Published July 18, 2012
Dorm living is all part of the college experience.
Colleges use different criteria on housing applications to create roommate assignments and although sharing a small space with an unfamiliar person can be nerve wracking, students should make the most out of campus living.
“It is certainly going to be challenging living with a stranger, so don’t put pressure on yourself that this is going to need to be somebody that’s very emotionally close to me in my life,” says Beatty Cohan, relationship coach. “It’s about just finding a way to live comfortably together and if you’re lucky, you may end up with a brand new friend but you may not—time will tell.”
As roommate assignments start to make their way into mailboxes, here are four tips from college and relationship experts on how students can appropriately connect with a future roommate.
Tip No. 1: Self-reflect
Entering college offers a fresh start to students and they should take the opportunity to evaluate their personality.
“Starting any new endeavor and leaving an old identity behind, like leaving high school and going off to college, gives us a fresh [perspective],” says Eve Sullivan, author of Where the Heart Listens and founder of Parentsforum.org. “If people try to pay attention to their own insecurities, their own pleasures, their own anxieties, they can be more intelligently attentive to other people.”
Experts also warn incoming students that they don’t have to become best friends with their roommate.
Harlan Cohen, author of The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, suggests that students rely on activities and places outside their dorm to find and make friends.
“It can really help you to have some direction and have some places to go once you’re on campus and the roommate conversation is really a good place to start to do this,” he says.
Cohen says to treat the initial reach out to the new roommate with some professionalism. “When you make that call, it’s not necessarily looking for a friend or trying to start a friendship, it’s just being friendly and covering the logistics.”
Tip No. 2: How to connect
Students should reach out to their new roommate in a way that is comfortable for them, but that connecting on the phone and having an actual conversation can be a great way to start to get to know each other. Students can begin by emailing or messaging on Facebook and then progress to a phone call, advises Cohen.
“If you’re going to have a good roommate situation, you should be able to talk; it’s nice to kind of set the tone,” he says.
Diane Albright, motivational speaker and certified professional organizer, suggests that students try attending the same freshmen orientation as an opportunity to spend time together before school and meet each other’s families.
“That way when you go off to school and you first move in, you don’t have to worry about getting to know them.”
Tip No. 3: Put them at ease
It’s normal to feel apprehensive talking to a stranger for the first time, but chances are, the roommate is also nervous. Don’t pepper the first conversation with too many questions, and Sullivan suggests asking light, leading questions.
“I might say to my prospective roommate, ‘why did you choose [this school], or what are you most looking forward to,’ and then that gives me something to pursue with them,” she says. “The best quality in a person is to be interested in other people and to do so genuinely.”
Don’t sort out dorm expectations and rules in the first conversation, use this time to take an initial inventory and make a quick list of what each roommate is bringing for the room.
Albright suggest figuring out who will be bringing the bigger items like refrigerators, microwaves and other items.
Tip. No.4: Keep an open mind
Students shouldn’t expect to hear back right away after reaching out to a new roommate.
The experts say it’s important to be sensitive about what’s an appropriate amount of contact when building a new relationship. People have different preferences in connecting with others, so maybe check in one last time before school starts and leave it at that, says Sullivan.
If a roommate isn’t responsive to re-connecting after the initial contact, don’t assume the worst says Cohen.
“I get a lot of people who say, ‘I talked to my roommate and now I’m being ignored—what do I do?’ Your roommate might be at camp, they might be out of town,” he says. “A lot of people when they travel are not as plugged into technology and if you’re somebody that gives your roommate permission to not be more than a roommate and doesn’t expect a friendship over the summer, you’re not going to fall into that danger zone.”