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Learning to Deal with Your University Roommate

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Living with another person can be a learning experience. If you are heading to university for the first time or are changing rooms between semesters, you'll likely have to live with a roommate who is not family. This can be jarring and there could be conflicts. Luckily, there are strategies, options, and resources available to you as a student to help make the process of dealing with your roommate as easy as possible.

Prevent issues before they happen

Before you move into your dorm, lay the groundwork for a good relationship by making sure you get a favorable roommate and discussing ground rules.

Roommate questionnaire
If you don't have an arrangement with a friend, you will be paired with a stranger in your dorm. This is not done randomly--most schools have residents fill out questionnaires to attempt to match compatible roommates. If you want to be matched with a roommate that will work with you, fill out the questionnaire as honestly as you can.

Here are some typical questions you will have to answer:
  • How clean do you like to live?
  • Are you a light or heavy sleeper?
  • Are you okay with having visitors in your room?
  • Any allergies or medical conditions?
  • Smoker or nonsmoker?
  • How do you feel about alcohol?
  • When do you typically wake up and go to bed?
  • How quiet do you need it to be to study?
Take note of what exactly makes a roommate compatible with others based on these questions. You may want to curb some of your own bad habits to make yourself a better roommate.

Once you are matched with a roommate, you should reach out to him to confirm compatibility by repeating some of the questionnaire questions and adding some of your own. Ask about food, fun, and other things the university may not have included on the questionnaire. You should also take this time to negotiate who can bring what shared items to the room.

Roommate contract
The rules of the room can be negotiated and written out in a roommate contract. Many universities require you to have one, but even if they don't it is a good idea to put room rules in writing in case there are any disputes in the future. A detailed contract shows exactly what is expected from each roommate and can be a deciding factor in any future arguments between you and your roommate.

When problems arise

Even if you took the time to talk and make a contract, problems can arise when two people live together--especially if your roommate is breaking the rules or has changed his behaviour.

Here are the most common issues between roommates:
  • Lack of cleanliness
  • Loudness
  • Unwanted guests
  • Illegal activities
  • Theft
  • Lack of chores being done
  • Up too late/too early
  • Irritating attitude

What to do

  • Ignore the little things. Unless it is negatively affecting your health, grades, money, or safety, you can reasonably deal with it. Some habits may be gross or annoying to you, but if you are only annoyed, it's best to get over it. You're never going to love every habit another person has. Accepting that is part of learning to live with someone and will help you in future cohabitation situations.
  • Talk it out. If a problem can't be ignored, it's best addressed early and directly. Letting things stew for awhile can lead to passive aggressive sniping and an explosive confrontation in the end.
  • Address the behaviours as actions, not traits of your roommate. For example, ask a roommate to clean more often rather than calling him a sloppy mess.
  • Consult the roommate contract. You can show rules and violations clearly if you have that piece of paper on hand. It's hard to argue with things signed in black and white.
  • Be prepared to compromise. You probably won't get all the changes you want, and your roommate may also fire back some suggestions for your own behaviour, as well. Nobody's perfect and perhaps both parties should do things a little differently in the future.
  • Get a formal mediation done by a Resident Advisor (RA) if the problem persists. RAs are provided and trained by your university for this issue. He or she will consult your roommate contract and try to come to a fair resolution for all parties involved. A formal mediation is taken seriously and should only be done if talking it out yourselves did not work.
  • Request a room transfer if mediation doesn't work. This is viewed as the last possible option by most universities, so it will usually only be granted after failed mediation attempts.
Of course, if you and your roommate transfer rooms, there's no guarantee you won't have similar problems with your new roommate. Moving in with a roommate is always a risk, but at a university you have resources to help deal with them.

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on November 17, 2014 - Moving Expert
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