roommate college expectations

How to Manage College Roommate Expectations

roommate college expectations

Flickr, nhadatvideo

Here I discuss some of the most important college roommate expectations and how to establish excellent ground rules to make your new living arrangement more enjoyable for both parties involved.  

The biggest things are usually:

  • Discuss alarm clocks before the semester begins by comparing your schedules
  • Sharing Big Purchases: You only have so much for personal items in a dorm room
  • Having Guests Over: Plan guest visits ahead of time
  • Bedtime Rules: Establish a strict “lights out” policy

College is a fantastic time for young adults. It’s a time to explore, learn, and find yourself – but it is also a time when you will more than likely have to live in a small room with a stranger. It sounds worse than it is.

Many college roommates go on to be lifelong best friends. There are a lot of positives that come with having a college roommate. However, certain expectations come with having a roommate.

Ground rules are an excellent place to begin for new college roommates. They set a solid foundation for your friendship to begin blossoming on. Communication is vital in this situation, so it’s best to sit down face to face and talk about everything you expect and hope to accomplish throughout the journey of being roommates.


1. Discuss Alarm Clock Expectations

annoying alarm clock

Alarm clocks are a significant part of every college student’s life, especially the students who sign up for those 7 am classes!

Discussing alarm clocks before the semester begins allows each roommate to go over their semester schedule.Let the other know expectations for what time they will be waking up and moving about the room. 

  • If you are someone who needs an obnoxiously loud alarm clock to wake you, it is a good idea to let your roommate know this to not shock them awake the first time they hear it.

  • Establishing early on in your roommate relationship the expectation that it is a common courtesy only to snooze your alarm so many times before you finally get up. No roommate wants to listen to an alarm every 9 minutes for an hour. 
  • Investing in a vibrating alarm clock is a more discreet way to wake up. The iLuv Smartshaker Portable Vibrating Alarm Clock is a perfect example of an unobtrusive vibrating alarm clock that will wake you up without waking up your roommate. 

  • Placing your alarm clock out of reach is an excellent way to be sure you will get up to turn it off, which makes it more likely that you will get up for your morning schedule instead of staying under the covers hitting the snooze button.

  • Setting alarm clocks with your roommate is another good idea. You can both sit down and select an appropriate alarm clock sound as well as how loud it will chime in the morning. This is a great way to ensure you are both okay with the other’s alarm clock, so it will not be an annoyance or problem.


2. How to Handle Germs and Illness


Sharing germs and illnesses is a big part of living with someone. Have the conversation early on as to how you plan to tackle bugs and diseases as college roommates, so when the time comes, and one of you has the flu, you’ll each know the proper expectations and what to do.

  1. According to WebMD, one of the best ways to be sure you don’t easily catch someone else’s sickness is by being sure you are up to date on all vaccines and seasonal shots.

    For example, if it is cold and flu seasons, it is recommended that you have your flu shot to prevent you from being able to easily contract the sickness.

  2. It is a good idea to keep cleaning supplies in your dorm. Supplies like disinfectant wipes and disinfectant sprays will come in handy to try to keep all the germs at bay to avoid both roommates becoming ill.

  3. Another excellent recommendation from WebMD, washing your hands is the tried and true way to avoid spreading germs and illnesses to your roommate.

  4. When one roommate is sick, the other roommate can increase their vitamin C intake to try to avoid catching the illness. Some ways you can increase it is by taking vitamin C tablets, drinking orange juice, or taking a daily multi-vitamin to be sure your body is getting everything it needs to stay as healthy as possible.

  5. It is a good idea to avoid sharing items such as food, drinks, towels, clothes, and any other item that can easily harbor germs. By not sharing these items, you help make sure you don’t willingly share your germs or illness with your roommate.

  6. Investing in an air purifier will help to cleanse the air of excess germs. This will help stop the spread of illnesses from college roommate to college roommate. There are several different air purifiers that would be perfect for a small apartment or a college dorm. Air purifiers like the KeenPure Air Purifier or the Levoit LV-H132 Purifier are ideal.

If one roommate does become severely ill, it is a good idea for the other to find another place to stay until the illness passes.


3. Sharing Big Purchases

money disagreement

Since your dorm room is only so big, it’s important to discuss your expectations in terms of buying and sharing large dorm purchases. You only have so much space to work with, so it’s going to be impossible for both college roommates to have items like mini-fridges or televisions.

