College Roommate Mismatches

how to deal with college roommate conflicts

You can finally breathe a sigh of relief. You actually got your son or daughter off to school without any major mayhem.

Everything fit in the room and their books are all purchased. Their roommate seemed nice. They were certainly getting along well when you left.

At first you shake off the little negative comments about the bunk-mate. After all, it’s hard to get used to living with someone when you have always had your own space.

There comes a point, however, where it becomes obvious that things with the roommate are just not working out. Maybe he/she found the roommate through Facebook or met them at a summer orientation event.

It is certainly a difficult dilemma. A roommate mismatch is the last thing your college freshman wants to deal with.

Having turned to you for guidance, you are unsure what to say.

Here are a few thoughts and answers to some common questions on how to deal with this sometimes sticky situation:

1. Communication is key. Whether you think you know someone or not, living with them is a whole different story. Suggest your teen have a roommate sit down. Encourage him/her to discuss their concerns. If for example, his roommate is an Oscar Madison to his Felix Unger dividing up the room may be the best solution. Also setting some basics rules. There is a big difference between someone who is messy (e.g. leaves clothes on the floor) and someone who is dirty (e.g. leaves half eaten food containers lying around). Sanitary equals safety -- a point all roommates have the right to insist upon.

2. If personality is the problem, she may have to call it quits. There are some differences that are truly irreconcilable. If she and her roommate are constantly arguing or annoyed with each other, no one will benefit. Discussing the concerns with each other should, of course, be the first step. If however, it is clear that there is constant clashing, your teen may want to consider moving out. This is especially true if she and her roommate came in to the situation as acquaintances or even friends. Just because it doesn’t work out as roommates does not mean the two can’t continue to be friends.

3. Once it becomes clear they should call it quits, who should move out? Even if your teen is not the slob, or the one locking his roommate out of the room to have privacy with his dates, if your teen is the one who can’t live with the situation, he is better off making the move. As unfair as it may seem, it may be the only way to achieve resolution.

4. What if there’s nowhere to move to? With so many more people going on to college these days, many schools have grown so quickly they are tight on housing. This sometimes means that moving out is not so easy. If both your teen and her roommate agree the situation is not working, you should advise your daughter and her roommate to do the leg work on their own, find people willing to switch. The good news is that although it may seem like a hopeless situation at first, with a little effort they are likely to find others in a similar situation who would be willing to switch.

5. What if my son can’t find someone to switch with and his roommate does not want to change or move out? Unfortunately your son may be stuck negotiating the situation in which he finds himself; in other words, he will have to find a way to live with it. It may mean spending more time at the library or in the rooms of other friends. With so much going on at the average college campus, he will find a way to manage. If his complaints are truly concerning such as his roommate frequently locks him out or is unsanitary, he should seek help from the Resident Assistant.

Living with a roommate for the first time has its challenges. If your teen has some minor complaints, remind her: "You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate, you just have to share a room."

Who knows, in time, they might even grow on each other!

What would you say to your college freshman?

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Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg are authors of the hit book, "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual."  They've set up an interactive website for parents and teens to listen, learn and discuss hot topics and daily dilemmas. You can find it at

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