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How to Deal with a Bad Roommate in College

College roommates take a selfie in their dorm room.

College is full of “firsts.” For many students, that includes having a college roommate. Whether it’s a dorm room, apartment, or sorority/fraternity house, you can expect to share tight quarters with a roommate (or two) at some point in your college experience.  

For some, this new living arrangement is a great way to make new friends. But for others, it can be challenging. Different schedules, lifestyles, personalities, and interests can easily lead to conflict. Combine conflict with a small space, and things get tense, fast. 

But try not to panic. There are simple ways to deal with a bad college roommate that even the most conflict-avoidant person can manage. As the experts when it comes student housing, Collegeboxes has put together this guide for dealing with a bad roommate in college. 

Step 1: Avoiding Conflict 

The best way to deal with a bad roommate? Try to nip it in the bud before significant roommate problems arise. There are several things you can do to try and avoid conflict before it even begins. 

Try to Find a Roommate with Similar Habits 

Most universities use questionnaires to pair students that seem compatible. While not foolproof, this method tends to match students with similar habits and preferences. If your school uses this technique, be sure to answer with complete honesty. That way, you’re not paired with an early riser even though you’re a night owl who hopes to be an early riser someday

If you’re not living in the dorms but still planning to live with roomies, use the same methodology, only conduct it yourself. Be honest about what personality quirks you might have and what’s important to you and ask the same of any potential roommates. Use that information to consider whether it’s a match. And remember, friends don’t always make the best roommates. 

Meeting roommates online is common these days. But as a rule of thumb, meet any potential roommates in person or virtually for a “feeling out” process before committing.  

Create an Agreement 

No matter how you and your roommate were matched, we recommend being proactive about your expectations going forward. Soon after you both move in, schedule some time to sit down and go over how you’re going to handle everything from chores and guests, to shared items and sleep schedules. You may even want to write down your agreement so there’s less chance of misunderstandings.  

Remember that’s not just about you. Listen to your roommate and hear out their wishes. You’d be surprised how much more someone is willing to respect your wishes when they see you do the same!  

Set Firm Boundaries 

Creating an agreement is a great way to establish house rules. But setting boundaries is how you take it a step further. Firm, respectful boundaries are basically ground rules for what’s most important to you. For example, a firm boundary might be that you require notice before inviting guests over. Or, you might respectfully ask that your personal items aren’t messed with. Obviously, if you have your boundaries, expect your roommate will have their own too that you should respect. 

To make things easier for you both, be sure to separate things that are boundaries/tangible problems and things that simply annoy you. For example, playing loud music at 2 a.m. when you must get up the next day is overstepping a boundary and it’s unacceptable. However, playing loud music that you don’t like during the day is more of an annoyance. Pick your battles and try to let the annoyances go. 

Step 2: Working through Conflicts 

Being proactive is always a plus. But it’s not foolproof. Busy schedules and general stress can cause well-meaning people to overlook things. In those situations, here are some tips to help you navigate through conflicts with your roommates. 

Keep Open Communication 

As tough as it might be, it’s best to communicate clearly, honestly, and respectfully as conflicts come up. Don’t let things fester. Address them directly with your roommate in a calm manner. Choose a time when both of you are in a good head space and approach the conversation with a willingness to listen and find solutions. Express your concerns clearly and be open to hearing your roommate’s perspective as well. Also, do this in person, not over text, and certainly not via passive aggressive Post-It notes. 

Practice Compromise 

In any relationship, compromise is key. You won’t always get things your way, so it’s crucial to find a middle ground with your roommate. Stay open to making compromises on certain matters to come to agreements that work for both of you. 

Address One Problem at a Time 

As you communicate and compromise, it’s important to focus on one issue at a time. Your roommate may not be as responsive if you hand them a laundry list of complaints. Instead, prioritize what is most important and tackle that first. If the conversation goes smoothly, you can always address other concerns later. 

While we suggest addressing problems individually, it’s also a good idea to write things down and keep track of any issues that arise. This will help keep your thoughts organized and make it easier to remember specific details. Plus, it may come in handy in the future if you need to escalate your concerns. 

Step 3: Finding Alternative Solutions 

Sometimes you do everything you can to keep things agreeable, but it’s not enough. Irresolvable issues aren’t uncommon. But don’t worry, there are still ways to help you make the most of your college experience. 

Work With Your RA 

If you’re living in the dorms, you can turn to your resident advisor (RA) for support. Your RA is a good person to seek advice from, as they’ve no doubt seen situations like this before. They may even be willing to mediate between you and your roommate to find a solution. If things are really bad, they may be able to point you in the direction of resources like counselors and mental health professionals.  

Find Your Own Space 

When things go sideways with a roommate, it can be tough to even feel comfortable in your own space. Especially when you’re sharing a small space – it seems like every time you turn around, they’re there. And the more time you spend together, the more you annoy each other. 

If you’re at your wit’s end, it’s best to get some space from one another, rather than let things escalate. Spend time with friends or family, at the library, or a local coffee shop for some much-needed alone time. Who knows, time apart might just be what you both need to ease the tension. If not, you’ll at least get the opportunity to focus on yourself. 

Request a Room Change 

When all else fails, you can request to change rooms. Obviously, the ins and outs here vary based on the school. But if your issues are truly unresolvable and getting to a breaking point, many school officials will look for other housing opportunities. They may offer a more official mediation first and even do some type of investigation, but the opportunity should be there if things are truly untenable. 

The good news is that if you did your best to be proactive, communicate, compromise, and even find alternative solutions, you can feel confident that you did your best, and hopefully your school will recognize that as well. 

Move to a New Space the Easy Way 

Whether you’re leaving your dorm because of roommate issue or simply because the school year is over, you’re going to need to some help moving out. Collegeboxes is here to help! Our professional college storage and shipping team has been helping students get from point A to point B since 1999, offering local storage and affordable shipping back home or to campus.