  • For larger items, it is a good idea that you both go in together to purchase these items and then share them as needed.

  • If you already have some of the larger items in your possession, then you can both discuss who will bring what and how you will share them equally. There is a lot of give and take involved, especially when it comes to personal belongings in a dorm room. 

  • You will both want to have the big items all situated before the semester begins. You will also need to have discussions regularly as you continue living together, and before you buy, purchase, or bring any new large items into the dorm.

  • Once the semester is over, or your living arrangement comes to an end, you can decide which item you both will be taking home. You can both discuss which object should go where. If either of you wants, you can offer additional cash to the other to offset the cost of the item. This is to ensure you both feel you’re getting a fair deal in the end.


4. Having Guests Over

Having guests over is something that needs to be discussed before you begin living together to ensure you are both on the same page. While some college roommates may not have specific expectations on this, others do care when their roommate has guests over.

  • If you plan to bring over guests such as family or a significant other, it’s a good idea to discuss how you plan to handle this with your roommate so that they can prepare for the event.
  • Your roommate may be happy to give you privacy in the room with your guests, and  they  go off to the library or go visit their friends.
  • If you are planning to have guests in your room, give your roommate enough time ahead of the visit to make plans of their own.  

  • According to ThoughtCo., it’s a good idea to set expectations around a limit on how many guests can visit at one time. It seems common courtesy not to invite your entire family over for one weekend. This can leave your roommate feeling crowded or left out.

Instead, only invite certain people over certain days. For example, invite your Mom and Dad over for one weekend and then the next weekend that is yours for guests, ask your brother or sister over. This ensures that you’re not overcrowding the dorm or apartment and making your roommate feel uneasy.

  • In some cases, college roommates work together to establish a schedule for guest visits. You can do this monthly to allow each roommate enough time with guests without the other feeling shorted. It’s recommended that both roommates compromise often when it comes to having guests over.

For example, if you are not feeling very well one weekend and want to try to rearrange your guest plans, talk to your roommate about switching weekends so they will be able to have their guests over and you can wait to see yours at a later time when you are feeling better.


5. Establish Strict Bedtime Rules

working in bed

Flickr, Mislav Marohnić, Late night

Establishing a set lights out schedule with your roommate is a good way for you and your college roommate to keep a solid bedtime routine, which will set you up for success in all of your classes for the semester.

Of course, you and your college roommate may have the occasional late-night study session or night out, but for the most part, it is a good idea to set reasonable expectations for a solid bedtime so that you can both get enough rest, as well as be courteous towards one another.

  • Compare schedules at the beginning of the semester and plan your bedtime routine according to the schedule and discuss your expectations. You can both talk about what works best for you specifically and try to meet in the middle as much as possible.

  • It’s essential to discuss the possibility of needing to have late-night study sessions. For some college roommates, they don’t mind hitting the sack while the other is still up cramming for a big exam tomorrow.

    However, some would prefer that the other roommate goes to the library for their late-night session, so that they can get the best sleep they can to be rested for their classes the next morning. It is important to discuss this to make sure you are both comfortable.

  • You will also have to discuss coming in late from a night out. If you plan to be out late for a party, but your roommate doesn’t, then it is a good idea to remain as quiet as possible when you do re-enter the dorm or apartment so as not to wake your roommate.

    In some cases, if you do plan to be out very late with friends or at a party, you could find other suitable lodgings for the night so you won’t be disrupting your roommate’s sleep when you do return at a late hour.


6. Set a Shared Cleaning Schedule

cleaning schedule

Cleaning schedules are an expectation that must be discussed thoroughly between college roommates. The dorm or apartment has to be cleaned, and it is never fair for one roommate to clean more than the other.

This is why it is so important to establish expectations in regards to a shared cleaning schedule for each roommate. By dividing the cleaning chores evenly between you and your college roommate, you both get to share the responsibilities. This gives you both ample opportunities to do your fair share of the dirty work.

  • Right from the start, define what cleaning standards you would each like to abide by during the course of your living together. You can each express your expectations for how best to keep the dorm or apartment clean.
  • Set a cleaning chores schedule together. You can both work to decide what needs to be weekly, biweekly, and monthly.

