Leaving college and navigating the real world can be difficult for a host of reasons. As she heads toward professionalism, a young woman must shoulder financial and work burdens, must plan her own budgets and meals, must choose a starting job and perhaps a five-year plan, and must do all of this outside the gentle confines of the college campus.
One of the hardest parts of leaving college is leaving your friends—the study buddies and partners-in-crime who have shared your interests, your alma mater, and your dorm room for the past four years. As you enter the working world, you may find yourself in a new city, perhaps without the tight-knit security blanket of friends you have woven throughout your time as an undergraduate.
Starting in the working world means starting fresh, even in terms of finding a roommate. Here are 8 tips to avoid roommate disaster in the “real world.”
1. If It Ain’t Broke…
You may be in an enviable position of relocating to the same city as your college roommate or close friend. If you know you can live well with someone you’ve met in college, go for it. If you’ve never lived with this particular friend before, make sure to do a little preliminary living research before you sign that lease.
Are you and your friend kindred spirits but total opposites when it comes to neatness? Do you have very different incomes and, thus, different interpretations of a “reasonable” rent? Have you always secretly pitied your friend’s roommate? Make sure to work out these kinks before you make any final decisions—your best friend could quickly become an enemy if your living styles don’t align.
2. Tap into your college network
Even if you don’t have close college friends living in the area, don’t be afraid to use your university’s resources to find a roommate. Many schools create email lists composed of young alumni in a specific city. If you’re skeptical about living with a total stranger, email your school list and see if that girl from section (or her friend’s friend) needs a roommate. I found my roommate—the friend of an acquaintance—this way. If nothing else, you’ll be able to expand your network of friends from your school and contact people with whom you may never have interacted otherwise.
3. You’re a new professional—use your new professional network
If you’ve signed with a company that accepts a class of new hires, try reaching out to one of your new colleagues for a potential roommate. Milli, a 2010 Harvard grad and Teach for America corps member, found her two roommates at a TFA open house. “We initially got together because of similar music tastes,” she says. “Rachel emailed Leslie to see if she wanted to get tickets to this Belle & Sebastian concert. And Leslie responded: Yes…also, want to live with me and Milli?” If you have similar jobs, you will be on similar schedules and may be looking for similar types of apartments in terms of location and rent.
If you’re adventurous, try searching for a roommate on Craigslist or another similar online matching site. Before you make a decision, though, make sure that you’ve spoken with this person at length, that you’ve met with them in person, that you’ve done some kind of online stalking to make sure they’re not a criminal, and that you’re upfront with them about your expectations for a roommate. The plus side to living with someone you don’t know is that you can make demands you couldn’t necessarily make of a friend or colleague. The caveat, of course, is to be sure you know what you’re getting into when you sign a lease with a stranger.
5. Be your own roommate
Who says you need a roommate? Perhaps the surest-fire way to avoid roommate disaster is to remove yourself from the roommate search entirely. If you don’t have any close friends near you or are uncomfortable living with someone you don’t know, consider renting a studio or a one-bedroom apartment.
Vanessa, a 2010 Harvard graduate, says, “After living in a dorm since I was 14 years old, it’s great to be able to have my own space and just relax without worrying about someone else’s cleanliness or noise level. I can see how it would get lonely, but I really lucked out: I live alone, but I also have a lot of close friends nearby (even in my building!).”
6. Before you start the search…
If you want to preclude disaster down the road, the first thing you should do is schedule a serious meeting with yourself. Be honest when thinking about where you want to live, how much you want to pay, and what kinds of compromises you’re willing to make. If you know you will begin irrationally loathing a roommate whose alarm wakes you up anytime before 8 AM, think twice before living with your best friend who happens to be working as a trader. If you really know what you want, you can articulate that to your roommate and nip any impending catastrophe in the bud.
7. Be upfront
When you have the initial awkward “want to live together” chat, when you’re co-signing the lease, or when you’re shopping together for the perfect couch at Ikea, make sure to follow one cardinal rule with your roommate: be upfront.
Before you start living together, make sure to tell her your “bottom line.” Can’t handle cigarette smoke? Make sure you explicitly tell your roommate. Abhor dirty dishes left in the sink? Inform her right away. You can avoid a future fight by establishing directness as a precedent. As you live together, continue to be upfront: if something bothers you, make sure to respectfully notify your roommate rather than resort to passive-aggression. Hopefully, directness and consideration will make you both better roommates.
8. Be safe
When living with someone new, make sure that you prioritize your safety. One young woman, Ann,* had a traumatizing experience with a roommate. After she moved into an apartment with three other people, one of her roommates started exhibiting strange and invasive behavior. He began threatening and stalking her, to the point where she broke her lease to escape her situation.
Ann advises other young women to avoid her situation by being prudent prior to moving into an apartment—to take the time to conduct research so that you do not inadvertently “risk your personal security and moral dignity.” She also emphasizes the importance of knowing your lease and its limits—if you have to break a lease, as Ann did, make sure you know what you legally owe your landlord.
Moving into the working world is never easy. Hopefully, though, these tips can help make the transition from dorm-room to new, working-woman’s apartment a little smoother.