Roommate Relationships

One of the quintessential college experiences for many people is living with a roommate for the first time. That can be a huge adjustment, especially if you’ve never had to think about how your lifestyle might affect someone else who’s sharing a space with you. 

Living with a roommate can sometimes be challenging or frustrating, but it can also be a ton of fun and you may gain a lifelong friend – and potential repeat roommate– in the process. And you’ll learn how to be a better roommate yourself.
Below are some tips and a checklist of things you should consider talking about with your roommate before the year starts so that you’re both on the same page. 


 1) I’ve never had a roommate before, what does having a roommate mean?

Having a roommate means sharing a living space with someone else, usually for the duration of a year. Sharing a living space entails figuring out how you can adjust/compromise your lifestyle and habits so that both of you can get along, have the same expectations of what it means to live together, maintain healthy boundaries for each other, and thrive in your space.

2) What makes a good roommate?

A lot of the qualities that make someone a good roommate are the same as those you’d probably find in a good friend. But remember that your roommate does not have to be a good friend for the both of you to work well together as roommates, although oftentimes that’s an added bonus.
Some of the qualities that make a good roommate include: 

  • Agrees and lives by the expectations the two of you agreed upon 
  • Trustworthy 
  • Respects your boundaries 
  • Flexible, willing to compromise 
  • Compatible with your lifestyle (see roommate agreement below for more specifics). Being compatible with your lifestyle does NOT mean that your roommate accommodates your every demand or interest. Rather, it means that your daily living routines, habits, and tendencies align with each other enough that you can each independently function in the room without disrupting the other person. For example, one important element of roommate compatibility is your typical sleep schedules. 

There’s no such thing as the “perfect roommate.” No matter how compatible or awesome they are or close you are to each other, there will inevitably be something that annoys you about the other person. The key to a good roommate relationship, like any other healthy relationship, is communication. 

How to set healthy boundaries

Communicating expectations at the beginning of your roommate experience is key to maintaining a healthy roommate relationship throughout the rest of the year. Below are some important boundaries and expectations that you and your roommate should sit down and talk about with each other as soon as possible.

Tips before you start:  

  • Be honest with each other. It’s pointless to lie about how much you party just to sound “better” or “different” to your roommate, because when the truth comes out there will be more tension over roommate issues, and potentially less trust during future situations. 
  • Agree upon how you’ll approach each situation, and write it down. Then, if you do have a disagreement, you can pull out the doc and remember what you agreed on. It keeps you accountable and helps you uphold your expectations for each other. 
  • Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as the “perfect roommate.” No matter how compatible or awesome they are or close you are to each other, there will inevitably be something that annoys you about the other person. The key to a good roommate relationship, like any other healthy relationship, is communication.     

Things to talk about with your roommate

  •  Sleep
  • Alcohol and drugs:
  • Expectations
  • Party habits
  • Hosting a party?
  • If a violation occurs
  • Friends/overnight guests
  • Neatness/disorder
  • Study habits
  • Possessions
  • Leaving for the weekend 

Download and print the Rice Roommate Agreement so you’ll have a place to record what you agree on.

Communication Tips

  •   Don’t let something that bothers you build up. If something little is consistently bothering you, let them know now so that the situation doesn’t explode later on.  
  • Set aside a time where both of you can talk Be aware of the other stressors and issues that might affect or influence how well your conversation goes. For example, don’t bring it up out of nowhere, or as you or your roommate is about to go to class, or, unless it’s incredibly urgent, during the middle of a very stressful week. Agree on a time and place where you both can sit down to discuss the issue and how to resolve it. Consider talking over a meal or coffee. 
  • Make it about “I,” not “you.” Put things in terms of you and not the other person to avoid coming off as accusatory, which is potentially polarizing and detrimental to the progress of the conversation, even if you think it’s true. Instead, describe things in terms of how they make you feel, such as, “this makes me feel _____,” “I don’t know how to react when____,” “I think____, or “I understand/interpret this situation to mean _____.” 
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Listen. Try to understand where the other person’s coming from.
  • Acknowledge what you do agree about the other person’s perspective. Don’t do this unless you genuinely agree with a point that the other person has made, but if you do, you can use it to introduce where and why you differ on an issue. People tend to be more receptive when you acknowledge that you understand their opinion. 
  •  Give it time. Be patient. Roommate relationships need time to develop. 
  • Be open to different opinions. 

If you're worried about your roommate

If you’re worried about you roommate’s physical and/or mental wellbeing, do NOT try to handle the issue on your own, even if your roommate insists that you don’t tell anyone. Taking care of such a potentially serious issue is not in your scope of responsibilities as a roommate, and should be passed on to someone who can help. Talk with a member of your college personnel, like a master or RA, an RHA, or theCounseling Center.    

How to resolve roommate disagreements

  •  Get an outside perspective - Talk to someone who is unfamiliar with the situation to get another opinion. Are you being reasonable in your expectations? Is there maybe some other underlying cause or reason your roommate’s behavior is bothering you? Or are you just so used to having/doing something a certain way that you’re unused to experiencing it differently? 
  • Discuss it with them - Set aside time when neither of you are busy to sit down and figure out how to resolve the issue.
  • Go back to your roommate agreement - Is the issue mentioned in your roommate agreement? Check. If it is, stick to the expectations you originally agreed to. If something’s significantly changed about the original situation, come up with a new agreement for it. 
  • Come up with a list of compromise options, list the pros and cons of each one - choose an option that wouldn’t disrupt your daily life, and that you could both stick to. 
  • Bring in an outside mediator - ask a neutral third party to help you think through and resolve the issue,such as a member of the college personnel team, an RHA, or an O-week coordinator or advisor. 
  • Have some bonding time - share an experience or activity, get to know each other better. 

Roommate Bonding Tips

  • Set up and/or decorate a common space or area together. It’s a fun way to collaborate on something cool for your room, and establish it as “your” shared space. It doesn’t have to be decorating, it could also be setting up something you both can use, like an entertainment system.
  • Try some Rice event or activity for the first time together. Not only is it less intimidating to try something new with someone you know, but it’s usually a good bonding experience.
  • Share a routine. Make a plan to work out together, grab a meal together, or engage in some other mutually enjoyable activity, and make it a habit.
  • Come up with a cool nickname for your room. Something catchy, that gives your room a personality reflective of who’s living there.
  • Share goodies like cookies and/or snacks. Alternate on restocking supplies and what you get.
  • Invite them to hang out. Even if you don’t share the same friend groups as each other, invite them to meet your friends to hang out or join in an activity they might enjoy.