What to Do If You Hate Your College Roommate

Nathan Wilgeroth / Colleges of Distinction »

The big day is finally here!

Boxes in hand, you’re eager to move into your college residence hall, but as you turn the key and open the door to your room, you notice a smell. Is that old cheese? 

Your new roommate is sitting at your desk, snacking on dried anchovies and cackling at a Twitch stream between mouthfuls. Dirty socks and crinkled RedBull cans are scattered around the floor, and there are already dishes piled up in the sink. It’s going to be a long semester.

Is your room feeling too cramped for comfort? Check out these tips for surviving—and even improving—a year with your roommate!

Handling Difficult College Roommates

Everyone has their quirks, and some people simply don’t mesh with others. And if you’ve been randomly assigned a less-than-ideal roommate, it’s important to stay level headed. With the right conversation techniques, you might be able to turn this tricky situation around!

Tallie Davis, Spalding University’s Assistant Residence Hall Coordinator made it clear: “Getting along and communicating with your roommate is super important!”

Here’s how to approach some of the most common roommate archetypes. 

The Silent and Serious

This roommate doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong. In fact, they may not do much at all—nor do they let you do anything either.

If your roommate prefers to keep the house quiet, empty, and flat-out boring, you may be dealing with a silent and serious type. More often than not, these roommates aren’t so bad. That is, until you want to do anything that isn’t sleeping or studying. This roommate gets grumpy and bothered any time you want to have friends over, play games, or even just listen to some music.

Talk to your roommate about fair arrangements to make you both happy. For example, you might agree to turn your lamp off by 10:00pm so long as you can stay up later on the weekends. Give your roommate as much notice as you can before inviting friends over, and gently encourage them to come out of their shells. Sometimes simply including your roommate in something you are doing is enough to break any tension.

The Messy Monster

This roommate seems to be blind to the mess they create. Their stuff overflows into your space, their food trash builds up for weeks, and you’re certain there’s a cabal of roaches nesting under their bed.

Dealing with a messy roommate can be difficult. You don’t want to seem rude or controlling, but you can’t continue to live in filth. 

Start by gently asking your roommate to pick up their trash and contain their clutter. Avoid being accusatory, but explain to them how their mess affects you (flies, can’t find your shoes, etc.). If you want to look like a team player, offer to clean your side of the room while they do theirs.   

The Never-Ending Partier

You’ll never catch this roommate going to class, studying, or cooking a real meal. The only time they seem to sleep is when they come home at 3:00am. Maybe none of that would bother you, but they also have a habit of bringing their wild habits, loud music, and crazy friends home with them. 

It’s okay to have fun, but some people party a little too hard when they bask in the independent college lifestyle. If your roommate is disturbing your peace (especially if they’re risking your safety), it’s time to talk. Try not to attack their morals; instead, gently focus on how their behaviors affect you. 

Be honest with your roommate and create boundaries around your home. For example, you won’t care if they go out to drink, but you don’t want alcohol in the room because it’s against residence hall rules. Or, if they want to have a group of people over, they need to let you know first. Your sleep and your safety are worth advocating for!

The Attached-at-the-Hip

When you first got to college, you might have been excited to meet your new roommate. After all, they’re a built-in friend in an otherwise new environment! But maybe you found that your new roommate was a little too excited to meet you. 

Now you’ve got a clingy puppy watching your every move, asking when you’ll be home, and spending all of their time up in your business. You just want a little personal space, but that can seem like a lot to ask for in a tiny room. How can you ask them to back off without hurting their feelings?

Tread lightly in this situation, and avoid being too brutal with your honesty. Tell them that, while you like having them as a roommate, you need more personal space. Let them know that sometimes you need to relax and cloister yourself away from people after a long day. At the same time, give your roommate a chance to talk, and try to reach a compromise (“I’ll invite you to hang out when I can, but that won’t be every day”).

