Stanford University has the supplemental essay prompt, “Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate — and us — get to know you better.” This important letter is not a hypothetical exercise; rather, without honest communication, the college living and learning experience could become less than ideal.
Although many colleges ask students to complete a questionnaire with the hope of finding a perfect match, this is not always the case. As you pack and plan for your dorm room, be sure to keep the line of communication open with your roommate. The fewer surprises the better.
Before college, while preparing for your dorm, contact your roommate to decide on a room theme and assign who will purchase shared items, such as peel-and-stick removeable wallpaper, vacuum cleaner or shower curtain. The college usually provides a list of items already in the room like a small refrigerator.
Coordinate with your roommate to decide how to organize your room (many colleges provide room layouts online). For posters and tapestries, most colleges do not allow nails or push pins on the walls. Typically, command strips are easy to use and remove. For tapestries, buy some clothespins and cut the strips to fit the on the narrow backside. With indoor string lights, purchase ones that have on and off switches, instead of pulling the cord from the wall to shut it off.
In shopping for dorm décor such as bedding, shoe racks and desk supplies, most items can be ordered online at Amazon, Urban Outfitters or Target to be shipped directly to the dorm. Check with your college to confirm the shipping and receiving location to claim your packages.
To have a positive roommate relationship, move-in day is the perfect time to set rules and boundaries. Since most students bring a white board to put on their dorm door, create a list of questions to guide the conversation as talking points. Discuss them with your roommate, write down thoughts as the conversation progresses and erase options until there is agreement. After the list is complete, take a photo of the board as a reminder to what you both agreed.
For example, with early morning classes, explain to your roommate that you will go to sleep earlier on specific nights so that they can be quieter when entering the room. Also, if there is a quad with a shared bathroom between two rooms, it is considerate to discuss the shower schedule and remind others not to enter your room.
Since class schedules vary for each student, posting your classes and activities above your desk allows your roommate to know where you will be if they want to meet for lunch or dinner. Having a quick reference allows for a more respectful and friendly environment.
With any relationship, there are usually bumps in the road. Being open and communicating clearly is the first step to discussing an issue and moving forward. If there is a concern with your roommate, ask to arrange a time to talk. Prepare an outline of the top points that you want to address.
In talking together, both of you should sit down and be able to look at each other in the eyes to show openness. Be careful to keep your voice steady and calm as you both discuss the issues through. Remember, there are two sides to the story.
After your conversation, take time to write down your thoughts about the discussion. This will remind you of the points you made and the steps your roommate agreed to make. If there was no resolution, documenting the situation will help be a reference point if you decide to share with others.
Thankfully, resident assistants (RAs) are available to talk with and suggest additional resources during challenging times. These upperclassmen are selected to live on each floor of the dorm as additional support because of their listening skills. The college typically trains RAs to provide guidance in resolving disputes.
College roommates are part of the rite of passage in making new friends and establishing independence. Being organized with a roommate checklist can ease your mind and build excitement as you begin the next chapter of life both in and outside the classroom. Get ready for dorm ice cream socials and game day with friends all decked in swag.
(Margo Bartsch founded College Essay Coach, a full-service college admission business, and has been an adjunct professor in business at Champlain College and at Middlebury College.)