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How to Set Up a College Roommate Agreement

A Little Work Now Can Lead to A Lot of Benefits Throughout the Year

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When you first move in with your college roommate (either in an apartment or in the residence halls), you may want -- or have -- to set up a roommate agreement or roommate contract. While not usually legally binding, roommate agreements are a great way to make sure that you and your college roommate are on the same page about the every-day details that must be managed when you live with someone else. And while they may seem like a pain to put together, roommate agreements are a smart idea.

There are a variety of ways you can approach a roommate agreement. Many agreements come as a template and can provide you with general areas and suggested rules. In general, though, you should definitely cover the following topics:

  1. General "stuff" (like computer, printers, iPods, etc.). Is it okay to use each other's "stuff"? If so, are some things off limits? What happens if something breaks? If both people are using the same printer, for example, who pays to replace the paper? The ink cartridges? The batteries? What happens if something gets broken or stolen on somebody else's watch?
  2. Schedules. What are your schedules like? Is one person a night owl? An early bird? And what's the process for someone's schedule, especially in the morning and late at night? Do you want some quiet time when you get done with class after lunch? Or time to hang out with friends in the room?
  3. Study time. When does each person study? How to they study (quietly? with music? with the TV on?)? Alone? With headphones? With people in the room? What does each person need from the other to make sure they get adequate study time and can keep up in their classes?
  4. Private time. Let's be honest: it's college. You and/or your roommate might very well be dating someone -- and want time alone with him or her. What's the deal with getting time alone in the room? How much is okay? How much advance notice is needed? Are there times when it's not okay (like finals week)? How will you let each other know when not to come in?
  5. Borrowing/Taking/Replacing. It's practically inevitable not to borrow or take something from your roommate over the course of the year. So who pays for it? Are there rules about borrowing/taking -- e.g., it's okay to eat some of my food as long as you leave some for me?
  6. Space. This may sound silly, but think -- and talk -- about space. Do you want your roommate's friends hanging out on your bed while you're gone? At your desk? Do you like your space neat? Clean? Messy? How would you feel if your roommate's clothes started sneaking over to your side of the room?
  7. Visitors. When is it okay to have people hanging out in the room? People staying over? How many people are okay? Who needs what when it comes to visitors -- e.g., is a quiet study group okay late at night or should no one be allowed in the room after, say 1:00 a.m.?
  8. Noise. Do both of you like the default to be quiet in the room? Music? The TV on as background? What do you need to study? What do you need to sleep? Can someone use earplugs or headphones? How much noise is too much?
  9. Food. Can you eat each other's food? Will you share? If so, who buys what? What happens if someone eats the last of an item? What happens if the fridge turns into a science project; who cleans it out? What kinds of food are okay to keep in the room?
  10. Alcohol. If you're under 21 and get caught with alcohol in the room, there can be problems. How do you feel about keeping alcohol in the room? If you're over 21, who buys the alcohol? When, if at all, is it okay to have people drinking in the room?
  11. Clothes. This one's a biggie for girls. Can you borrow each other's clothes? How much notice is needed? Who has to wash them? How often can you borrow things? What kinds of things can't be borrowed?

If you and your roommate can't quite figure out where to get started or how to come to an agreement on many of these things, don't be afraid to talk to your RA or someone else to make sure that things are clear from the beginning. After all, it's much easier to say "You ate all my cereal! Rule is you have to replace it within 2 days so I'm expecting some serious Frosted Flakes back on my desk by Thursday morning!" with a smile than to come home and get mad over your roommate's decision, once again, to do something you don't like -- but that you never talked about. Roommate relationships can be one of the highlights of college, so starting strongly from the beginning is a great way to eliminate problems in the future.

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