Campus Life

Getting to Know Your Roommate

Living in the same room (or small group of rooms) with someone (or with others) whom you've never met can be exciting or challenging. Many of you current or about-to-be first-year college students are about to find this to be true.

Obviously, the process of getting to know your roommate (singular, for the purposes of our discussion here) is completely different than when I went to college in the Sixties. I didn't even know my roommate's name prior to arriving on campus. Our process of getting to know one another consisted of a somewhat awkward sessions of Qs & As across the first week of classes. After that, the process expanded from our small, drab, cinder-block-walled room into the adjoining rooms to meet new people there.

Today, college housing offices send out detailed questionnaires at acceptance time that ask for personal preferences (for what they're worth) and characteristics in an attempt to make decent roommate matchups. Sometimes this works quite well, other times not so well. Ditching a problematic roommate is a topic better left to the details of a separate article.

In any event, there appears to be a process in place that attempts to ease the merging of unacquainted incoming students. However, you may be better advised to take that process a step further. That's why I wanted to present some questions to keep in mind to ask a prospective (or brand new) roommate.

There's a lot of information out there on how to do this. My research turned up quite a few articles about getting to know your roommate. One, however caught my eye: 36 Questions To Ask Your New College Roommate(S) might seem like an interrogation of sorts, but nicely covers most of the bases about discerning with whom you will be sharing your living quarters.

I thought some highlights from a dozen of these 36 would give you a flavor of how to approach finding out about that other person across the room. Take notes, or better yet, read the entire article by aptly named Casey Lerning, who tells us that her 36 interrogatories are a “terrific balance between the fun-types of questions and the most essential getting-to-know-you questions." Okay, then. Let's see:

1. The Basics

What's your name? Where are you from? What's your major and the like. It's important to get this question out of the way early. So if you have a platform to connect to your roommate(s) before move-in day, make sure that you get this one out of the way.

3. What's your schedule like?

Knowing your mates' schedules is important because you'll both be super busy, no doubt, with the school year and knowing when they're going to be studying in the room, or napping is important so that you won't disturb them on purpose. Establishing time windows for these activities is a good idea so that you're not getting on one another's nerves. Obviously it doesn't have to be so organized that you're timing your nap to fit in with their studying time, but make sure to discuss this one.

4. How do you feel about guests?

Will they be having friends over a lot, or will you? Do either of you have a significant other that will sleep over every weekend? How will they tell you if they have someone over? Do they have to clear it with you before having guests over? All of these are valid questions and while many know about the sock on the door, my freshman roommate sure didn't and thought I was totally making it up. Definitely cross this off your mental question list, it's pretty important to be in agreement on this.

8. Are you a morning or night person?

Maybe you like staying up late and sleeping in and maybe your roommate likes waking up at the crack of dawn to blast their music. This is something you have to establish right away, to make sure that you'll be able to compromise, if need be. If you find that you and your future roommate(s) are the opposite, know that there are so many resources on campus that you can utilize to study besides you room. Also know that you'll have to confront your roommate if they wake you up.

9. Where do you fall on the neatness spectrum?

Some people don't like being asked if they are clean or messy, because messy sounds a lot like dirty. I'm not dirty, but I have been known to let things pile up and clutter my side of the room. It's better to ask where they land on the scale or spectrum so you don't offend them and so you're able to get a good idea of what to expect.

11. Are you willing to pitch in to buy _____?

Maybe you're going to buy a printer after you move in, or perhaps you want to split the cost of a microfridge. Asking if they're willing the share the cost of these things will give you good insight on how considerate they'll be with sharing too.

15. Do you like the room hot or cold?

If applicable, this is an important one. I am definitely a cold person and luckily my roommate last year was too. Fighting over the thermostat can not only cause some super annoying fights, but can also break the thermostat. Let's try and cut down on the maintenance requests this year, shall we?

16. What are your pet peeves?

Another great question so that you're not stepping on each other's toes. You never know what could annoy someone. My previous roommate sometimes got annoyed that I didn't do laundry more often, something that virtually did not affect her at all. The way to an efficient living situation is communication. This way, both of you know to avoid those pet peeves.

21. What kind of music do you like?

This could be fun, or for testing purposes. If either of you enjoy playing music aloud, this is to be asked only so you can be considerate of their tastes.

30. What's your take on privacy in the room?

If you don't have the room to yourself, it can be easy to forget what is and isn't acceptable. Is it cool to be in the room while they are face-timing or skyping someone? Do they want to be in the room while you do it? What about phone calls? Who should leave? All of these questions relate back to privacy in the room. You or your roommate may be very open and totally fine with the other listening in. Alternatively, maybe someone isn't too fond of you listening to their face-time session. Remember to ask so you can narrow this down.

33. If something goes wrong, how will you communicate with me?

Some people are extremely passive aggressive. Some people will leave you angry notes. I personally prefer to confront someone and get everything out in the open, so that we can all be honest with one another, but I know that not everyone has this philosophy. Communicating about communication is going to be crucial if this roommate-ship is ever going to work out.

35. Is there anything else I should know?

Maybe they have something else to mention that doesn't necessarily fit into the questions asked before. Give them a chance to voice this.

The remaining two-thirds of Casey's questions will really fill out the getting-to-know-you process. I encourage you to check out all of them.

Now, as a brief counterpoint to getting to know and be happy with your new roommate, here's a teaser about the flip side of college dorm life: how to handle a roommate from hell.

My roommate did not move in the same day as me; I spent the first night alone. During the afternoon of the second day by myself, the door opened slowly, and this girl with big hair walked in and stared at me. I introduced myself and she was so nice. She and I hit it off immediately because we had the same taste in music, fashion and movies. As time passed, though, red flags started to appear. …

… Here is some advice for my fellow students: If you have a “nice" roommate, who is so generous with sharing her things with you, that's great! However, it is probably best to avoid using your roomate's belongings. Make it a habit not to be indebted to anyone no matter how nice they seem or actually really are.

One morning after coming back from my friend's dorm, I opened my dorm to her yelling, “Where have you been?" Standing there in bewilderment, I decided to take the calm route and brush her attitude off as no big deal. A few days later, she asked me if I wanted to go a party with her, but I declined her offer because I had a test to study for. She didn't want to go without me, so she decided to go home. …

… After a huge argument, to say the very least, I told her that I was going to move out. She turned into an emotional wreck and cried for hours until she fell asleep. The night before I moved out was the most uncomfortable sleep of my life. After tossing and turning in the middle of the night, I turned on my lamp to get a drink of water. I turned over to find her sitting up straight and staring right at me.

Needless to say, as soon as the front desk opened I requested a room change. The RA told me I had 48 hours to move. I told her I could do it in three. …

Yikes. Shades of a Sopranos episode.


So, happy room-mating, everyone. Many chance-met roommates have become friends for life. I hope yours will be one of those, too.


Be sure to check out all my articles at College Confidential.