Roommate Problems? How to Help Your Unhappy College Student

At my son’s college orientation, there was a session that parents and students participated in that focused entirely on the housing situation on campus. And by housing situation, I mean all the craziness that dormitory living lends itself to having. I distinctly remember the director of housing mentioning something called “National Hate Your Roommate Month,” and how even the most cordial of housing situations can eventually turn hostile with roommate problems.

5 tips for helping students with roommate problems

One parent spoke up and asked if that was indeed the case, why doesn’t the university offer a better matching program for roommates, a la eHarmony but for residence halls? His reply was spot on, and gave a hint as to why by October, things….well, hit the fan. He said, ‘We have found that how a student answers compatibility questions in February of their senior year is completely different to how they would answer them after a few weeks at college. There is too much change and maturation going on in those months.”

I found his reply both spot on and very telling – insomuch that by October I’m sure that what these young adults thought they wanted in a roommate, is actually not even close to the actual reality of living in a small shared space.

[Read Next: How to Help Your Homesick Freshman]

If he is correct (and I am assuming someone who has spent years working in university housing would be), than I can safely assume you’ve gotten a phone call from your college student recently lamenting about their roommate problems:

  • “She borrows my clothes without asking!”
  • “He is a total slob and has friends over way too late!”
  • “She chews too loud!”
  • “He doesn’t respect my space and my privacy!”
  • “I can’t live with her anymore. How do I get out of it?”

So what steps can you take from hundreds (and maybe thousands) of miles away to throw a life jacket to your unhappy college student, as they wade their way through shark invested roommate waters? Well you can have them read, try, embrace (and maybe even meditate on) these five tips.

5 tips for College Students With Roommate Problems

1. See the resident assistant (RA)

Your child’s resident hall advisor should be your first go to person in the wake of roommate disagreements and fights. They have received training in roommate quarrels, and although it’s most likely minimal, it just may do the trick having an objective peer listen and give advice on the situation. They can also provide ideas for roommate contracts,  and probably already have a standard that can be used.

[Read Next: My Daughter’s Roommate Left College and Here’s Why You Need to Know]

2. About that roommate contract

Get one. But more importantly, use it.  There are a wide variety of generic roommate contracts that can be found on the internet, and your RA may have a few already that you can amend. If none of those suit your needs, take the time to sit down with your nemesis (roommate) and draft your own. Sometime just having grievances, consequences, and solutions in writing can help solve the problem.

3. Learn your likes and dislikes, and who you are through all of this.

Your first time away from home (as well as you first experience living in close quarters with a large set of complete strangers) is the perfect time to flex your “Who am I?” muscle. You probably never realized the large amount of  personal living likes and dislikes that you had until they became clearly apparent – because they were infringed upon by another human. Now is a great time to take stock of your personality inventory,  of what and who you can and can’t bear being around, and what you absolutely will not accept.  It will help you be more firm and outspoken in the future when dealing with future workplace situations that may be similar to what you’re dealing with now.

4. University Counseling Services

Use them. The mental health, counseling, and mediation resources available to college students are growing both in terms of availability and access. And most importantly, as a student they will be free to you. Bring your roommate along with you and let a professional be the non-partisan mediator you need.

5. Remember it’s temporary.

This is the perfect time to practice living uncomfortably (and repeatedly engaging those specific set of adult-ing life skills that help you make the best of it), all while knowing there is a firm end date. In other words, suck it up buttercup, because chances are you will come out the other end a better and more empathetic, patient, and stronger person (and future roommate, and spouse!)


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Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. She is on Facebook at 4BoysMother and on twitter at @melissarunsaway.


About Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. Find her on Facebook 
and on twitter at @melissarunsaway

Read more posts by Melissa

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