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The Pros & Cons of Choosing Your Roommate Before College

You filled out tons of college apps, anxiously awaited decisions and deliberated your options for weeks. Now that you’ve finally chosen a school, you’re done with all the decisions, right? Not quite. You may know where you’re moving this fall, but you still have to figure out who you’re moving in with. Should you sign up to live with your best friend since daycare, or leave it up to a lottery? Choosing a roommate before stepping foot on campus may or may not be your best bet, so Her Campus has compiled the pros and cons to help with your decision.

Pro #1: You’ll have the comfort of a familiar face in a brand new environment.
No matter how close to or far from home you’ll be, living on a college campus is going to be an entirely novel experience—everything from the people you see to the food you eat will be new. And no matter how cool you think you are, everyone has Linus moments, and having a security blanket (like a roommate you already know) at college can be nice. Bridget Cohen, a freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, chose a roommate she already knew through a mutual friend, then connected with her online: “My roommate and I chose each other via Facebook prior to college,” says Bridget. “We started talking and had a lot of things in common … [Now] we get along really well as both roommates and close friends.”

Con #1: It could be difficult to let go of your high school life.
You spent all summer giving your Facebook albums deep and mysterious titles like “The End” and listening to Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” on loop—you’ve given your high school years enough reverence, so don’t let them eat into the exciting college experience ahead. Rooming with someone you knew in high school can make starting this new life chapter more difficult; with a friend around all the time, you’ll have less incentive to go adventuring with new people. “I chose a random roommate because I wanted to extend my circle of friends,” says Alexandra Court, a freshman at the College of William and Mary. “I still see friends from high school around campus, but I don’t feel like I’m reliving high school all over again because my roommate has [helped me] meet new people.” Hofstra University senior Gennifer Delman shares the sentiment, saying, “Living with someone you already know can be comforting, but there is something exciting about starting fresh, especially when you’re new to the college environment.”

If you do choose to room with someone you already know, both of you should make a conscious effort to expand your circle beyond your high school friends: attend orientation programs, exchange numbers with new acquaintances, create your class schedule based on your own interests rather than adjusting to your roommate’s, try out new study spots, and don’t be afraid to go to the gym alone. You’ll still have each other, but the occasional night flying solo benefits everyone. It may seem like you’re starting from square one, but after spending some time apart, the two of you can exchange introductions and double each other’s social circles.

Pro #2: You know you share common ground.
You know why the roommates of the Jersey Shore were thrown into a house together? They all love GTL! Not only are commonalities a brilliant foundation for high-quality entertainment, but they are also a key contributor to a positive living experience. Rooming with someone you already get along with ensures that you’ll be living with someone who shares some of your interests. “I found my roommate on Facebook in early April,” says Elizabeth Schmitt at Mount Holyoke College. “Within a week, we decided to room together based on our similar values and interests.”

Make sure to check out any services that your school offers; because residential life offices can often help you identify other students with similar interests. “I joined my school’s Freshman Interest Groups (FIG) program, a [housing option] for freshmen that co-enrolls a group of ten to fifteen of us in three or four of the same classes and puts us all on the same floor of a residence hall,” says Sydney Nolan, a freshman at the University of Missouri, Columbia. “It helped pair me with a roommate who majors in the same things I do, and has really similar interests and a personality that works well with mine.”

Con #2: Having a lot in common doesn’t always mean you’ll be great roommates.
As cute as it is, the fact that you’re both on Team Jacob and you occasionally finish each other’s sentences doesn’t necessarily mean that you and your friend will be fantastic rooming buddies. “Living with a friend is completely different than just hanging out with them on the weekends,” adds Gennifer. “Hygiene, number of visitors (hook-ups included), and other factors don’t come to mind until you’re forced to live with them.” McGill sophomore Kristen Pye, for example, thought she and her roommate had a lot in common but instead had a rude awakening: “I ended up linking up with this other girl I met in a forum of incoming McGill first-years on Facebook. Through messaging, it seemed as though we had a lot in common, but in the end, I think we both just really wanted to have a lot in common.” Kristen ended up switching roommates.

