Moving to college means more than packing your life into suitcases, saying ‘goodbye’ to your loved ones, and joining a live-in community of students. For many first-year students, this transition means sharing close quarters with an almost (if not complete) stranger. It can be difficult to know what to expect, but below are the five most important lessons I learned from living in the residence halls during my first year at UW-Madison.
- Coordinate schedules: Your room is more than a place to sleep; it is your entire living quarters. Your meals, down-time, and more will be spent in this space. Previously, your bedroom may have served as a sort of refuge where you could recuperate and spend time alone. Now, however, nearly all of your time will be spent with another person. If this sounds overwhelming- you’re right; it can be. To avoid social overload, coordinate times with your roommate when each of you can have the room to yourself. Don’t assume this will happen on its own. Be deliberate and do something as simple as taking advantage of the other’s class schedule or planning to spend a few hours studying at the library while your roommate decompresses at home. No matter your agreement, discuss it early to avoid feeling overstimulated and burning out.
- Avoid doubling up: It is easy to overpack when you are trying to come to college as prepared as possible. If an internet search has provided you with the “perfect” college packing list, be cautious about you realistically need versus what will simply gather dust and cram your already tight space. Not only can you coordinate with your roommate to know who is bringing which of your shared belongings (i.e. microwave, rugs, etc.), but you can also research what resources can be borrowed from your residence hall desk. Bulky cooking supplies, vacuum cleaners, board games, sports equipment, and more can be left at home and rented from the desk staff once you arrive. This will allow you to leave the heavy stuff at home and split the necessities with your roommate.
- Communicate: This may seem obvious, but talking to your roommate about conflicts early-on will address the concern when its small and prevent the problem from getting out of control. If you are not sure how to initiate a conversation, use your House Fellow as a resource! You can brainstorm ways to bring up the issue together or even ask your House Fellow to moderate a meeting between you and your roommate. Also, being honest about your expectations from the start and discussing how you would like to address conflict can make these conversations much easier. It is easy to think that you must take these experiences on alone. However, it is the job of University Housing staff and other campus offices to help support you during this time. Know your resources and use them with confidence!
- Take on the unknown, together: Living on your own in a new city can be intimidating, and you will likely have a lot of questions about how campus life works. “How do I navigate campus?”, “How do the dining halls work?”, “What can I expect at my student organization meeting?” By taking on these tasks with your roommate, you will not only feel more comfortable going out and trying new things, but will also gain the confidence necessary to become more independent at college. Your roommate can serve as an immediate support system during your first year, offering you comfort and encouragement to start exploring UW-Madison. Knowing you are in the same boat helps relieve the pressure of being unfamiliar.
- That being said, do not limit yourself to only one person: Your roommate may be your best friend throughout your first year, and they may not. Even if you personally selected your roommate prior to arriving on campus, living with another person can reveal differences you may not have noticed in your initial interactions. Understand that you may not click and know that it is okay to not rely on them for your only source of friendship. Get out of your residence hall. Join student organizations; go visit campus hot spots, like The Terrace or the ASM Student Activity Center; or get ahold of a new classmate. There are many opportunities to meet people in college. If the relationship with your roommate is not working out, do not worry. You can take advantage of the over 40,000 other people on your campus and make new connections!
Of course, each student’s first-year experience is unique to their own situation. You may face questions or concerns not outlined in the advice above. However, as long as you remain flexible and are willing to compromise, any roommate controversy can be overcome. For any questions regarding roommates, residence halls, and other college living situations; contact University Housing at 608-262-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.