How to emotionally prepare yourself to live with a stranger in college

September 06, 2019 at 10:22PM by CWC

My sister and I shared a room growing up. Whenever we complained (and, oh, we did so often), my mom said the same thing: “I’m preparing you for college! One day, you’ll thank me.” In a strange twist of fate, I didn’t have a roommate freshman year, and roomed with my best friend from there on out. Later in life, however, I did encounter the odd experience that is moving in with a stranger. (And let’s just say, it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.) If you, dear student, are about to embark on the adventure of sharing living quarters with someone who you know strictly from their social media presence, this one’s for you.


Nowadays, most colleges require students to fill out a comprehensive survey that determines who you’ll be bunking with based on their cleaning, sleeping, and socializing habits. But alas! Personality cannot be boiled down to a 10-minute questionnaire. So to do some of the legwork of getting to know your future roommate, psychologists have some hot tips. Get out your shiny new pens and notebooks and jot this down. (Or, you know, type it out. It is 2019, after all.)

How to emotionally prepare for living with a college roommate before you arrive on campus

1. Break the ice with your roommate

So the school sent you your future roommates email and you’re ready to reach out and say hello. Here’s how to do it: “Focus on general, non-intrusive questions like where they went to high school, if they have any siblings, and what they like to do for fun,” recommends licensed clinical psychologist Sanam Hafeez, PsyD. “Find out if you share similar interests such as a favorite TV show or singer to invite opportunities to get to know each other better. If you aren’t finding any mutual interests, trying to talk about how you want to decorate your dorm room or how excited you are to be starting college.”

2. Invite them to tour campus with you

“Your roommate is in the same boat as you,” says Dr. Hafeez, “so exploring campus and checking out what’s around is a great way for the two of you to bond and meet new people.” Plus, if they agree to a promenade across the quad, cafeteria, and academic buildings with you beforehand, you know you’ll have at least one social engagement to fill your very first day on campus.

3. Plan out what each person should bring to your shared space

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When small talk is failing you, psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, advises establishing the logistics involved in sharing a dorm room. “The easiest subject to engage in is thoughts about your shared space. Tell them things you can bring and ask them things they can bring and suggest making a list to avoid duplications, says Dr. Saltz. And remember, don’t be that person who dials up the bossiness and starts insisting on matching shams and color schemes. “If an area seems to be getting uncomfortable, table it until you can be in person and have a chance to build some rapport first,” says Dr. Saltz.

4. Meanwhile, make sure you’re surrounding yourself with things that are *just* yours

“If you are nervous about sharing a space with someone new, I would definitely recommend focusing on surrounding your side of the room with things that make you feel at home and comfortable in your own shared space,” says Dr. Hafeez. If that means dragging along your childhood teddy bear and framed photos of your dog, then so be it.

5. Don’t put pressure on yourself to become Besties with your roomie

Even though it’s nice to get along with the person you’re sleeping a cozy five feet away from, remember that this alone will not make or break your college experience. “Often times, we assume being BFF’s with your roommate ensures it will be a pleasant living situation. However, that is not the case. Just because the two of you didn’t exchange secrets or spend time together the first week of college does not mean there is no harmony. Some people actually prefer not living with their best friend, especially when classes, homework, and life can get too hectic,” says Dr. Hafeez. Sometimes, establishing mutual respect with your roommate is better than knowing everything about the love life, class load, and ambitions.

6. Imagine who you want to be in college

As literally every coming-of-age flick will drill into your head, freshman year of college is a glorious opportunity to alter who you were in high school. So if the worry that you won’t jive with your roommate is taking up too much real estate in your mind, try to focus on you, instead.

“Try to imagine this new living situation as a way for you to reinvent yourself,” says Dr. Hafeez. “You’re no longer surrounded by your high school friends who have known you since you were 10 years old. Living with a stranger can be an exciting experience, especially if you’re looking to let your old self go and try new things. Most importantly, it can be a fresh start for you.” You won’t find that information in your freshman orientation packet, but it’s 100 percent true. (Just take it from an alum who still gets teary-eyed imagining the first, promising day of freshman year).

For later in life, here’s how to nail a job interview and the right questions to ask a hiring manager

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Author Kells McPhillips | Well and Good
Selected by CWC