On the first day of new student orientation last year, I asked a roomful of first-year college students how many of them had talked to their roommate before coming to campus. Every hand went up. Then I clarified, “No, how many of you actually spoke ― either on the phone, Skype, FaceTime or in person?” The hands went down.
In an age of ever-increasing connections via social media, we forget to reach out to one another in more personal ways that build relationships. There are so many reasons, beyond decorating preferences or whether you should buy or rent a refrigerator, why students should speak - actually have an interactive, live conversation - before they move in to the same room at college.
Here are the top 5:
- Embrace the learning opportunities.
Most first-year students defended their choice of texting before move-in day by saying, “Calling is too personal, it’s an intrusion.” What is more personal than living together and sharing a space? Now is the time to start talking to one another about what living together is going to be like. Don’t wait for a conflict to occur to figure out how you are going to handle difficult or challenging situations with one another. Ask each other about your expectations about guests, lights out times, etc. Think of this as your first college assignment. Be assured: these skills will be invaluable after college too.
- Don’t assume.
You can be safe in assuming that you and your roommate(s) have at least one thing in common: you chose the same college. Beyond that similarity, you’ll need to talk to each other about your life before college. What was your childhood like? What kind of town or city do you live in? Why did you choose this college? Don’t make judgments based on social media pictures and postings. Instead, ask these types of questions to begin to get to know each other.
- Get to know YOU!
This may be the first time in your life when you can think about your own living preferences. You’re familiar with the rules of the household you grew up in, but college is different. You get to express your own needs when it comes to sleeping, studying, guests, etc. Take some time to really think about what you need to succeed. That way when your roommate asks, “Hey, is it cool if my significant other comes and stays in our room for the first four weekends of school?”, you’ll know how to answer honestly. Which leads me to the next tip.
- Establish ground rules early on.
Starting conversations early with your roommate(s) will make it easier for you to be able to say things like, “Hey, I’m having a hard time getting the sleep I need before my 8 a.m. class because you keep the light on while you’re studying until 2 a.m. Do you think on Tuesday and Thursdays you could study in the library?” You have to build a relationship with one another so you can trust each other to be honest in these moments.
- Know compromise is key.
Often the answer to a conflict is found in compromise. This may be new for you – but it’s what community living is all about, finding the common ground for the common good. Living with others will flex both your self-advocacy muscles and your compromise muscles.
Even if you follow just a few of these tips, your chances of having a successful roommate relationship are improved. I want to leave you with one more thought: don’t worry if you and your roommate(s) don’t turn out to be “besties.” TV wants you to believe that’s the goal, it’s not. In fact, the goal is to have a great roommate relationship in which each roommate respects the needs of the other, all the while having the best collegiate experience possible. There’s no app or secret recipe here, get out there and start talking - face to face!!
Sara Rothenberger is the Assistant Dean for Residential Education and Living at Connecticut College. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Westminster College, a master’s in counseling psychology from the University of Minnesota, and a doctorate in human development with an emphasis in higher education administration from Marywood University.