Choosing A College Roommate You Can Live With

If you’re new to college life, I want to break something down for you about roommates.

I had 6 different roommates in college, not including my husband, and no one ever told me this. So I feel like I need to pass this wisdom on.

You don’t need to be best friends with your roommate. 

It is entirely possible to live with someone and not be friends with them. You can peacefully coexist with another human being.

You can be pleasant, civil, courteous, and even friendly with this person. All of these things have nothing to do with being friends with them, or even liking them all that much.

Which is not to say that you shouldn’t like your roommate, or that it’s a bad thing to want to be friends with the person you’re going to share a shoebox with for the next 9 months. 

But sometimes, being friends is less important than coexisting peacefully.

I’ve had roommates that I was just roommates with. 

I’ve had roommates I did not particularly like.

I’ve had roommates that I was best friends with. 

I’ve had best friends that I would never, ever, in a million years, live with.

All of this is normal.  

Managing Unrealistic Expectations About Roommates

I want to let you in on a secret.

Pop culture and media has set us up for FAILURE when it comes to expectations for what living with a roommate is actually like.

Some movies and TV shows show roommates as best friends who get along 100% of the time. These fictional roommates are BFFs who are constantly hanging out, cooking together, sharing secrets, going out and partying together, and more.

On the other end of the spectrum of roommates in the media are roommate situations found in horror movies…


The vast majority of roommate situations I’ve experienced or witnessed (and remember, I was a college RA, I’ve seen a lot!) are NOT on either ends of this extreme spectrum.

Most roommate pairs are going to fall in the middle. You may be friends, or at least friendly, and you’ll likely have a more few things in common. You’ll have conversations ranging from pleasant and casual to deep and vulnerable. You will also irritate each other and disagree on occasion.

C’est la vie. Such is life.

But something that can make a difference in your roommate situation is thinking hard about what you need or want in order to be comfortable in your living space BEFORE starting conversations with potential roomies.

Picture This Scenario:

You and a potential roommate have connected on Facebook messenger and are making small-talk and discussing living preferences to see if you would be compatible. You think you like this person; they seem nice and friendly, their IG feed is full of pictures of their adorable dog, and they’re an athlete and will be gone for games on the weekends, which is good for you because you like your alone time.

Then your potential roomie asks how you feel about guests and visitors in the room.

You’ve thought about it, and you know you are somebody who would be most comfortable if your roommate did not bring visitors to your dorm room without telling you ahead of time and making sure it’s okay with you.

(Just an FYI: This is a perfectly reasonable request to make, as long as you also plan extend the same courtesy to your roommate about not bringing over your visitors without letting them know. )

But if you say that you don’t want your roommate to bring people over without asking you first, what if your future roommate thinks you are fill-in-the-blank (stuck up, prude, demanding, bossy, etc.), and no longer wants to live with you?

So fear of being judged sneaks in, and you end up responding “I’m cool with whatever.”

Fast-forward 3 months later, school has started, and your athlete roommate brings teammates over to study or hang out several nights a week. Now you feel like you can’t say anything about how much this bothers you, because you originally told her you didn’t care about visitors.

You find yourself avoiding your roommate because you don’t know how to talk to her about this, and you avoid being in your room because you never know when she’ll bring people in.

Let’s pause for a moment.

A lot of people do this, especially new college students. They know and have thought a lot about what will make them feel comfortable and safe, but when it comes to standing up for themselves and saying it (or texting it) to a potential roommate, fear takes over and they end up compromising over things that they don’t want to be compromising over.

There is no way for your potential or current roommate to read your mind.

Chances are, this person wants to get along with you just as much as you want to get along with them. They have things they need to be safe and comfortable just like you do.

You have to be truthful about what you need in order to feel safe and comfortable in your room. Because it is your room, too.

Think About What Will Make You Feel Safe And Comfortable?

Think first about what are your non-negotiables: things you must have to meet your basic needs. These can be related to any aspect of your health and well-being: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, financial, etc.

Maybe you are somebody who cannot sleep unless you have a fan blowing on you.

Maybe you need a roommate who will be 100% actively supportive of your LGBTQ+ identity and your need for occasional privacy.

Maybe you would not be comfortable if your roommate brought someone of the opposite gender over to spend the night.

Maybe you would be uncomfortable if your roommate smoked and came back smelling strongly like marijuana or tobacco.

None of these things are unreasonable if they are what you need, truly need, in order to feel safe and comfortable in your own room.

A person who isn’t going to respect what you need in order to be safe and comfortable isn’t likely someone you want to spend time with anyway, let alone live with for 9 months!

