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An Etiquette Guide to Moving Into a College Dorm

Jon Fesmire | March 6, 2018 @ 9:00 AM

Moving into a college dorm isn’t just your first experience living away from your parents; it’s your first step into the larger world of adulthood. No doubt you’re excited and nervous in equal measure. Once you’ve sorted out what to pack and what not to pack, and figured out what to put in storage rather than keep in your room after you’ve arrived, you’ll face the realization that you’ll be living with someone you may never have met before.

This guide will help you navigate that new relationship.

Your Roommate Agreement

We’re joking here, a little. You probably don’t need to write a lengthy contract like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, but you should set some dorm rules with your roommate. Once you’ve introduced yourselves, set a time to sit down and discuss  living together. You’ll be with your roommate for at least a semester and possibly several years, so by discussing expectations up-front, you can lessen the occurrence of future arguments.

Rules should cover cleaning, sleeping schedules, noise levels, what items you can share freely in the room, and what you need to ask to borrow. You’ll get some ideas of what else to discuss as we continue this list.


Primarily, we’re talking about keeping your room clean here, but we’ll cover other cleaning tasks as well. Even if you don’t mind a bit of a mess, you’re not living alone, so clean up your stuff. In fact, that’s something that needs to go in your initial roommate discussion: each of you is responsible for cleaning your own messes. You may want to rotate tasks like taking the trash out, vacuuming, and dusting, but some tasks you’ll do on your own. For example, if you have a snack, throw away your trash. If you had a guest over, clean up after them.

Remember the adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Have places for your books, clothes, notebooks, pens, and so on, and when you clean, put those things back where they belong.

You also will want to be a good neighbor for everyone on your floor. After you take a shower, clean your hair from the shower drain. Clean up your place after you eat in the dining hall. Sure, there are people back in the kitchen who do the dishes, but you’re supposed to bring your tray, cups, silverware, and plates back.

When doing laundry, note how long it takes to wash and dry. Set an alarm on your phone for when your wash will be done, put it in the drier, set your alarm for when it will be dry, and collect it right away. Others need to do their laundry as well, so don’t leave yours sitting in the machines.

Let the Music Play—But Not Loudly

Most of us enjoy listening to music. You may need to learn to listen to it a bit less loudly than you’d like to, but you’ll get used to it. The thing is, while everyone likes music, tastes vary widely. What you enjoy may be pure torture to the students in the room next door. Your roommate probably doesn’t want to listen to the same music at the same time, either, so in most cases, it’s best to just listen with headphones.

We have one note on that, however. Don’t listen to your headphones too loudly. If your roommate can hear them, they’re too loud.

Work Out Visiting Times

While you’re allowed to bring friends to your room, make sure it’s okay with your roommate, and ask that they do the same for you. Maybe you’ve scheduled important study time in the middle of the day, or you need to take a nap. If your roommate brings a friend over, that can be a big annoyance. Show each other respect and check in before bringing anyone over.

Have Rules Regarding Intimacy

You’re adults who are dating and forming relationships. One or both of you may want to have a partner over at some point.

Be honest with your roommate when you’d like to bring your significant other or date home. Ask if they’ll be around before you do, and if it’s alright. Perhaps they’re willing to leave for a few hours so you can have some private time. If not, and they still say it’s alright to bring your date home, never get intimate with your date while your roommate is home. That includes if your roommate is sleeping. It’s just not okay.

You can also set a schedule for private time. Maybe you’ll be spending the night at your significant other’s apartment or a friend’s house, and your roommate can have their partner over during that time. Oh, and if one of you have a date over, the other person’s bed is off limits.

Keep Smoking at a Distance

Many campuses these days don’t allow smoking at all. However, if yours does, be polite and step a good hundred feet or so away from the dorm building before you light up. You may think it’s okay to smoke by the entrance, but that smell goes right inside and is gross to anyone who doesn’t smoke.

Respect Your Roommate’s Stuff

This means everything: their computer, their school supplies, their clothes, their food, and so on. No one wants to find that their roommate ate the last of their snacks, or borrowed a certain blouse without asking.

If you’d like to borrow something, ask first. If the answer is “no,” respect that without pushing.

Act Like Responsible Adults

You’re adults now. Sure, you’re still not allowed to drink alcohol if you’re under 21 in the U.S., but you can legally vote, have sex, and live on your own.

If you and your roommate are having conflicts, discuss them like rational adults. Be willing to offer helpful criticism, and be able to listen to it. Come to compromises. You might even schedule a half hour a week to talk about anything that has come up that you haven’t had time to discuss before.

Also, try to get along and resolve conflicts with everyone else you interact with who lives in your dorm. Respect your resident assistant (RA). These upperclassmen are experienced with conflict resolution and dorm life, but not so removed from it that they will have forgotten what it’s like to be an underclassman. Treat them well, and go to them when you and your roommate need help.

Follow this guide, and you’ll be off to a good start in your college dorm life. We wish you many friends and a fantastic university experience.

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