One of the big changes about going to college that most students haven’t dealt with before is living with a roommate. Your roommate could end up being your best friend, someone you only see twice a day, or your worst enemy. While the friendship part can really just depend on who you end up with, there are a lot of ways you can at least avoid becoming enemies.
This brings us to the Roommate Contract. At the very beginning of the year, during orientation, you’ll get a roommate contract to fill out and sign with your roommate/s. PLEASE take it seriously. This will be super helpful for working out any future problems. Any time you have a disagreement with your roommate about something, pull out the contract and look at what you both agreed to. Personally, I have never had to pull out the contract to see what we agreed on. However, it’s a really great way to figure out sooner rather than later what works best for both of you (or the three/four of you if you’re in a quad). It will go over a lot of basic stuff, but it will also remind you to talk about some of the important things you might have forgotten or taken for granted. For example, I brought a mini fridge with me to school. Until we started filling out the contract, I had forgotten to talk to my roommate about whether or not I wanted to share it and what the specific rules should be. Even if you agree about everything right away by some miracle, the roommate contract is a great way to make sure that you’re both on the same page. That way, you can avoid future arguments you might have otherwise. The next three topics are things you should make sure to include in the roommate contract, but also might need to adjust as you go, as I have.
- Temperature In my house, the thermostat is set at 64ºF during the day and 60ºF at night in the winter. Since this is the way my house is, I’m used to it being cool in my room and I have trouble sleeping at night if it’s much warmer than 64ºF. One of the tough lessons of having a roommate was learning that not everyone likes having their room be only 60ºF. The WRONG way to deal with this is by passive-aggressively changing the temperature whenever your roommate is not in the room and inevitably having them change it back when you’re not in the room. As you can imagine, this doesn’t work very well. Instead, the RIGHT way to deal with this is to compromise. One of the tricky parts of it is that not all rooms have a thermostat. My room in ML (Mary Lyons) has an old radiator and windows, so any temperature adjustments have to rely on those. Through some trial and error, my roommate and I agreed to let the room stay at the same temperature as the rest of the building. She compromised by not turning on the radiator to make it warmer unless we both agreed, and I compromised by not opening the window unless we both agreed. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than switching back and forth between freezing cold and burning hot.
- Guests I went to a boarding school for high school, and so had four years of experience with roommates before coming to Swat. One of the problems I experienced during my time there with one roommate was when guests could come over. We hadn’t really talked about it, so there would be some days when I would walk into the room ready to take a nap or relax and find my roommate hanging out watching Netflix with a friend. That’s definitely not the worst thing that you can walk in on your roommate doing, but it can also be awkward when you want some alone time. Luckily for me, my roommate this year feels the same way about guests as I do; we agreed that we could have guests as long as we either asked first (if the other roommate was in the room) or text them a heads up (if the other wasn’t in the room already). So far, it has worked really well and made it so that friends aren’t completely banished from the room, but it’s easy to get alone time when we need it.
- Sleeping and Studying One of the most important skills you will need in college is time management. If you’re a really organized person, this may not be a huge issue. However, one added component to organizing your schedule will be coordinating with your roommate. A habit that I carried over from high school was doing my homework early (before and right after dinner, when possible) and then going to bed early (around 10) and getting up early (around 7). If you have your own room to yourself, that’s not so hard to do; you just turn off the lights when you want to sleep and turn on the lights when you’re ready to get up in the morning. I can’t do that at Swat though; my roommate stays up later than I do and gets up later. Once again, we had to compromise. I’m allowed to turn off the lights when I go to bed, but she can keep her laptop light on to study quietly while I’m getting my beauty sleep. Similarly, when I get up in the morning I don’t turn on the light and try to be as quiet as possible so that I don’t wake her up. While it’s a little different than living alone, you get used to it pretty quickly and it works well. For me and my roommate, the studying situation is a little easier; we both agreed the room should be a quiet space (no playing music/tv out loud) so that either of us can study at any time of day.
While there is no single roommate contract that works for every room pair, the roommates that get along best tend to be the ones that are able to compromise and communicate clearly what they want. If you never tell your roommate that you like the room to be a certain way, they’re probably not going to magically guess it. Save yourself the pain; fill out the roommate contract and keep talking to your roommate throughout the year.