Freshman Year

How to Be a Good Roommate: Students Share Advice for Living in Close Quarters

Everyone remembers that guy in their dorm. He blasted music, drunkenly wandered into the wrong rooms and behaved as though a magical elf was going to clean up after his common-area mess.

“If you’re the roommate who will do the dishes ‘later,’ take out the trash ‘later,’ or clean up ‘later,’ that’s a fast way down the road to being the problematic person,” said Christina Butan, a junior at Purchase College. “Nobody wants a mess, and if you’re the one causing it, nobody will like you.”

Transitioning to living on your own at college can be tough, especially if your parents did a lot of the dirty work for you. But it's important to be a good member of your dorm community.

“Being a good dorm-mate is about being respectful and keeping an open mind,” said Kerry Senle, 26, who was a resident adviser at the University of Connecticut. “These people have the potential to be your life-long friends,”

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NBC News asked two students who are part of The Freshman Year Experience, a project tracking college first-years, to share the top five lessons they’ve learned about being a good member of a dorm community.

Get more college tips and advice at NBC News' Freshman Year Experience


Now is not the time to “express yourself” with volume. “You’re all here for school,” said Tyra Searcy, a freshman at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “Respect quiet time.” That’s especially true in common areas, which, for many students, are the only place they can escape to get some studying done. Try to keep it down late at night. Failing that, said Tyler Williams, a freshman at Grinnell College in Iowa, “if you are going to blast music, at least have good taste.”


“Keep your side of the room clean,” even if your roommate is a slob, Searcy said. “It can make you feel more organized.” In your hall, pick up trash, and “do not leave your hair everywhere in the bathroom,” both Searcy and Williams advised. That means you, girl who sticks her hair to the shower wall. It’s not art. Ditto your shower supplies: That’s what caddies are for — for carrying the shampoo back to your room. “Clean your toothpaste out of the sink,” Williams said. Remember how your mess used to just magically disappear in your house? It’s so weird; now, it’s almost like you have to do all these things yourself.

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Finally, you’re out of your parents’ house and free to do as you please! Except you don’t live alone, and bringing home guests night after night is the surest way to tick off your roommates. “Don’t force your roommate to sleep somewhere while you have sex,” Williams said. Figure something else out.


Establish what’s OK to use and what’s not early on, Searcy said, and don’t break the rules! That burrito may look like fair game, but good luck to you if your roommate had her heart set on finishing it. “Ask if you’re allowed to touch his or her stuff. This includes hair supplies, clothes and food.”


You don’t have to be best friends with your dorm mates. In fact, you may wander to another residence hall and become buds with the people there, instead. But you do have to live there, and being nice has its benefits. “Get to know the people on your floor; they may be the people to let you in your building if you forget your key,” Searcy said. “They are also great to hang out with if you don’t feel like leaving” the comfort of your dorm. Cultivate mutual friends with your roommate, too, Searcy suggested. “When you share friends, it makes it easier to have company over because you both like them.”

And in this time of adjustment, Searcy added, make a pact with your roommate to get to know the other’s schedules. “If you do this, then you can make sure each other wakes up on time for classes.” Genius!