The Impact of Roommates on First-Year Students

Having roommates is a normal part of a first year student’s college experience, since 87% of students have one or more. With this in mind, it is important to consider the potential impact of having a roommate on students, both in terms of their perception of their experience as well as in terms of their outcomes including retention and academic performance.

This note explores the relationships between having a roommate and other aspects of a student’s first-year academic experience, using a national dataset of 112,438 first-year students from 128 institutions in the United States.

Key Questions:

  1. How many roommates do first-year students typically have?
  2. What are the characteristics of students who have roommates vs. those who do not?
  3. How is having a roommate or number of roommates related to key outcomes?
  4. Does the number of roommates a student have matter?

Key Points:

  • Most students typically have one roommate.
  • There is a relationship between having or not having a roommate and various aspects of the first-year student experience—including commitment, satisfaction, connections, and homesickness.
  • Having a roommate is related to key outcomes, including academic performance and retention.

How many roommates do first-year students typically have?

The most common situation for first-year students is to have one roommate, with no roommates and two roommates being nearly tied for second at only 13% and 12% respectively. Only 6% of students have three or more roommates.

Roommates can be a make or break factor for the success of college students.

Roommates and the First-Year Experience

Does having a roommate or not relates to various factors associated with first-year student transition such as institutional commitment, satisfaction, social engagement, and homesickness distress? Our data indicates that there is a small but significant connection between them, with having a roommate always being preferable to not having a roommate.

When asked questions about their intent to return to the institution for the spring and fall semesters and their level of commitment to finishing their degree at their current institution, students with roommates were more likely to rate themselves as highly committed than those without roommates by 5%.

When asked whether they would choose their current institution again, recommend it to others, and what their overall satisfaction with the institution was, 4% more students with roommates were again more likely to rate themselves as highly satisfied.

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