College Dorm - Roommate Issues

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Keys to Living 'Happily Ever After' in the College Dorm

A new year in college brings with it many stresses. One key area where there can be issues is dealing with roomates... After all, you may have experience dealing with brothers and sisters... but it's very different from a stranger with whom you must suddenly live.

(ARA) - Boxes are scattered all over the floor, contents spilling out. The closet is packed with clothes, and the rest are hanging on the bathroom shower rod. Stereos, televisions, CD storage boxes and computers crowd desktops, dressers and even the beds. A futon blocks open the door, also piled with boxes and clothes. Four college freshmen survey the utter confusion, each thinking, "Now what do we do?"

The months of college preparation are over and it's finally moving day! This fall, 75 percent of college freshmen will move into dorms, the majority living with a roommate for the first time in their lives. Strangers thrown together from different worlds, they need to adjust to each other's quirks, habits and schedules without driving each other crazy.

Adjusting to roommates and dorm life is easier when expectations are realistic, explains Paul Bradley, dean of residence life at Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minn. "So many times we've seen students come into the dorm believing their roommates will be their friends for life, their best buddies. The roommates, on the other hand, may see the room only as a place to sleep since they already have a social network. Then it's a mess; there's hurt, confusion and tension."

While some colleges attempt to match roommates based on information gathered on housing forms (majors, hobbies, regions of the country), a match is never guaranteed. It's not unusual to end up with roommates who are stiff and structured, social butterflies and nose-in-the-book academics -- all in one room.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

A key to successful adjustment is communication, Bradley says. "Communication is vital to any relationship, even roommates. They need to share openly on such issues as cleanliness, visitation, music, study time and lights out."

"It's best to talk about issues early," says Joy Santee, a 2000 Northwestern graduate who lived in residence halls for two years. "Agree on perimeters and talk through issues before they become problems and get out of control."

Resident hall assistants (RAs) sometimes provide opportunities for roommates to meet with each other to discuss expectations and issues. If not, Bradley advises, take the initiative and have an informal meeting with your roommates.

Once perimeters are established, it may be necessary to make adjustments as new issues arise. "We had a roommate who never did dishes, so we sat down as a group and initiated a policy about doing dishes," Santee explains.

Bradley says another key to successful communication is setting up protocol for information exchange. "I suggest a message board near the phone with a calendar that can be filled in with who's going to be gone on weekends or overnights, when visitors are coming, parties, work schedules. Be sure to write legibly all messages from visitors and phone calls."

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See Also: Famous Roommates