The Controlling Colleague

This roommate is used to getting their way all of the time. They might request that you change your college room décor to match theirs, deep-clean the shower after every use, or give at least 3-5 business days’ notice before having a friend over. 

In the worst case, this roommate could turn aggressive or manipulative. They’ll argue with you frequently about a dish left in the sink or the volume of your headphones. You might start to feel like this person is just plain unreasonable. 

You should never try to bully a bully, but it’s important to stand up for yourself. Let them know that you are trying to be a pleasant roommate, but that they also aren’t being very fair to you. They don’t have the right to dictate what you do on your side of the room.

In all of these examples, it’s important that you reflect on your own behavior as a roommate as well. Maybe, to The Controlling Colleague, your habits make you look like a Messy Monster. Or your Silent and Serious roommate thinks of you as the Never-Ending Partier. Be mindful of how your everyday life affects the environment in which you live. Be open to feedback so that both of you contribute to improving your relationship.

“Keeping in regular contact with your roommate is critical, whether it’s to know when you’re both going to be there, what the plans within the shared room are, or if there’s anything you need,” Davis said. “For suitemates (or anyone with more than one roommate), a group chat is vital in communication. It’s very rare that you’re all going to be in the suite at the same time and notes left in common areas are easily overlooked. A group chat over text or social media, like Instagram or Snapchat, is not only more efficient and convenient, but it also leaves a paper trail in case there’s a miscommunication or issue that needs to be addressed at a later time.”

Roommate Agreement Forms are a perfect way to navigate any of these situations. Your Resident Assistant should sit you and your roommate down within the first two weeks of the semester to fill one out. Don’t be afraid to be as detailed as possible!

“Spalding’s mandatory Roommate / Suitemate Agreements definitely help, but it’s important to sit down and make your own rules regarding scenarios that wouldn’t be on the school-sanctioned agreement,” Davis continued.

When to Meet With a Resident Assistant

Having roommate conflicts is awkward, but you can learn a lot from working it out. You should first try talking to your roommate on your own, but there are some situations in which a resident assistant should intervene. 

You Can’t Seem to Work It Out

You’ve approached your roommate respectfully and offered to make compromises, but they just won’t seem to listen. Perhaps your conversation solved the issue at first, but now your roommate is back to their old behaviors, or the problem has escalated to an unhealthy situation. Talk to your RA to get more advice or possibly find a new roommate. 

Conflict can be uncomfortable and difficult, but RAs like those at Shenandoah University are trained in mediation, which means that they can facilitate a conversation between you and your roommate to make it easier to come to a resolution that works for everyone.

Your Roommate Is Harassing You

If your roommate is disrespectful, offensive, or threatening, you need to talk to a resident assistant immediately. This harassment could be verbal, emotional, or sexual. Racism, ableism, homophobia, and other prejudices are serious issues that can’t be taken lightly.

You should never have to live with someone who is cruel to you. Schedule a meeting with your RA and involve other campus resources if necessary. Harassment is a very valid reason to be reassigned to a new roommate. 

Your Roommate Has Harmed You

If your roommate has ever hurt you, stolen from you, or intentionally damaged your belongings, it’s time to speak up. Roommate abuse is never something you should try to handle on your own. If the situation escalates, you or someone else could be seriously injured. 

Notify your RA immediately so that professional staff can address the issue, and report the incident to campus police. They’ll ensure that you stay safe during your move and that the perpetrator is properly dealt with.

Conquer Your College Life

In college, you’ll learn so much more than what’s in your textbooks. Conflict resolution, compromise, and tolerance of others are valuable skills to have in all of your relationships. Your res hall days are an opportunity for growth! Ask for guidance when you need it, and you’re sure to survive and thrive until finals! Looking for more college advice? Colleges of Distinction is your trusted resource not just for finding the best school, but also for navigating college life. Check out our list of top colleges for this year, and browse our Advice section for guidance before, during, and after the admissions process!