What It's Like to Live with a Roommate in College

Last updated: Jul 18, 2018

The first semester of freshman year brings a stunning amount of change. The most jarring transition for many is trading known space and people for close living quarters shared with strangers in a new place.

Trying to ensure that your living space is a comfort zone will make the academic challenges seem less daunting, and succeeding at that is a matter of space. How much living space you have will matter, but how it is shared will define what it’s like to live with a roommate in college.

College student reading in her room in a USF residence hall.

USF Housing Staff Know the Roommate Challenge

USF Housing & Residential Education personnel happily stepped up with some deeply informed insight on what it’s like to live with a roommate in college:

  • Living with a roommate is a big adjustment – a major life transition for many.
  • There can be tension over cleaning, food, personal space, relationships, and many other issues that commonly arise.
  • You will learn to compromise, which means you both must give ground to maintain a positive environment for all.
  • You can, however, end up with a built-in best friend.

A mutually respectful but not very warm relationship might not be as satisfying as one based on friendship, but it still can make your new home a comfort zone. USF Housing has some tips on how to make that happen:

  • Set ground rules. At the University of South Florida, roommate agreement contracts are completed the first week. A resident assistant oversees a meeting where the paperwork is filled out, and the roommates discuss any issues the process raises.
  • Be aware of your roommate’s needs. Don’t be too loud, and respect their space.
  • Learn each other’s schedules and habits and plan accordingly.
  • Talk about issues when (or before) they arise to keep them from becoming a problem.
  • Communicate in person when you can. Avoid passive-aggressive notes.
  • Agree on the room temperature, and don’t randomly change the setting.
  • Clean up after yourself, especially in shared spaces.
  • Mutual respect and civility are a must. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do have to be respectful.

USF Housing says there is a simple, fair, and familiar way to deal with the most challenging aspects of your new living arrangements: Treat others as you wish to be treated.

Roommate Harmony Is All About Space

There are things you can do to create personal space once you’ve chosen your quarters, and there are ways to protect your personal space when it is challenged, but there’s little you can do about a dorm’s physical limitations. Making the space work will depend on recognizing and respecting boundaries, both your roommate’s and yours.

USF’s roommate agreement contract is a must-see for those trying to imagine roommate boundary issues that might arise. The contract presents issues involving personal space and shared space and lays the groundwork for heading off related problems. The contract addresses six key issues:

Two USF roommates hang out in their shared residence hall room.

Cleanliness

Here, students share their expectations on cleanliness (Neat? Messy? Somewhere in between?) and say what chores will be done and when.

One critical box to check off deals with putting away personal items used in shared space. The section even has guidelines on the who and when of buying cleaning supplies.

Use of Space

The most important space is personal space, and sometimes the most important personal space can’t be touched or seen:

  • Designated study times
  • Allowable noise and noise levels during study times
  • Room temperature settings for various times of day
  • Gender-specific rules on having guests, from visiting hours to whether prior notice is required
  • What each student is willing to share
  • What guests are allowed to do, from raiding the fridge to using furnishings and roommate belongings
  • Designated sleeping times and related rules

Definitions

The focus on communication is important. Students are asked to give their definitions of “quiet,” “privacy,” “neat & clean,” and “offensive language.” That includes offensive language “in person, movies, or music.”

Personal Habits

This includes when the main door should be locked and expectations on notifying roommates about absences, short and extended. It also covers requests for private time in the residence and a timeline for requesting it.

Beyond the contract, there is no end of advice on living with a roommate. Getting to know the person, however, is the best way to minimize surprises and conflicts. Asking them about personal habits that could affect you is a good way to get the exchange started. And hitting on delicate areas such as offensive odors and bad habits will be less difficult now than it will after a confrontation requiring mediation.

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption is addressed in the student code, and the contract asks for preferences on alcohol use:

  • Do you drink?
  • Do you want drinking to be allowed in the quarters?
  • Do you want others to be able to drink in the residence?

There’s no mention of marijuana and other illicit drugs, but they are out there. So, if you have concerns for situations outside of school policies, bring them up. Better to get clarity now than having to struggle for it after the smoke clears.

Plans of Action

The “action” here begins with designating the preferred means of communication during a roommate conflict and includes what to do if:

  • One of you is bothered by actions of the other.
  • You hear gossip or negative talk about your roommate.
  • You consume food or drink that is not yours.

If you live with a roommate, issues will arise. To limit the number, nothing beats early contact with your roommate, either in person during orientation or by phone and through emails and social media.

Have more questions about college living? Don’t miss our articles on shopping for housing and trying to decide whether to live on campus or off.

Our USF admissions advisors are happy to answer your questions about the USF admissions process, so contact us online or by phone at 813-974-3350.