On the flip side, rooming with someone “random” doesn’t necessarily mean that your compatibility with her is a coin toss. Colleges often take into account the companionability of roommate pairs by issuing a survey that asks questions about your personality and lifestyle—everything from your sleeping habits to your taste in music. And even if you end up with a roommate with whom you seem to have nothing in common, remember that exposure to new people can provide a different perspective, introduce you to her own interests, and ultimately broaden your world view.
Pro #3: You know you’ll have a blast with your friend.
If you’re good friends with your roommate, chances are you have similar social lifestyles, and that can be a huge plus. Simmone Seymour of Tufts University, who opted for a random roommate, lamented the discrepancies in their lifestyles: “We had opposite sleeping schedules, she required light at all times, she snored loudly, and she was disinterested in everything that I was interested in. We had entirely different social circles and she even made fun of the fact that I was heavily involved in Greek life.” Needless to say, Simmone advocates rooming with a friend. “At least you will know preliminarily that she is cool with your lifestyle from the get-go,” she says, and won’t be “spiteful of you when you come home at 2 a.m.—or later.”

Con #3: If things turn sour, you run the risk of damaging that friendship.

Even if you two had a countless number of sleepovers in grade school, living with your friend exposes you to her private life in a way you haven’t previously experienced. This leads to a risk of overexposure; if you’re always around each other, there are more opportunities and time for tension to build. “Everyone I know who chose a friend or someone they we’re close to in high school [for a roommate] ended up hating each other by the end of the year,” says Laura Baugh, a junior at Virginia Tech. Laura’s priorities lay instead with ensuring that she wouldn’t regret her decision in light of a failed friendship: “My logic with going random was ‘at least if I end up hating my roommate, I didn’t specifically shoot myself in the foot by picking her.'”

Pro #4: You won’t worry about having bad luck.
Whether you choose a roommate or you’re assigned one, you’ll have some time before school starts to acquaint yourselves on the phone as well as sort out logistical issues (fans, microwaves, etc). But knowing your roommate on a more personal level gives you less to worry about—like the possibility of being assigned a female Charlie Sheen. “Since I applied early decision to BU, I was in such an ‘eager beaver’mood and wanted to get my roommate situation squared away,” shares Kelsey, a sophomore at Boston University who found her first roommate a site called RoomSurf; she calls it “Match.com for roomies,” which gave her more control over her living plans instead of leaving her roommate up to chance.

Con #4: If you play it safe, you could miss out on an even better rooming experience.
While Kelsey benefited from having her living situation settled beforehand, things didn’t turn out so well after all: “Long story short, my freshman roommate was so mean and it was terrible,” she says. So choosing a roommate ahead of time doesn’t guarantee a perfect living experience. Kristen adds some sage advice: “Don’t be afraid to wait until move-in day to meet your roommate. In many cases, it’s remarkably easier or just as easy to get along with someone you’ve just met as it is to live with someone you’ve connected with or known prior!”

Kristen’s right; while it’s understandable to prefer someone familiar over the risk of a random option, the latter could have even better results. Erica Avesian, a junior at the University of Michigan, was initially hesitant to room with a stranger: “I was a little scared to meet my new roommate in case we didn’t get along or something,” she says. The outcome, however, dispelled her worries: “I ended up getting along great with my roommate, and although we never became besties, we still keep in touch.”

Whether you choose a roommate months before setting foot on campus or you meet her two days before classes start, each option comes with its stresses and its perks. So once you make a decision, take it easy! Try to be flexible and foster a good relationship with the girl you’ll be living with for the year, but remember that if things don’t work out as planned, your campus has resources available for you to improve your roommate relationship or switch roommates if you have to.

Sarah Kismet is a member of the class of 2014 at Kenyon College, a surreal little place that compensates for its geographical solitude with magic, smiles, and bands you’ve never heard of. There, she edits the Kenyon Observer and tutors Economics. Sarah hails from New Albany, Ohio but is of Syrian origin. When she’s not obsessively writing to-do lists or hustling to complete them, she can be found running at the athletic center, reducing the worldwide candy population, asserting her opinions, or giggling uncontrollably.
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