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6 Strategies to Get Along with Your First College Roommate

two roommates sitting on a couch
antoniodiaz/Shutterstock

The relationship you have with your first college roommate can be complicated. Often, your roommate is the first person you meet when you go to college and can become your best friend . . . or your worst enemy. Here’s how to get off on the right foot.

If you or your roommate are not used to sharing a space with someone, or if you have wildly different expectations of what respecting a common space means, your roommate relationship can be fraught with tension and really put a damper on your time at school.

If, however, you and your roommate work together to establish mutually agreeable boundaries, your roommate relationship can be one of the most valuable you have in college, if not in your entire life.

Let’s look at some solid strategies to help you learn to get along with your first college roommate.

Talk Before You Arrive

If you can, you should try to talk to your roommate before you both arrive. You don’t need to spend a ton of time getting to know each other. Knowing where your roommate is from, however, what he or she is interested in, and the broad strokes of what they’re into can be helpful.

On a more practical level, talking to your roommate can also help you know what to pack and save you from having two microwaves in an already tight space. Ask what your roommate is bringing and see if sharing some items is okay, so you can optimize the space in your room.

Be Clear About Your Expectations

After you’ve both arrived at college, have a frank conversation with your roommate about your expectations. These types of conversations are awkward and can be hard, but they’re important. You might not know, for instance, that your roommate likes to sleep until 10 am, while you like to wake up at 5 to go for a run. The more you know about each other’s routines and expectations, the better.

Here are some questions to ask each other:

  • What time do you like to get up? What time do you go to bed?
  • Are you a light sleeper? Can you sleep with a light on? How about a TV or video game?
  • Are you open to hosting people here for get-togethers?
  • Do you have any dietary restrictions?
  • Do you drink alcohol? Do you expect to?
  • What is your class schedule?

These questions will help you be respectful of each other in your shared space and help you compromise and set boundaries.

Ask

two roommates eating pizza together and laughing
antoniodiaz/Shutterstock

When in doubt, you should ask. If your roommate brought the microwave, ask if it’s okay if you use it. If your roommate has a tent, ask if you can borrow it to go camping. If your roommate bought peanut butter, ask if you can use some on your toast. If you want to have friends over, ask your roommate if that’s okay.

The more you ask, the better. In roommate relationships, it’s always better to ask permission rather than forgiveness.

Address Problems Head-On

It’s inevitable that conflict will arise between you and your roommate. Maybe, if you’re lucky and paying attention, your conflict will be small (“Did you accidentally eat my chips instead of yours?”). Maybe the conflict will be bigger (“I don’t want you bringing your friends here anymore!”).

Whatever the conflict, addressing it head-on is better than letting it fester. The longer you let a conflict go on without confronting it, the worse it will be.

Wait until you feel calm, then speak to your roommate clearly and respectfully.  Try to understand their perspective and offer solutions. Admit your faults.

Ultimately, your roommate is sharing your home. You want your home to be a comfortable place. It can’t be comfortable if you let conflicts fester.

Be Open to New Things

Many roommates have different backgrounds than each other. Keep an open mind when learning about your roommate and his or her customs.

Maybe your roommate eats different food than you or dresses in a style you’ve never seen before. Maybe they have different types of friends or have different hobbies. Keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid of new things. That’s what makes college so exciting!

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Ultimately, the best way to navigate your college roommate relationship is to remember the golden rule: Treat your roommate the way you want to be treated. Respect their space, respect their time, respect their feelings. The more you treat them with respect, the more likely they’ll treat you with respect, too.


Your first college roommate is a huge part of your college experience and having a great relationship with them goes a long way toward having a great freshman year. Take care to foster a strong, comfortable co-living environment. Even if you’re not best friends, you can be great roommates.

Hayley Milliman Hayley Milliman
Hayley is a former Teach for America teacher turned curriculum developer and writer. Over the past five years, she's written hundreds of articles on everything from education to personal finance to history. She's co-author of the book Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females. Read Full Bio »

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