How to Not Be a Terrible Roommate

The main characters from Bridesmaids grin at each other

Bridesmaids / Giphy

As an incoming freshman, there is nothing more exciting than learning who your roommate(s) will be when you get to college in the fall. There’s the initial scramble to find them on Facebook and start talking about the really important stuff, like who is going to bring the TV and who will provide the mini fridge.

It may be awkward at first, though. After all, you’re talking to a total stranger with whom you will soon be cohabiting. And truthfully, it might stay awkward. You may get to school and realize that wow, you and your roommate are totally incompatible as friends, but at least you are able to make it work as roommates. Or, you’ll meet them in person and your roommate will automatically become your best friend for life. I’ve seen it both ways.

Regardless of your first impressions, both on the internet and in person, there are a few conversations that you need to have if you’re going to have a workable living situation. This goes for any roommate, actually, not just the first roommate you are assigned your freshman year. Have these conversations with your best friend, your sorority sisters, and anyone else you’re going to live with, in college and afterwards.

Lay some ground rules.

Most of this can be done on day one. Decide who gets which side of the room and how you’re going to share the closet. Make room arrangements together. My roommate and I didn’t, and as a result, my bed jutted out into the room right next to the door. To get to my roommate’s side, you had to walk around my bed. This was only moderately annoying and we never rearranged, but we definitely should’ve thought it out better at the beginning. Likewise, if you’re going to bunk your beds, make sure you’re okay with who gets which bunk. Resentment brews and festers unless it’s addressed quickly. If you’re uncomfortable with top bunk, say something.

You should also address cleaning and make policies for when the overhead lights go off and the desk lamps get turned on, when it’s okay to listen to music without headphones, and whether or not you care if they’re in the room while you’re on the phone. Know when it’s okay to have friends over and when you should meet at the campus café instead. Learn each other’s schedules so you know when you will be guaranteed some time to yourself. Living with a roommate or two definitely impedes personal privacy, but establishing a routine can make the adjustment easier.

Respect their wishes, but make yours known too.

Mike gets angry with Sullivan and says "Your grubby paw was in my bed!"

Monsters University / Giphy

You want your room to be a safe place, both for you and your roommates. Some people may be really uncomfortable changing in front of others, so in the case that this happens, be polite and turn around. Likewise, some people may be really uncomfortable when others change in front of them, so reign in your desires to have naked time and save it for when they’re in class.

If you have a lot of trouble doing homework while they’re talking on the phone, you need to make that known. However, anything that you expect them to do for you, you should do for them too. So don’t call up your mom and refuse to leave the room when your roommate is slaving over Chinese homework.

You’ll likely find that you don’t know how to have this conversation until you learn more about each other’s habits, and that’s fine. Communication is key at every step. If you need to revisit some of your pet peeves in October, do it.


It is going to be uncomfortable, but if either of you is at all romantically inclined, you need to be prepared in case a situation arises. Never ever bring home a romantic partner without asking your roommates first. Respect their answer if they say that it’s not a good time for them to leave the room, and definitely don’t ask so often that it seems like your roommates never get to spend the night in their own beds. And no, sneaking someone in isn’t an option. No one wants to be the third wheel during a college sleepover.

Don’t assume you can use their stuff.

Joey would not be a good roommate in college. He says "Joey doesn't share food!"

Friends / Giphy

Unless you’ve asked and have permission to use their computer, shampoo, sweater, or anything else, don’t touch it. You have your things, and they have theirs. If you run out of shampoo, by all means, ask if they’ll let you borrow some for a day, but don’t take advantage. Head to the nearest shop, spend the $4.00, and get some shampoo of your own. And, if you’re going to be stingy with your own things, then you definitely shouldn’t be asking to borrow or use your roommates’. Stick to this rule: If you wouldn’t share it, then don’t ask them to. And always, always ask permission before you take something.

Be aware of how much noise you’re making.

I’m going to go right ahead and say that I am intimately familiar with both sides of this story. In college I was both subjected to noise complaints and the person making a noise complaint (but not at the same time). I have stood on my bed with a broom and banged on the ceiling in an effort to get the people who lived above me to stop partying on a weeknight. I have also been politely told by a residence assistant that I need to keep it down. Noise disrupts, even when it’s not at night. Imagine the poor student trying to complete a take-home exam and having to listen to you and your roommate sing along to the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack below them.

Loud noise doesn’t just affect your roommate, but also the people who live above, below, across from, and next to you. You don’t want to be the person on the floor who keeps up all their neighbors by playing heavy metal music in the middle of the night. Coming home at 3:00 a.m. after a night of partying, banging incessantly on your door because you can’t find your key, and belting Katy Perry at the top of your lungs is not going to make you friends. Be considerate of others who may be sleeping, reading, or tired of having their nights (or days) interrupted by your off-key rendition of “Roar.”

Pay attention to your school’s quiet hours policy (typically noise is allowed later on Fridays and Saturdays) and respect those around you.

Realize that they don’t have to be your best friends.

Carpool Karaoke with Jesse Tyler Ferguson in the middle saying "Best friends"

Carpool Karaoke / Giphy

A lot of students expect that their first roommates will be their best friends, and yes, this can happen. Two of the girls who lived together on my freshman floor are best friends to this day, but this isn’t always the way it works out. Yes, you will probably hang out with them a lot during your first few days or weeks at school, especially when you’re always going to floor activities and get-to-know-you events. It took me a couple of months to completely understand that my roommate and I were probably not going to be friends, but we figured out a way to make it work for the year before we went our separate ways. You will eventually find friends through other means, such as your floor, your classes, and your extracurriculars, for example, and you won’t be so reliant on your roommate for companionship. And remember, after freshman year, you get to pick.

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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