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Lessons for Living With Strangers at College

Updated: September 26, 2023 | Published: July 14, 2019

Updated: September 26, 2023

Published: July 14, 2019


Roommates have a big impact on our college experience, whether you’re strangers who just met or friends from high school. It can significantly influence your life in and out of college, including your academic achievement, your health, and your attitude. Living with strangers as roommates can be a challenge on its own and when you consider the amount of time roommates spend together under the same roof (more so than friends), it’s no wonder how much of an impact roommates can have on each other. That said, let’s go through some tips on how to live with strangers during your time at college to make it as harmonious as possible.

Pros and Cons of Living with Roommates

Like anything in life, there are two sides to living with roommates. These are some common benefits and pitfalls of living with strangers during your college years.

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1. Saving money.

This is one of the biggest benefits for college students living together as we all know how expensive college can get. Finding ways to cut costs, such as having roommates, is a big plus. Not only is rent cheaper for you, but so are the utility bills.

2. Learning new things.

All it takes is someone new and being in a new situation to learn. Learning something in general is an all around plus in life. And when it comes to living with roommates, you can really broaden your horizons as to what other people from other cultures and walks of life are like.

3. Increase in GPA.

According to research, for every full point a student’s GPA increases, their freshman roommate’s GPA increases by 0.11 points on average. So it looks like having a roommate who’s doing well in their studies can increase your grades too!

4. Making new friends and meeting people more easily.

The thing about living with other students is you are basically forced to socialize and meet new people, whether it’s your roommates themselves or even their friends that may show up once in a while. It’s definitely a bonus for those who are looking to make new friends and find a community.

5. More culturally aware.

Living with strangers involves being exposed to other cultures. If you can keep an open mind, you might be surprised at how much you can learn and enjoy other cultures, including different behaviors and practices as well as different foods!

6. More support.

Having someone else live just a door down from you can mean that you have someone to talk to whenever you need some advice, whether personal or relating to your studies. It can really help you in knowing that you’re not alone.


1. Eating Habits

Among all the influences that living with others have on us, diet and eating habits are a big one. It’s up to you to decide how healthy you want to be during your college years. But be mindful of how easily it can be to slide down an unhealthy path if you don’t maintain your own rules of eating. Agreeing to order pizza every other night can be a way to “fit in,” but it can really affect your health and weight sooner than you know it. So try to keep a healthy diet on your list of priorities.

2. Sacrificing personal space.

The fact that you don’t have much of your own personal space and privacy can be a difficult change for students who have never shared space before with anyone other than family members. Most college roommates share the kitchen, living room, and bathroom space. So it’s wise to find a way to respect everyone’s space as much as possible. For example, wear headphones if you want to watch Netflix on the couch while your roommate is reading a textbook.

3. Effects of others’ binge drinking.

Binge drinking in college happens to be quite common and should be taken seriously. Even if you don’t drink yourself, your roommates’ drinking habits can negatively impact your own grades. For instance, the average drop in a female students’ GPA when paired with a roommate who drank frequently in the year prior to college was 0.28 points. For male students, the average drop in their GPAs when paired with a roommate who drank frequently in the year prior to college was 8.6%. And in general, there’s an increase in likelihood of a student binge drinking when they are paired with a roommate who binge drinks. That said, be aware of others’ drinking habits and how much it’s affecting you. Keep boundaries whenever you think it’s needed.

4. Dealing with messiness.

Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be as neat and tidy as you may be. Having messy roommates can really be a bummer for those who are used to having everything clean and organized. Try your best to not let others’ messiness ruin your whole experience. Rather, try to communicate how important it is for each person to clean up after him or herself and hope that they will respect your wishes. Remember, we inspire by modeling. So if you keep things tidy, you might find that others will follow suit.

How to Choose a Roommate

You might find yourself in a situation where you yourself have to find a roommate rather than being the one searching for a room in an apartment. If this is the case, the process of choosing a roommate should be thought through and done mindfully. It’s best not to choose the first person who answers your ad or message that you posted. You can even think of it like a blind date. You’re going to be meeting someone who is a complete stranger to share a living space with them. So there are definitely things to think about. Here are some things to consider when choosing a roommate.

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1. Interview them.

It’s best to set up a mini interview. It doesn’t have to be anything formal or intimidating; it’s more of a little opportunity to meet each other first and ask some questions that are important to you. This interview can be your chance to ask your potential roommate whether or not they like to keep things clean, what their class schedule is, if they like to cook, and if they plan on inviting friends over frequently. Don’t be shy. It’s your living space and you’re entitled to ask these questions!

2. Share expectations beforehand.

This is something that can be talked about in your interview, too. It’s crucial to share your expectations (as well as theirs) before deciding to live together. Knowing ahead of time what you expect is going to prepare you and can save you many headaches and possible arguments in the future.

