How to Pick Your Perfect College Roommate

Becca Cornell
May 4, 2021

Choosing a roommate is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make during your four years at college once you’ve selected your school, that is.   It’ll certainly get easier after your freshman year. You’ll have made friends and will have a very good idea who of those fellow students would make good roomies.   It’s your freshman year that’s a lot harder. If you’re trying to figure out how to pick a roommate, especially for your first year at college, try some of these tips. Hopefully you’ll avoid having your own roommate horror story to tell.   Aside from helping eliminate any stress and actually improving your mental health, there are two things to consider when thinking about choosing roommates. The first is determining what you want from your college dorm experience. Once you understand what you’re looking for, it’s time to look for the best roommate.  

What do you want from your roommate experience?

Answering this question can help you find a roommate who wants the same experience. People with very different expectations and needs end up having the most problems.    Let’s say your goal is to get into an engineering program, so you know you’ll have to work long and hard on your studies. Your roommate, on the other hand, is more interested in making friends and having a great time. These conflicting interests and lifestyles will certainly make living together miserable.   Rather than trying to come to some unsatisfactory compromise, it’s probably better to save yourself the hassle and instead try to find a compatible roommate from the start. When you know what you want from your roommate experience, you can look for someone who has similar wants and needs.  

A year is a long time

Think about what kind of person you can live with in what are usually very small quarters for a full academic year. You’ll be sleeping in the same space, waking up every day to that same face, getting dressed, and studying in your dorm room.   It would be nice if you could be friends with your roommate, but it may actually be more important that the person be respectful of you, your privacy and your belongings. You don’t want someone who is always loud when you’re trying to work or sleep. You also don’t want a roommate who “borrows” your stuff without asking (or even with asking, sometimes). And if you’re a neat freak, you certainly don’t want a roomie who is extremely messy.   Photo by Simon Maage

Scheduling matters

Check to see if your potential roommate is a night owl or morning person. There’s nothing worse than opening a bleary and bloodshot eye to an obscenely cheery roomie who has obviously been up for hours.   Of course, you’ll have different class schedules. Some students prefer 8 a.m. lectures. It gets the class over with and out of their way. Others never make those and far prefer afternoon and evening classes.   While not everything can be perfect, it’s better not to end up with a roommate who’s opposite in terms of sleep habits and wake-up times than you. If they go to bed very early, you’ll be forced into tiptoeing around in the dark. If they get up at dawn every day, surviving all-nighters will be impossible.   Not to mention, if you're the early to bed and early to rise person, having a night owl roommate can hurt your sleeping routine, leading to insomnia and other sleeping troubles.  

Be honest about yourself

When you’re filling out your college’s roommate questionnaire, be extremely honest about yourself. It doesn’t help you at all to put their best foot forward. In fact, it can backfire. Think about what you are like as a person, what really makes you crazy, and how much you can overlook.   Don’t be afraid of ending up with someone you don’t like. If you are matched with another student who has also responded honestly, you’ll both be very much alike.   There are lots of questions you’ll need to think about, including:
  • Do you smoke? You can’t on most campuses, but if you do when you're out (whether it’s cigarettes, hookahs, or vaping), answer in the affirmative. Your future roommate may be allergic or sensitive to smoke.
  • Is a clean room important to you? Consider the range of possible answers here, and choose the one that best represents you. Don’t put what you think is acceptable (very neat) if in fact you’re a slob and you don’t even notice clutter.
  • What time do you usually go to bed during school? This is the night owl/morning person thing.
  • How do you usually spend your free time? Do you like to spend most of it on your own, with a couple of friends, or with a large group of people? We all like to do different things, but overall a question like this is getting at whether you’re more of an introvert or extrovert.
  • How often do you study? This actually might change when you get to college, especially if you went through high school without cracking a book. Pick what is generally true about you at the time of responding to the questionnaire.
  There are more questions, of course. Expect to think about whether you’re a light sleeper, if you expect to hang out with friends in your dorm room, and how important it is to you that your roommate becomes your best friend.   Photo by Matheus Ferrero

How to pick a college roommate yourself

Sometimes you can find a roommate on your own. If you’re lucky, your best friend from high school is going to the same college and you two know you can room together and remain friends. If that’s not an option, here are some ways to find a roommate.  

Someone you sort of know

While this one may be a no brainer, it comes with warnings too. If you’re attending a large state school, you may have fellow high school alumni that are planning to attend the same college as you.    This can be great, you’ll have a person you’re familiar with to share your dorm room. While this can reassure that you’re not living with a weirdo, it has potential pitfalls too.    College can be a fresh start for you. Bringing along someone from your high school as a roomie can stop that fresh start in its tracks. Plus, people can change a lot in college. The person you’re signing up to live with now might not be quite the same person in six months  – and vice versa.  

Find a stranger online

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds, of course. Once you’ve been accepted to your school, you’ll be able to use your student account to find other incoming freshmen. Check out their profiles to see if they look compatible as a roommate.    A self-described outgoing person who loves to party obviously won’t be the best match for an introvert who studies all the time. That’s an easy example, so look for common interests too. Someone who took a gap year to travel, for example, won’t likely suffer from bouts of homesickness and may be more accommodating than a younger freshman who has never been away from home.   For in-person possibilities, you can look for roommates at any school meet-and-greets and orientations held during the summer. You don’t have to commit right then and there, of course. Exchange contact info and take the time to get to know each other a bit online.  

Join your “Class of” Facebook page

This is a similar approach to the last one, but not quite as well known. Nearly every college has a Facebook page or group specifically for each incoming class.    Join it and look for posts about things that are interesting to you. Respond to any that are looking for roommates, and post your own “roommate wanted” ad. Students who are taking some of the same classes would be a smart place to start: They might be good roommate material, and you could be getting a built-in study partner.   womens lacrosse team celebrating a win Photo by @premiersportssd via Twenty20

Message a future teammate

If you’re on a college sports team or plan to join a club or group at school, see if you can message the group or contact teammates individually. You’ve got an obvious similar interest to build from. At least some of your scheduling will be identical, which could influence your lifestyles too.