to awkward tension; it’s important, however, to remain civil. Go to every length that you can to minimize the general suckiness of the situation. It’s not always going to be roses, but it can be at least be succulents. Who hates a succulent?

6.       Minimize Smells

A lot of dorm dwellers don’t think about their own personal brand of funk. They don’t seem to realize that 20-somethings have the power to produce a lot of scents that are indescribable in the English language. That makes things hard because you don’t have a clean, elegant way to tell your roommate that his laundry smells like he’s been rolling in the dumpster behind the cafeteria. It’s where our language fails us. Avoid this situation all together by investing in some Febreeze. Start saving your laundry quarters now and wash things more frequently than once a month.

One thing that you should not do is assume that burning a candle or spraying air freshener solves the issue. Not only may the other person be allergic to whatever incense you may be burning, but you may have made it smell like someone threw up on sandalwood. I don’t know how you did that, but you made it worse. 

7.       Don’t Overstep Your Bounds

Being a good roommate can be hard sometimes, just like it’s hard to be a good person. You don’t know when you should be picking up on queues or when you’re just overthinking things. It’s better to ask than to assume – communication is secretly the key to everything (ever). Don’t make the assumption that your roommate will want to go out to parties every weekend and that they just need a little pushing to get themselves out of their comfort zone. Knowing your boundaries encourages a healthy and constructive relationship with your roommate. It’s not going to be a cool hangout sesh 24/7. They need time to be alone and so do you. Learning how to be self-sufficient, how to listen, when to be quiet—these are all important things that you get out of dorm life. You need to hone in on these soft-skills to make your and your roommate’s dorm experience a tolerant, if not pleasant, one.