3. Set ground rules.

You may have already made an agreement and choose your roommate, but it’s still important to set some ground rules and boundaries. If you’re adamant on certain things, like everyone doing their own dishes or keeping the shower schedule, it’s important to lay them out so each person can be aware and understand. The sooner the better!

4. Be open and optimistic.

Choosing a roommate is basically a risk that can end up being the best decision you ever made or one you might regret later. But the point is to go into it with an open mind and a positive attitude. If you purposefully choose to remain positive and expect it to be a great year with these new people, your chances of that actually happening is much higher than if you went into the situation grinding your teeth!

Lessons Learned

College is a remarkable period in a person’s life. Add some roommates to the situation and you have yourselves a story to remember. And with every story comes a moral, right? Or at least they should! Here are some lessons learned from roommates who have “been there and done that.”

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1. Sometimes being alone together is what you need.

Just because you live together and are the same age doesn’t mean you need to party it up every time you have some free time. Sometimes just being amongst one another while doing your own thing can be exactly what you need. Knowing you’re not alone and having a sense of community can be good for you. Remember, everything in moderation. Alone time and together time should each have their share.

2. Respecting space is important.

This is really important and should be at the forefront of your mind. Just as you want to maintain your own privacy and space as much as possible in your new situation, so do your roommates. So it’s good to respect their space just as you should respect your own.

3. Deal with your pet peeves head-on.

As a general rule of thumb, don’t bottle up your anger. The sooner you let something off the chest, the happier you and anyone around you will be. If something is bothering you, let your roommate know. If he or she is constantly leaving their plates on the coffee table, just ask them to take them to the sink. It might be driving you crazy but they might not even have noticed. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple request to prevent a potentially disastrous situation.

4. Being a good friend goes a long way.

If you scratch their back, they’ll scratch yours, right? Being a good friend is going to not only fulfill them, but it will make you happier too. And when we are the friends that we want to have, we are going to have the friends we want to have. It’s as simple as that!

5. It’s also okay not to be best friends.

While making new friends with roommates is by far one of the best bonuses of living with strangers, you should also know that it’s perfectly okay to not be friends. What’s important is to be civil and respectful. Sometimes, it’s just about living with others to cut costs and you won’t see them again after you move out. And that’s fine. Just as long as make your time together as pleasant as possible.

6. Be firm but polite.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to make a request or state something important to you to your roommates, it’s best to be firm yet polite. Whatever you choose to say is clearly important enough for you to say it, so you want to get your message across firmly. But you should always be kind in your delivery as you would want others to be that way, too.

7. Make your room your sanctuary.

For most college roommates, your own bedroom is the only space you have that is solely yours. So what better than to make it your own sanctuary? Do whatever you need to do to make it a safe and comfortable space that you can escape to when you want to be alone. You’re going to need to be able to concentrate when studying. And for many, a quiet personal space, like your room, is the only spot to do so. So make it as amazing as you can!

Source: Pexels

Real Tips for a Harmonious Time Living Together

1. Stay tidy.

The more you keep your stuff organized and clean, the more others will too.

2. Make a shower schedule.

Try to see everyone’s daily schedule as soon as you can so you can make a shower schedule that fits everyone’s needs. You don’t want to have to wait an hour every morning to shower and be late for class!

3. Let your roommates know if you’re inviting people over.

This is part of respecting others’ space. Since it’s their living space too, you should tell them if you plan on having friends over. Wouldn’t you want to know if they did the same?

4. Ask if you want to use their food or ingredients.

The fridge situation is a big one. If each person buys their own food and kitchen items, it’s important to ask each other if you want to take something of theirs. And if you do, replace it after.

5. Make time for fun time.

If you want to enjoy your time in college, you need to make time to have fun, too. It can’t all be about studying and cleaning up. Make time to watch movies together and hang out!

Alternative Options to Living with Strangers

Sure, some students choose to live with roommates for the sole purpose of getting the whole college experience and making new friends. But for many students, the purpose is more economical as it essentially saves you money. However, living with strangers isn’t the only option to save money when in college. Here are some alternatives to living with roommates.

1. Study online from home.

One of the most popular ways to study nowadays is online, which means you choose where you want to be. You don’t need to worry about living costs when your degree is completed online. So you can live at home and save money! University of the People is a great choice, not only because it’s 100% online, but it’s also tuition-free. All you pay for is the assessment fees. Talk about saving money! Check out the available degree programs here and see how earning a degree with University of the People can save your life. You can also check out a list of all the best online universities.

2. Live with family.

You should also consider the option of living with your family. If you’re not so excited about living at home longer than you need to, it might help you to frame the situation by remembering that it’s temporary. If your plan is to stay home during your undergraduate degree, you can use that time to save money and move out when you graduate. At the end of the day, there’s no rush!

If you’re about to start a college experience and live with roommates, we wish you luck during this memorable period of your life. And remember, the more positive and mindful you are, the better your experience will be!