Kelsey Wynne
March 17, 2015 6:00 am

I’m in the middle of my final semester at college, and before I go, I’d like to drop some wisdom on you. In the previous four years, I’ve had a lot of experience with roommates, and yes, living on your own is as exciting as it sounds! But it can also be something of an adjustment. Privacy, once an entitlement, is now a negotiation. Night owls collide with morning people. Problems can’t necessarily be helped by escaping to your room, especially if the problem is with your fellow flatmate. In my first year, I lived in a suite setup, and let me tell you, I felt like Kimmy Schmidt in the bunker. The dorm rooms were TINY. Maneuvering in the space, never mind respecting it, was a challenge. With every passing year, I upgraded to more comfort and amenities, until I finally moved off campus, but I always tried to be a cool person to live with, and trust me, it makes life a lot easier. Here are some tips I picked up along the way:

Be considerate of each other’s schedules.

Your schedule won’t mesh with your roommate’s. If she has Organic Chemistry at 8 AM, the last thing you want is to be woken up when your first class isn’t until noon. Similarly, she definitely won’t appreciate you frantically typing a paper at 2 AM the night before. Maybe you can go to the library (and return as quietly as possible) on the nights when she needs her sleep. And maybe she can make her morning exit as stealth as possible so that you get your rest, too. This will be especially important around finals time, when tensions are high and everyone’s a little on-edge anyway. My freshman year of college, I set my clothes in the shared space the night before so that I could wake up at 6 AM and go for walks on campus, which my roommates appreciated, because I didn’t disturb them and they had more privacy when they woke up.

Collaborate on your space.

Whether you’re sharing a bedroom or an apartment, it’s wise to discuss the layout beforehand. Usually, you’ll find out who your first-year roommate is before you even meet. Reach out to them and talk about what you already have, and what you’d like to bring. If you’ve got a mini-fridge, maybe she can bring the bean bag chair. If it turns out that you’re lucky enough to have something in common (like Taylor Swift or David Lynch), you can choose to decorate together. Either way, you’ll each have your own side of the room to work with. It’s obviously nice to be considerate of the other person’s feelings when hanging artwork on the walls (they might not appreciate American Horror Story as much as you do), but as long as you’ve consulted with them, you should be able to compromise.

Find things you both have in common.

Most colleges have the option of pairing roommates with similar sensibilities using some online wizardry, but in some cases, it may feel like you and your roommate nonetheless disagree on just about everything. Maybe she’s an atheist and you’re religious, or you’re into socializing and she’s all about hitting the books. Chances are, though, you have something in common. Maybe you both feel passionately about breast cancer research or you’re both into volunteering on the weekends. There’s no law that says you have to be best friends, but finding some similarities can make your differences less important, at least for the while that you live together (which won’t be forever). It’s actually a good opportunity to spend time with someone who’s completely unlike you and get to know each other, because that’s part of what college is there for. In the real world, you’ll meet a lot of people you don’t jibe with. Learning how to get along anyway is a practical skill. Nobody wants to feel like their room is a war zone or, worse, a refuge of tense silence, so the sooner you can reach an understanding to keep things amicable, the better.

Respect each other’s privacy.

If you hit it off with your roommate, awesome! Invite her to meet your friends, check out campus clubs and events together, be lifelong pals. If you don’t become BFFs, that’s fine, too. Maybe offer to leave the room when she has friends over, and ask that she do the same for you. If it’s more than a friend that you want to have over: Work it out! Is it reasonable to ask her to stay elsewhere? Are you going to have callers over regardless of whether she’s there or not? Lots of things fly in college, but it’s never a bad idea to set up some protocols beforehand, to spare everyone the awkwardness or the inconvenience of being locked out of the room in the middle of the night.

Watch favorite movies or TV shows together.

Sometimes you’ll want to be reminded of home, and what better way to do this then watching your favorite movies or TV shows? Your roommate is probably homesick too. It might be fun for both of you to pick a movie and make it a double feature. Does she know how great Mean Girls is? (Let’s be honest: Yes.) Are you watching Orange is the New Black? Maybe you can find a show that neither of you has seen and make it a ritual to binge watch together, or stream when you’re both in the room. It’s a good way to bond, and you need to keep up with Broad City.

Be clean. OK, just try to do your best. 

Some people are messy, while others are neat freaks, but almost everyone sort of thinks of themselves as clean. This is not the kind of difference a roommate survey will root out, so know that you might not be on the same page when it comes to this issue. Maybe she doesn’t agree with you that books and papers left in piles on the floor still counts as neat because they’re not dirty dishes. Or maybe she’s the one keeping the dirty dishes in the room. This is something to address from the get go, before the first crumb falls: Unless you both don’t care about slobbery, it’s best to agree to be as clean as possible, because most of us are only comfortable with our own messes. This doesn’t mean you have to make your bed if you don’t want to (freedom!!!), but if your bras and socks are making a slow advance onto her floorspace, or the desk looks like a bomb hit it, it’s time to spend an hour straightening up. The room is already small, and you don’t need to make it any less comfortable. No day-old spaghetti dishes, ever, please.

Raise issues as politely as possible.

My sophomore year, I transferred to a small community college in upstate New York. I had a roommate that I was friends with for awhile, but soon we both began having some issues with each other. We talked, but never about what was bothering us. Instead we both vented to other people about each other. Eventually it was revealed that we had both been pretty negative in our gossiping, and things got heated. There were harsh words, a lot of yelling, and tears were shed. We eventually made up, but all of that could have been avoided if we had just spoken to each other about our issues.

I recommend setting boundaries early on! I can’t emphasize this enough, because in the beginning, you’ll both put your best foot forward and you might decide to be attached at the hip until you meet other people, but 87% of the time, this will turn out to be a little claustrophobic. I’m not saying the first thing out of your mouth should be, “When can I get some space from you?” But don’t hesitate to work quiet hours or philosophies on food and clothes sharing into the conversation early on, so that way it doesn’t turn into a huge passive-aggressive thing later on. Even so, issues will come up, and when they do, suggest going to grab dinner in the cafeteria or out to a café, and raise them kindly. Maybe even acknowledge that this is a two-way street, like “Hey, can we talk about how we could both be better roommates?” If you feel like you need someone to mediate because the situation has already gotten out of hand, get your RA involved.

All of that said, it simply might not work out, and you can usually ask to change your living situation, which I absolutely advise if things become hostile or in any way untenable.  Some people will scoff at setting boundaries, and others might just get on your nerves no matter how hard you try. It’s all part of college, and of growing up, and even if it stresses you out at first, remember that you’re becoming a better person as a result by learning to deal with different personalities. Eventually, everybody finds their people, and it will be next year before you know it. Trust me, these four years? They fly by. Enjoy every minute you possibly can.