The important thing is to be sure to say these things out loud to them, without compromising on the things that you know you can’t be safe and comfortable with you.

It can be tough, even scary to stand up for yourself, but it is 100% worth it.

So What Are Some Non-Negotiables I Should Consider?

A list of questions to ask yourself.

  • Do you want to be best friends with your roommate, or do you not really care about being friends as long as they are a decent person?
  • How much or how little do you want your roommate to know about what you’re up to? Do you want them to know where you are/what you’re up to most of the time? Would you prefer to do your own thing most of the time and not check in with them?
  • Is it important to you that the room is tidy? How tidy? Is it important to you that dishes are washed immediately? Within a day? Is it important to you that you vacuum, dust, and sweep often? How often?
  • Is it important to you that you are able to sleep a certain way? In the dark, with a light on, with a fan, with music, etc. How about studying? Can you study with distractions like other people or music?
  • Is it important that your room be completely free from a food, perfume, or other allergen or substance that is harmful or irritating to your health?
  • Pushing legality and dorm policy aside, is it important to you that your roommate is a non-smoker? Is it important to you that your roommate not keep drugs or alcohol in the room? Is it important to you that your roommate not be drunk or high when they are in the room?
  • Is it important that your roommate is supportive of LGBTQ+ rights? 
  • Is it important that your roommate is cool if your high school sweetheart (or potential future Tinder date) comes over and/or stays the night? 
  • Do you want a roommate who is a student athlete like you are? Do you want a roommate who is in your major or program? Do you want a roommate with similar interests in movies, books, TV, etc? 
  • Are you wanting someone to do things with you, to go to on-campus club meetings, off-campus parties, grocery shopping on the weekends, etc? Or would you rather do your own thing and not make plans with your roommate?

Things you’re NOT allowed to have an opinion on.

You are not allowed to prefer a white roommate, a straight or cisgender roommate, a Christian roommate, a wealthy roommate, an American roommate, etc.

That’s not having a preference, that’s just being a bigot. 

Should You Live With Someone You Already Know?

College can be new, exciting, and scary. If you’re planning on going to a college near you, or a bigger state school, it’s likely that you will know or be friends with someone you went to high school with who is also headed to your school.

Maybe they’ve asked if you want to be roommates. Maybe you kinda want to live with them but you’re not sure if that would be a good idea.

It’s normal to wonder about these things.

Even if you want to and choose live with someone you are already friends with, know that it is very different to live with a person you are friends with than it is to just be friends with them. 

I know people who grew up childhood best friends, roomed together all the way through college, and came out of it still strong besties for life!

I know people who roomed with someone they knew…and regretted it. 

If you are going to the same college as someone you already know, it’s okay if you DON’T want to live with them. It’s also okay if you DO want to live with them.

If you’re really wondering about whether you should live with a friend, go back to what I said before: think about what you need in order to be safe and comfortable. Will your friend listen to you and respect these things?

If the answer is no, than you have your answer.

If telling your friend that you don’t want to be their college roommate breaks up your friendship, then it is probably for the best, IMO.

Final Roommate Tips and Tricks

A few more tidbits of wisdom that I’ve picked up about roommates:

You don’t have control over whether you or your roommate significantly change your lifestyle or living preferences during your time living together.

You or your roommate might find that things you used to think were important, are not anymore, while other things that previously were not important are now very important. This is why communication is so important.

If there is honors housing or “themed” housing, definitely go for it. In my personal experience, most of the people who intentionally choose to live on these floors or in these buildings are usually (not always) also more intentional about making positive life choices.

Local students (who live within 30 miles of their school) are more likely to go home on the weekends or have a local job off-campus, so they may be gone more often than usual.

Passive-aggressive Post-It notes are NEVER the right way to solve a problem. Promise.

Watch my YouTube episode all about choosing a roommate!

Natalie Nation

Hello! Welcome to Feed That Nation!

My name is Natalie Nation. I’m a grad student, future registered dietitian, health educator, content creator, and a self-proclaimed mac and cheese expert.

Feed That Nation is a place to talk about health and college life, to help college students to be more successful, more confident, and more healthy during their college experience.

Find me on Instagram, Subscribe to my YouTube channel, and check out my Podcast!

Minnesota-based grad student, future RD, educator, content creator, and mac and cheese expert! Natalie is currently a Masters of Public Health student and dietetic intern at the University of Minnesota, and is on-track to becoming a registered dietitian-nutritionist. She earned her bachelor's degree in Dietetics in 2019 from St. Catherine University.

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