Sparring match
Credit: Morguefile photo by grafixar

Each year, two million Americans begin college. Slightly less than half of them live in a dorm, with one or more roommates. Under these circumstances, occasional disagreements are inevitable.

Every college with living facilities has a policy on changing dorm rooms and switching roommates. Some institutes have open times for changing at the beginning of a semester. It gets more difficult to switch as the weeks progress. However, if the situation is extreme, change may happen at any time.

Personality conflicts are unfortunate, but very common. One of my friend's daughter's needed a new living arrangement because of a severe clash with her roommate. The other girl invited a friend to stay in the room, during which time she wouldn't allow her roommate access.

Another friend's daughter went away to a small, private religious-affiliated school. You might think she'd have less of a chance of running into problems. However, her roommate, a very persuasive girl, lied to the school administration. She told them that my friend's daughter had made some hateful remarks against a certain group of people.

School officials almost believed the story, until the tale teller was also caught spinning other fabrications. In this case, my friend's daughter stayed it the room. I'm not sure what happened to the other student.

Compatible College Roommates

Before the start of the school year, many residential students complete a questionnaire about living preferences. This may include questions about what time they like to go to bed, or if they prefer a tidy room or don't mind a bit of clutter. Gathering this type of information may prevent a party animal from being matched with someone who prefers to spend their free time in study.

One college freshman who filled out a such a questionnaire before moving into a "forced triple" is amazed at how well she and her two female roommates get along. The rooming arrangement at this particular college is extremely tight. Three people often room together, in very cramped quarters, until another option opens up.

Avoiding a "Forced Triple."

However, if you can avoid a threesome, it's probably better. That's because two roommates may form a closer friendship, leaving the third feeling a little left out. However, it's also important to remember that you and your roommate don't have to be the very best friends. You just have to learn to live together.

College roommate problems are extremely common, with more than 23 percent of students, at some point, seriously considering finding new dorm space. Less severe conflicts are reported by nearly three-quarters of students, at some point in their college career.

Read Your Roommate Rights

Well aware that roommate conflicts are a fact of dorm life, most colleges post a list of "roommate rights" on their websites. In fact, it was hard to find a residential college that didn't address this issue.

UCLA actually did a student survey that underscored just how common personality clashes can be. It noted that 70 percent of students, at one point, weren't getting along with a roommate. For a minority of students (about 23 percent) the situation became so stressful that they considered changing living arrangements.

But there was encouraging news as well. Most of the time (85 percent), people did like their roommates. And, if a problem did arise, more than 80 percent of the time, simply talking about it helped resolve the conflict.

Typical driving forces behind disputes included differences in housekeeping styles, inability to communicate and disturbances that make it difficult for others to get enough sleep.

Handling College Roommate Conflicts

Sarah Lawrence College, a private liberal arts school just outside of New York City, for instance, notes that it is "perfectly normal" to have personality clashes, which need to be worked through.

When a conflict arises, students are advised to first try to work it out with the other party. The school's website also offers clues on spotting telltale signs that a storm is brewing. One is that a roommate no longer wants to communicate with you or tries to avoid you. Repeatedly leaving the room when you enter is a dead giveaway. Or, they may take a more indirect approach and involve others in the situation. You might hear about the problem through a third party.

Once things reach this level, something needs to be addressed, according to the school's guidelines. Students are then advised to discuss the issue openly, in a non-confrontational manner.

If this isn't successful, the resident adviser, or RA, can often help mediate the problem. Oftentimes, this involves reviewing the school's published "roommate contract."

These vary a bit from school to school, but, in general, all call for a respect of privacy, boundaries and minimal standards of cleanliness.