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How to Live with a College Roommate

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Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make it through freshman year shacked up with a stranger: your new roommate. Um, awkward. Want to reach out to your roomie, lay down some laws, and hopefully the groundwork for a great relationship? Here’s a five-step plan to increase your odds of survival at the foundation of your school social life: your dorm room.

college roommates in dorm1. Make Contact
A proper introduction sets the tone of the relationship, and breaking the ice early gives you a head start on addressing more pressing issues (like who’s bringing the Xbox -- see No. 3). So, once you get your roommate’s name and contact info, put it to good use by shooting him an e-mail or a Facebook friend request. If you’re feeling particularly brave, pick up the phone and dial those digits.

By the way, be careful not to jump to conclusions while stalking your roommate. “Facebook is just a way of getting that initial impression of the person and taking the ease off the nervousness,” says rising junior Jasmine Laroche of the University of Pittsburgh. “Actually spending time with and getting to know your roommate is your best bet.”

Also read When Meeting a Roommate on Facebook Goes Wrong.

2. Meet and Greet
Meeting up before school starts gives you the chance to make a casual but high-quality first impression. Plus, it makes things a lot less awkward on move-in day, when you’ll likely be towing your parents and breaking a sweat emptying your stuff out of the ol’ minivan. A pre-screening allows you to calm your nerves too, since it means you’ll have one more familiar face (and one less unknown factor) come fall. So, if you’re attending a state school and your roomie lives nearby, there’s no excuse not to get together. But don’t give up on meeting if you’re a beach bum in So Cal and your future bunk buddy lives in the deep woods of Maine. You don’t need to be majoring in rocket science to sync your summer travel schedules and meet up. Otherwise, there’s always video chat.

3. Set Ground Rules
First off, make sure the two of you have similar packing plans for stuff you’re going to share, like a TV, large rug or mini-fridge. “There’s so much stuff to bring that it’s easy not to be on the same page,” reflects Virginia Tech senior Valerie Carboni. After you figure out who’s bringing what, it’s time to lay down the law.

You should discuss each of your expectations about staying up and waking up, partying, having guests over, cleanliness and borrowing each other’s things. (These are the most common conflicts, but they might not be the only ones.) There is no better time than the present to voice your opinion or strike some compromises, even if it results in early head-butting. It’s better than letting issues build up later, which can lead to heated arguments and uncomfortable passive-aggression (and that really sucks).

4. Reach out (While You Branch out)
Roommates tend to spend a lot of time together early in the school year, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be the lone kid on campus if you and your roommate don’t hit it off. That said, many roommates grow apart after week one. 

Regardless, be sure to show some empathy toward your roomie. At the end of the day, she will be the one you come home to and the first to notice when you are sick, stressed or heartbroken. “This is the person you live with and see every day,” says Carboni, “and even if you aren’t the best of friends, it’s still important to check in on someone.”

So, if your roommate needs a quick term paper edited or is crying for some impromptu relationship advice, grab a red pen or muster up your most genuine “It’s not you, it’s him.” It’s also nice to extend an invitation every now and then, even if you suspect the offer will be turned down (like when you’re headed out to a party and your roomie is decked out in PJs and staring blankly at the computer screen). Hey, it’s the thought that counts.

5. Keep It Real
Embark on your roommate relationship with a positive attitude, but realize that not all random roommate couplings are going to end up BFF. And you don’t need to fake it. If you follow all the above steps and it turns out you’re still like oil and water, hey, it happens.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that this is only the beginning of an illustrious college career, and you’ve got plenty of time to forge new relationships. “Your roommate can turn out to be your best friend or just an acquaintance, but don’t measure your roommate experience to what college is going to be like,” Laroche points out. Bottom line? Just buckle up and enjoy the ride … er, mission.

By David Replogle for The Real College Guide

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