It’s orientation season! Whether you’re excited about moving into a dorm or dreading it, there are a few tricks that can make the transition easier for both you and your roommates.
Ten years ago, I transferred to a college in Florida that required all new students to live on campus. I tried to find a workaround to no avail. As an introvert, germaphobe, and homesick northerner, I wasn’t sure how I’d survive sharing a living space with seven other girls. My doubts only increased when I found out I’d been assigned to a suite with seven freshmen! Needless to say, as a junior, that wasn’t exactly what I’d been hoping for. But it turned out to be a good experience for me, and a growth experience, too.
(Yes, that is my actual dorm pictured above. Haha. 👆🏼)
Here are some of the biggest things I learned after living in a dorm:
- Don’t lie on your roommate compatibility test. I didn’t, but I know a lot of people who did. My roommate, for one! She wanted a super-clean roommate so she said she was, too. It frustrated me to no end when we’d get room inspections and her side was messy, because at our school we got fined if our rooms weren’t clean. We’re still friends today and I love that girl to death, but I advise you to be truthful with your own answers. If you’re a night owl, don’t say you’re an early bird. If you’re an introvert, don’t say you’re an extrovert. Everyone will be happier if you go into this whole roommate thing with realistic expectations!
- A fan is your best friend. I lived in a very loud eight-man suite. I tried earplugs to no avail. Nothing helped until my roommate got a nice, loud-ish, humming fan that emitted heavenly white noise every night (and sometimes day) so that both of us could sleep during whichever hours we pleased.
- You can cook way more in a dorm room than you think you can. Your school bans hot plates? Bet they don’t have anything to say about Crock-Pots or Instant Pots! Can’t have a panini press? Use an iron for a homemade grilled cheese! You can microwave omelets, mac & cheese, quesadillas, and even brownies. With a little creativity, you can go a long way with just a microwave and a mini fridge.
- The public bathroom situation is surprisingly doable. Flip-flops, a shower caddy, and air freshener can help you make it through alive.
- You can get creative when it comes to talking on the phone or FaceTiming. Your roommates want to listen in on your conversations about as much as you want them to. Take your call outside. Find an empty laundry room. Sit on a bench on campus or at a nearby park. Go on a walk. Chat in your car. It takes creativity, but you’ll find a place somewhere to have your private conversations and avoid annoying your roommates.
- Be courteous when others are sleeping or studying. Keep it quiet after nine at night and early in the morning, especially on Saturdays. Don’t slam doors. Invest in a pair of ear buds (I know your Spotify playlist is awesome, but I guarantee you not everybody wants to hear it). Don’t flip the lights on in a room where you know someone is sleeping. (There’s a flashlight on your phone for a reason!)
- Hide the food you don’t want others to eat. Some people will be respectful and ask before helping themselves. Others won’t. If it’s a big deal to you (and it usually was to me), stow your snacks in a drawer or under your bed where you know no one else will go looking. And by the same token, don’t eat your roommate’s food unless he or she offers it to you. If they want to share, they will! And if you want them to share, the best thing you can do is to share your food first.
- Sometimes best friends make the worst roommates. And sometimes roommates can turn into your very best friends once they’re no longer your roommates. There are certain personality types that make great roommates, and there are certain ones that make great friends. Sometimes they overlap, but not always! If you get to choose your own roomie, try to find someone who has a similar sleep schedule and agreed-upon standards for cleanliness and organization. (That said, with good communication and effort on both sides, you can live harmoniously with just about anyone.)
- Always, always carry a key. Even if that one roommate swears she’ll be there for the next 20 minutes, you always run the risk of returning to an empty residence. Even if you’re just grabbing your laundry down the hall or running next door for a minute, bring your key and your phone with you.
- Your roommates need space, too. As an introvert with an extroverted roomie, I felt like I was always the one who needed space when I lived in a dorm. But then I realized that even my social roommate probably wanted time in the room by herself, and not just when she was sleeping. I couldn’t always leave when I had loads of homework or needed internet access (I didn’t have a smartphone), but I tried to get out on occasion when I specifically knew my roommate would be home. Run to Target. Go outside. Get dinner in the cafeteria with other friends. Do your laundry. Study in the library. Everyone needs some alone time, and it’s nice to give each other space without one of you having to ask for it.
Adjusting to dorm life and sharing a room for the first time was a challenge for me, but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. Sure, sometimes my roommates drove me nuts and I’m sure they’d say the same thing about me, but almost 10 years later, many of them are still good friends of mine. It’s possible to survive and thrive in a dorm – I did, and you can, too!
Those of you who’ve experienced dorm life: What’s your best advice? What would you do differently? What was your biggest pet peeve?