The transition to college can be difficult for any new student. Suddenly the work is more challenging, the expectations are higher and the level of personal responsibility grows. And for students who choose to live on campus, there is another huge challenge to face: living with a roommate.
Even students once forced to share a room with their brother or sister can tell you that it is no picnic. Instead of existing in your own little bubble, you have to learn to interact daily with someone who may annoy you to no end. In the case of a sibling, conflicts often end with parents taking a stand or making the tough decisions. This simply is not the case in college.
Living with a roommate in college can be a very rewarding experience, and many former roommates maintain close relationships long after graduation. But what should you do when conflicts arise? And please don’t kid yourself. There will be conflict.
The best approach in dealing with a college roommate will always be prevention. Within the first week that you’re together, you and your roommate should sit down to establish some ground rules. Talk about things like study time, cleaning, food, sharing of personal items, sleepovers with members of the opposite sex and anything else that might make living together easier.
You might even consider drafting some kind of roommate agreement—examples of which can be found all over the Internet—and then signing it along with your roommate. At least this way you will have solid evidence if someone breaks one of your “house rules”. A copy could even be given to your resident advisor (RA) just to be safe.
Of course, what happens if your roommate continues to break the rules? One or two transgressions may be excusable, but what should you do if problems persist?
If a discussion with your roommate doesn’t help, then your next stop should be with your resident advisor. These individuals are tasked with managing their halls and all of its residents. Their training includes crisis management, so they are uniquely suited to help arbitrate roommate disputes. And if they cannot directly improve the situation, RAs know to report issues to their superiors, normally their directors of residence life.
For many students, college is their first official taste of adulthood. And part of being an adult is learning to deal with conflict. Roommate conflicts, however, can be extremely difficult because in almost every case, things tend to get personal. When this happens, the easiest thing to do is involve a neutral third party, and resident advisors are just that. Trying to handle things on your own may be preferable at first, but consistent issues should be addressed by a college professional. Get to know your RA immediately and keep him/her well informed so roommate problems can be solved long before they get out of hand.