    For example, you can schedule vacuuming 3-4 times weekly and dusting 1-3 times biweekly.

  • Hold one another accountable. It’s important that each of you take pride in where you live. Don’t slack on cleaning chores or expect the other roommate to pick up your slack. It’s important to make cleaning a non-negotiable for both roommates.

  • Address issues early. If one roommate believes the other is slacking or they are not doing the full cleaning, then it is best to address these issues early before the problem escalates. Be honest with your roommate, and let them know that you expect them to take the cleaning schedule as seriously as you do.

  • Divide the cleaning chores equally. No roommate should be expected to do more than the other. This is why it is a good idea to sit down together and divide up the tasks equally so that both of you are doing equal amounts of work to keep your place spotless.

  • Workaround schedule conflicts. If one roommate is unable to do a task on their cleaning schedule due to a big exam or an unexpected illness/family event, then it is up to the other roommate to step in and take on the extra cleaning.

    Your roommate can always pay you back by picking up a few of your cleaning chores as a thank you for helping them out when they needed you.
  • It would be a good idea to make a chart to hang up in the dorm room so you can both see when and what you are to clean. This is to ensure one roommate doesn’t do more than the other and to keep everything as equal as possible.


7. Study Time Expectations

trying to study noise

There’s plenty of opportunity for play during college, but there also needs to be an adequate amount of studying.

Talk to your college roommate about study times expectations and set certain hours in the day when you both devote a set amount of time to getting some serious studying done.

  • Designate a proper study area. For college roommates who live in a dorm, this isn’t an easy task since you don’t have as much room to work with. It is a good idea to push your desks together and make a little study dome where you and your roommate can get some serious work done without any distractions.

  • Get organized with your study sessions. It’s vital that each roommate takes study sessions seriously, and they approach it accordingly by being as organized as possible. This means making sure you have all of your materials, books, notes, etc. for the duration of the study session.

  • Develop a set study schedule. According to Sylvan Source, it’s recommended that you have a set study schedule lined out and make it a non-negotiable event. You and your college roommate can work together to develop a daily time slot when you both get homework done, such as weekdays when you have a dedicated chunk of time in the afternoon and need to cram for a big exam, or even full weekends of studying for semester exams.

Make sure you follow the study session schedule. If, for some reason, one of you can’t commit to that session, work together to reschedule it. Things happen, and plans have to be changed, but it doesn’t mean you just avoid the study session. Simply reschedule it and show up then.


8. Compromise on Certain Things


There needs to be a lot of compromising between you and your college roommate so you can satisfy each other’s expectations as much as possible.

These are a few examples of how you will have to compromise when living with a college roommate. There are things both you and your roommate will have to give up to establish a good living arrangement and routine.

  • If you are a football lover who religiously watches Thursday Night Football, but your roommate has an early 7 am class.

While your college roommate may not care for you to watch the game on a low volume setting, it is courteous to turn the television off before it gets too late so that your roommate can get adequate sleep for their early morning class.

  • Privacy is an issue that has to be heavily compromised on when living with a roommate. It’s important to remember that just because you live with a roommate, it doesn’t mean you have to spend every single second with them.

In fact, RoomSurf recommends that taking time to be alone in your surroundings is part of the compromise when living with a college roommate. 

Communicate your expectations and needs for having privacy with your college roommate. You can both work together to establish certain times or days when the other roommate is allowed to be alone in the dorm or apartment.

This is to ensure both roommates have a certain level of privacy because let’s be honest, we like to let our hair down when the door is closed, and we’re alone. Living with a roommate is no different; you just have to compromise and tell your college roommate  when you want to be alone.

This is to ensure both roommates have a certain level of privacy because let’s be honest, we like to let our hair down when the door is closed, and we’re alone. Living with a roommate is no different; you just have to compromise and tell your college roommate  when you want to be alone.


9. Room Supplies

room supplies

Each dorm or apartment will have certain supply needs, such as toilet paper, water, snack foods, cleaning supplies, etc. It’s a good idea to talk with your college roommate about your expectations for how you can both handle the room supplies situation, so you’ll know what to expect early on.

  • If you decide that you want to share room supplies, it is important to set certain guideline expectations for this. For example, if you plan to share toilet paper, then maybe establish that the person who used the last roll up will go buy a new pack, and vice versa.

