Roommates at College

Sharing your space and sharing your lives…

One of the most rewarding yet challenging experiences in college will be sharing your room or apartment with another person. You will learn about yourself and other people when you share your space. It's ideal if you get align with your roommate and have common interests; however, you don't have to be best friends with your roommates. In fact, your roommate experience will be most satisfying if you get to know many different types of people and learn to tolerate and even celebrate your differences! Conflict with your roommates will occur, though, and is a natural part of any relationship, especially since you live within such close proximity to each other.

Be prepared.

It's recommended that you get to know your roommates before you actually live together, if possible. This will give you the opportunity to become comfortable with the person with whom you will be sharing your space. If you get to choose your roommate, talk about key issues for you to see if you are compatible; it's much better to choose a roommate with whom you are well-matched than asking an unsuitable roommate to leave! Be prepared to discuss issues that are bothering you, and conversely, be prepared to have these discussions if your roommate is bothered. Your roommate may not know that something is bothering you unless you tell them! As in all relationships, honest and respectful communication is the key to getting your needs met. The following tips can help you think about and plan for common sources of conflict in roommate relationships, as well as address conflict when it occurs.

Common challenges

Cleaning and maintaining the space.

Make a list of the chores needed to maintain shared space (i.e., bathrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room, balconies, yard). Discuss who is to do what and how often, and stick to this agreement.


Decide what food (if any) you would want to share, how this would be paid for, and who will do the shopping. Will it be ok for roommates to occasionally take some of your food without first checking with you? How will the refrigerator and pantry space be divided?


In some spaces, it might work for roommates to rotate food preparation and dish-cleaning responsibilities. In others, roommates might want to prepare individual meals for and clean up after themselves. Sharing space.
Most homes only have one refrigerator and freezer, and limited (if any) space for cars, storage areas and bathroom items. Talk to your roommates and work out a fair negotiation.

Music and TV noise.

For students who are committed to academic success, negotiating an acceptable noise level during certain times of the day or night can be a vital discussion. You should also discuss and set guidelines for how often you will entertain friends or host parties.


Pets can be great company, but make sure that roommates do not have any objections (i.e., allergies, phobias, etc) before bringing home a new pet. You should discuss who will clean up after a pet- both regularly (i.e., walking a dog, cleaning a cat's litter box) and if there are accidental messes that occur.

Money and bills.

Negotiate an acceptable way to manage shared expenses such as utilities, rent, or the acquisition of major items needed for the home. Stick to this agreement, but be open to discussing how it might change in the future.

Friends staying the night.

What might meet the social needs of one roommate can become an imposition and inconvenience for other roommates. Discuss with your roommates how you all feel about friends or romantic partners coming over or spending the night, especially if this might happen on a regular basis. No one wants to pay utilities and rent for a "roommate" who is over constantly but doesn't really live there!

Cultural issues.

Sharing a home with a student from another cultural background can be fun, interesting, and educational. However, you should be culturally sensitive about such things as the selection, preparation, and cooking of food; dress; and customs, rituals, and beliefs. It might be helpful to discuss with your roommate how their family celebrates important holidays, what kind of food is present in everyday life and important holidays, and how you want to handle any differences that may come up.

Parties and illegal substances.

Everyone has a need to socialize, but excessive or irresponsible use of both legal and illegal substances are not helpful to students who are committed to their academics. Roommates should discuss the issue of drug and alcohol use in the home. Being convicted of a drug or alcohol-related offense can have wide-ranging implications for the person convicted as well as their roommates.

Keeping the neighbors and landlord happy.

Be respectful of your neighbors when playing music or creating noise. A formal complaint about loud music could bring police to your door, or change how your landlord sees you as tenants. Dating roommates.
Dating a roommate often disturbs the dynamics and balance of a household. Other roommates can start to feel uncomfortable, and if the relationship doesn't work out (as often happens), it can result in everyone in the home experiencing tension and unpleasantness. It's advisable, as a general rule, to seek romantic relationships outside of the roommate situation.

Personal privacy and study time.

Agree on how you will give each other personal time and privacy when it is needed, and respect it! A common joke is the placing of a sock or a necktie on the doorknob as a discreet symbol for needing privacy, but you can use something like a dry-erase board or a "Do Not Disturb" sign to let roommates know that you would like some privacy.

How to address conflict

  • Hold regular roommate meetings to discuss common issues (i.e., paying the bills), as well as to bring up new issues that might come up.
  • Identify the problem in terms of what can be changed ("I find it really hard to study when your friends are over so often. Could we cut back on how often they come over?"), not in terms of character traits ("You're such a jerk for constantly bringing your friends over when I'm studying.").
  • When something your roommate does bothers you, bring it up as soon as you can. It's easiest to point out potentially bothersome behaviors as they occur. However, if you feel that your concerns might elicit strong feelings either from you or your roommate, it might be best to bring up your concerns at a time and place where you will both be calm and able to address the concerns fully.
  • If your roommate complains to you about something you do that bothers them, do not dismiss it! You have a responsibility to yourself and your roommate to resolve the situation in a reasonable and respectful manner. It might be helpful to find out more about your roommate's concerns- what bothers them about your behavior? Do they have any ideas about how to resolve it?
If you would like some help in addressing some of these issues, or you feel that the situation is not improving over time, Resident Life staff or the staff at the Counseling Center are available to help you identify and work through concerns. The Counseling Center is located on the first floor of O'Boyle Hall and appointments can be scheduled by calling 202-319-5765.