Starting college can be a ton of fun–but it can also be a little stressful for first-year students. They’re in a brand-new environment, with new people, new academic challenges, and new routines to get used to.
One of the biggest adjustments your student will face is becoming comfortable sharing a small living space with someone they don’t know well. My own two kids were just like many of today’s college students who arrived on campus having never shared a bedroom before. The reality for most is that campus living can feel a little awkward during those first few weeks, even if the roommates have previously met up for coffee or have video-chatted a few times.
While the initial awkwardness is quite normal and tends to dissipate quickly, what you don’t want is your college freshman having to deal with frequent roommate conflicts throughout their first year.
I found that the best way to prepare my kids for any potential issues was to have helpful discussions over the summer before they left for college. Here’s what we talked about.
Five Important Topics to Discuss with Your Collegebound Student
1. Roommate communication is key
Let’s face it, most 17- and 18-year-olds are not yet experts at boundary setting and advocating for themselves. When you parent a teen, you know they mostly want to blend in and avoid drama. But with your help, your student can learn how to be a good communicator with their future roomie.
They may roll their eyes when you suggest this–like mine did–but engaging in role-playing can go a long way in preparing for common issues between roommates, like sharing food and drinks, loud alarm clocks, dirty clothes thrown everywhere, and personal hygiene. Stress to your teen that being passive-aggressive when it comes to roommate interactions is never helpful, and things that bother them should be discussed honestly and right away.
Throw out scenarios like, “How would you respond if your roommate complains that you’re too messy?” Or “How would you approach a roommate who invites friends over almost every night and makes a ton of noise?” Talk about how to politely discuss disagreements and the importance of coming up with a mutually acceptable compromise.
My son can be very particular about cleanliness, so I challenged him with what he might say to a roommate who left crumbs all over their floor. He thought about it and said he’d be sure to let his roommate know that the hand-held vacuum he was taking with him was there for both of them to use, and if that didn’t work, he’d just come out and say, “Here, use this for your crumbs, the rug and floor feel a little crunchy.”
2. It’s OK if you don’t become BFFs
Many dorm roommates feel pressure to become best buds just because they live together, especially if they have any prior relationship. But your teen needs to understand that the main goal of the roommate relationship should be simply coexisting respectfully and peacefully.
Some roommates do become best friends, but most don’t, so your teen shouldn’t feel bad if they and their roommate hang out in different crowds and don’t do much together outside their room or the dining hall. Encourage your student to find friends in all kinds of places, like classes, clubs, and intramural sports teams.
3. How to deal with all types of visitors
One thing that campus roommates should discuss right away is visitors to their room. You might be surprised at how often this becomes an issuesome students are way more or less social than others. Some may feel it’s fine to have a partner spend the night, and there are infamous stories about students whose family members come and spend an entire weekend in the shared living space.
Be sure your student and their roommate are on the same page when it comes to who visits, at what hours, and how long they stay. This is definitely an area where your student needs to learn to politely advocate for themselves.
My daughter had a roommate who regularly FaceTimed at night with a friend right when she was ready to go to bed. After a week of it happening on a reoccurring basis, my daughter broached the subject, and they came up with a set quiet time for weekday nights, and her roommate would go out into the lounge if she still wanted to talk after that time. It was a conversation that my daughter wasn’t looking forward to, but by communicating about it sooner, they avoided any long-term conflict.
4. Find alternative spaces for studying
There may be times when your teen wants to study, but their roommate wants to relax by listening to music, chatting with a friend, or binging a Netflix show. Of course, studying and passing their classes is very important, but help your teen understand that it’s unrealistic to assume their dorm room will be quiet whenever they want it to be.
Most college housing has designated common study areas that remain quiet at all times, and there are usually multiple libraries around campus. It’s common for roommates to have different class times and sleeping habits, so be sure your student knows how to be accommodating and resourceful when it comes to their roommate’s schedule.
5. Know the housing chain of command
Sometimes roommates find themselves in a situation where they just can’t reach a compromise, or one roommate won’t discuss the situation at all. Talk to your teen about how they should go about getting help. Their resident advisor (RA) should be who they go to first. So, it’s helpful for them to establish a friendly relationship with their RA at the beginning of the year.
If their RA can’t help them solve the issue, they should talk to a graduate head resident (GHR) or a faculty in residence. If they still need more assistance, they should locate an area coordinator or an assistant director of housing. What you don’t want is for your student to immediately call the housing office and demand a roommate change.
As with any challenge your first-year college student may encounter, encourage them to utilize campus resources, be their own advocate, and politely speak up when something is bothering them.
When we take the time to offer adult wisdom and lessons we’ve learned from sharing living spaces, we can help make their transition to college living much easier. Their first-year dorm experiences may likely become some of their best college memories.