Hordes of new students are arriving at colleges across the country and confronting a new experience in their young lives: sharing a room.

Hordes of new students are arriving at colleges across the country and confronting a new experience in their young lives: sharing a room.

For previous generations this was hardly a novelty. Everyone has an elderly relative who loves to tell stories about growing up
in a house where siblings slept eight to a bed, but we have lately been raising children who are more likely to have had their own rooms from birth. They aren't accustomed to group sleeping.

I suspect this is why so many colleges favor the four-to-a-dorm-room arrangement. It's a trial by fire, like boot camp. (Where, come to think of it, you also sleep in large groups.)

Four is a troublesome number. Consider: In human dynamics, you have a reasonable prospect of getting two people to agree on something, and some chance with three. But four? Forget it. The Beatles couldn't even do it, and they were getting paid millions.

The freshman who can survive a four-roommate dorm experience probably has a good shot at being successful in all future endeavors. It may well be the biggest challenge of college life.

If you have a child about to head to college (as I do), here's what you should tell them about roommates:
Humans evolved with different sleeping habits to ensure the survival of the species. Saber-toothed tigers could not sneak up on our ancestors at night because someone was always awake and complaining that the cave was either too hot or too cold, or the crickets were too loud, or the cave drapes were letting in too much moonlight. In other words, don't expect perfect harmony when it comes to sleeping preferences. It wouldn't be human. When you order a pizza - which you will do, about 45 minutes after eating dinner in the dining hall - one roommate will always decline to participate on grounds of being stuffed. When the pizza arrives give this roommate some anyway. There is no polite way for three people to share a pizza within sight of a fourth without insisting that all partake. Being the only roommate who has a car doesn't make you special. It makes you a chauffeur. Even the Amish ask their neighbors for rides, so you can be pretty sure your roommates are going to ask you. The desks in a college dorm room are cosmetic touches put there to convince parents who are paying $10,000 a semester that some academic activities will occur there. In truth, it is impossible to put four people within 15 feet and not have them constantly distract each other. Go to the library to study. The issue of where to put stuff will be a constant source of tension because people come with lots of stuff and never can agree on the best way to arrange it. Don't think of this as conflict. Think of it as preparation for the biggest battle of married life: how to load the dishwasher.
The student who successfully navigates this situation for a year won't earn a degree, but should. Let's call it Bachelor of the Art of Living.