You can do this with every type of room supply to be sure no one college roommate is constantly doing the purchasing of items. You can work to establish a supplies shopping list, so one roommate will grab the cleaning supplies one month, and the other roommate will purchase them the next

  • Some college roommates decide that it would be best to just purchase everything individually and not share supplies. This expectation could mean that each roommate would need to label their own belongings so as to not use something that is not theirs.

For example, if you purchase all of your own food snacks and do not wish for your college roommate to eat any of them, you can label them with your name. The same goes for supplies like cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and other general toiletries/supplies.

  • If you want to be college roommates who just share everything, then you will have to let the other know the expectations surrounding this decision. If you don’t mind your roommate taking a few of your snacks, just let them know you do not care but also voice that you don’t want them to eat it all up, leaving you left with nothing when you come back from class and are starved only to find an empty fridge.

Most college roommates can be civil enough to coexist peacefully while also sharing their belongings, but it is not without honest communication. Be as honest as you can be with your roommate about what your expectations are when it comes to sharing supplies.


10. Allergies and Health Complications Expectations

illness cold

For those individuals who battle allergies and health complications, living with a college roommate can be a tricky thing. It’s important to be as open as you can be with your college roommate about your allergies or aversions to help them better understand your expectations and your needs.

  • First, if you had specific severe allergies, it is medically necessary to let your college roommate know so they will not bring that certain thing anywhere around you or anything you could come in contact with.

For example, if you have a severe peanut allergy, you need to let your roommate know this and let them know just how serious it is.

Your college roommate may not have allergies or understand the serious health complications that can arise if you come in contact with peanuts, so communicate the severity of this with early on.

  • Second, if you struggle with health complications, it is important that your college roommate knows exactly what they are in the event that something were to go wrong.

    For example, if you have diabetes and are at risk of going into a sugar coma, your roommate needs to know that this is something you struggle with, so they will know what you expect them to do in this event.

    According to WebMD, it is a good idea to go over plans together on how best to handle any sort of diabetes emergency so both parties will be informed.

  • Making sure your roommate knows where your medications are, and how to administer them. If you have an EpiPen or need to have insulin administered, it is vital your college roommate know where these items are located and how to correctly administer them in the event that you are unable to communicate with them.  

According to WebMD, it’s important for those around you to know how to properly use and administer an EpiPen. Different brands of the medication can come with their own set of instructions based on the injectors. It is recommended that you and your roommate sit down to have a trial run to be sure they know how to properly use it in the event of an emergency.


11. Personal Boundaries

There is nothing worse than living with a college roommate who doesn’t respect boundaries! Trust me, I know from personal experience. This is one of the many reasons why it is absolutely necessary for personal boundary expectations to be established early on in your roommate relationship.

  • Some college roommates don’t mind if you snag a bag of their chips or you use some of their toothpaste. However, if you are someone who does not like it when other people touch or use your things, then it is best just to be honest with your roommate about this fact to avoid any unnecessary drama.

    Sit down and have an open discussion with your college roommate about your specific personal boundaries and what you expect out of the living arrangement. Encourage your roommate to be open and honest about theirs so you can both be sure you know what the other expects.

  • You have to have respect in order to get respect. It’s important to respect your roommate’s wishes in terms of personal boundaries, especially if you hope to have them respect yours.

    If your college roommate is weird about other people touching their clothing, it’s best to respect this in the hope that they will also respect the fact that your biggest pet peeve is people eating your food.


12. Just Be Honest With One Another

open body language

Honesty between roommates is one of the best ways to have a harmonious relationship. If something your roommate does bothers you or you wish they would stop doing certain things, be honest with them about your expectations.

  1. For example, if your college roommate has a bad habit of leaving dirty clothes lying on the floor in the dorm, instead of gossiping about them or letting your anger build-up, tell them that this kind of behavior bothers you. Let them know your expectations by being honest and open.

    Your college roommate is more likely to respect your honesty. Holding in your negative feelings is damaging to your peace, and talking wrong about your roommate behind their back can cause severe problems that lead to a damaged relationship. 
  • By being honest, your college roommate can correct this behavior to keep your relationship as roommates a good one. In return, your roommate will also be more comfortable with being honest with you about things you may do that upset them. Honesty is an excellent way for both of you to work on your relationship as roommates.

Writer: Kamie Allen

kamie allen