Ask the Experts

Wheel of Fortune

I will be meeting my new roommate when we arrive at college. My protective parents really want to know more about her. What should we do so everyone feels safe?

Your parents are right to want to know more, and your question is pertinent for most students that will be sharing a room with a stranger for the first time. Leaving home and going to college means that it is highly unlikely you will be lucky enough to be sharing with friends. A little background information on your new roommate would go a long way in easing the minds of both you and your parents.

It has been argued that the college should run background checks on students during the application process, but there are counter arguments against it. Would running a criminal record check prevent any future crimes? It is doubtful. Are university administrators qualified to make out-of-court decisions on people and is the college admissions process the correct place to do it?

Others argue that safety on campus should be a priority as should student well-being and this could be improved with more stringent background checks during application. The college does require checks on academic credentials so why not criminal ones also? Either way, it is likely that you will need to do your own research to glean the information you want in order to check on your roommate.

With a little personal information such as full name, registered address and employment details you can complete the research online yourself. To make your roommate feel more at ease, you could exchange details as she may also want to check up on you.

Once you have the basics, you can go online to check criminal history at the local courthouse which has files on crimes and legal cases for the local area. The National Center for State Courts will have contact information for the right court department.

You may want to carry out a credit check, especially if paying the rent is your responsibility. Online credit checks can be used to determine if your roommate has any outstanding debt, how she has paid bills in the past and if a former landlord or roommate has filed charges. By law, everyone is entitled to one free credit check per year.

Another research technique can be revealing. If your roommate drives up in a car, you can check the license plate online. Information about the car will show accident history, ownership and any liens. If the car is owned by a boyfriend, you may be getting another unexpected roommate.

There are very few students that do not use social media, so type in a search for her name and see what comes up. You are not snooping, you will be living in very close proximity so make sure there are no red flags. A Facebook profile can be very revealing, showing friends, habits, interests and personal connections. Look her up on LinkedIn to see educational and work history; all students are likely to have a public profile here for employment purposes.

Once you are satisfied with your background research, you should set some ground rules for living together. Keeping the place tidy and your stuff stowed away will make a more harmonious living environment. Agree on guest policy and sleeping arrangements and habits, and have mutual respect for each other. You could even draw up a roommate contract to ensure you are both on the same page when it comes to your expectations.

Prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent… unknown.

Jacob Maslow is the founder and editor of Legal Scoops.