Why Take a Resident Assistant Job in College

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February 22, 2021

Are you considering applying for a position as a resident assistant? If you are interested in helping other students become acclimated to living on a college campus, working as a resident assistant may be an incredible opportunity for personal and professional growth. People in these positions play a key role in student life, serving as an important source of information, guidance, and support. While the job can be demanding, time consuming, and challenging, assisting others in this capacity is often extremely rewarding. Resident assistants generally have numerous opportunities to build leadership skills and are often role models and allies for the general student population.

It’s important to keep in mind that some colleges and universities use the terms resident assistant and resident advisor interchangeably. In both cases, the common abbreviation is RA.

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What is a Resident Assistant?


Resident assistants live and work in college and university residence halls. While they are students themselves, they take on additional responsibilities that are intended to enhance the experiences of others living on campus. They have many associated duties, but their ultimate goal is to help support residents in achieving academic success, social development, and personal growth. This is generally done by facilitating various kinds of programs and experiences for community members to participate in.

Teamwork is an essential component of working successfully in the residence life field. They commonly work and collaborate with other students and professionals across the entire campus. In fact, RAs regularly interact with campus security, custodians, faculty, and staff members. Depending on institution regulations, RA positions can be held by undergraduate and/or graduate students. Each college and university also set qualifications for applicants.

These vary, but generally include the following:

  • Full-time enrollment with a minimum number of credit hours completed
  • Minimum cumulative GPA
  • Experience living in on-campus housing
  • Good standing with the Student Affairs Office

Who is Your Boss?


Not every academic institution manages their residential life department the same way. Each campus community is different, so it’s important to become familiar with your college or university’s structure before applying to become a resident assistant.

Resident assistants generally report directly to individuals holding the title of Resident Director (RD) or Residence Hall Director (RHD). These positions may be held by graduate students or by entry-level professionals. Whereas RAs oversee a particular group of residents on a single floor or wing, RDs and RHDs are often responsible for supervising several RAs in a particular building or region on campus.

The RA position is unique, however, because it often requires working with staff and administration members at every level. While they may be supervised by a single RD or RHD, it is common for individuals in these positions to interact with other department directors. In fact, RAs are regularly given opportunities to meet and work with the Director of Housing and Residence Life, the Dean of Students, and even the institution’s president.

Duties and Responsibilities


The resident assistant position is multifaceted and requires several different skillsets. Because RAs live where they work, it is not uncommon for them to be the first to respond to a wide variety of situations. This means they must be prepared for almost anything to happen, which requires extensive training throughout the year. RAs also receive consistent supervision and support through regular one-on-one meetings with RDs or RHDs. These meetings provide time to evaluate personal performance, ask questions, share student concerns, and review new expectations.

Duties and responsibilities can generally be broken into the following categories:

  • Campus Information
    One of the RAs most important responsibilities is to welcome students onto campus and help them become acclimated to college life. They often serve as live-in resources, providing information regarding activities, policies, and news through personal interactions, bulletin boards, flyers, and social media.
  • Community Development
    RAs are also tasked with fostering a safe and engaging community among their assigned residents. This generally entails organizing floor meetings and programming events to enhance the student experience. It also means utilizing conflict resolution skills to moderate disagreements between roommates and residents.
  • Student Conduct
    Additionally, RAs function as a bridge between students and the administration. They have a duty to uphold and enforce all college or university rules and regulations. As a result, individuals in these positions regularly perform residence hall checks for possible infractions and safety issues. They have the power to submit incident reports regarding any violation.
  • Safety and Emergency Response
    Finally, RAs must have some familiarity with responding to emergencies which may arise on their floor or wing. They may also be approached by students with delicate issues better addressed by professionals. In these cases, RAs are responsible for making the appropriate referrals and/or notifying the necessary authorities.

What it’s Not


While there are a number of benefits associated with becoming a resident assistant, it’s important to realize that the job is not for everyone. It requires a strong dedication to campus standards and regulations, which must be followed and enforced at all times.

A common misconception is that RAs have the freedom to bend and break the rules as they see fit. This is not the case. Working in this capacity is often considered a privilege on campus, so even minor infractions are rarely tolerated. In fact, many colleges and universities include clauses in RA contracts that give them the authority to terminate policy offenders’ positions and remove them from campus housing entirely.

Pros and Cons


As mentioned previously, every college and university structures their housing and residence life departments differently. This means each school will have its own set of advantages and disadvantages associated with the resident assistance position. Take time to learn as much as you can about the job to ensure it fits well with your capabilities, interests, and goals. Some of the most common pros and cons include:

Pros


  • Free or Discounted Room and Board
    One of the primary reasons students become interested in the RA position is the offer of free or discounted room and board. Institutions handle this discount differently, with some covering only a portion of the expense and others eliminating it completely. In either case, this benefit can be significant.
  • Single Room
    RAs are also often assigned their own residence hall rooms. This perk is often offered so that they have a space to meet with other students regarding delicate situations and to keep potentially sensitive information private. Having a single room can provide increased quality of life and allow for more time to focus on personal academics.
  • Valuable Job Experience
    Becoming an RA is a great way to enhance a resume. Applicants with prior job experience are generally considered more competitive and are more likely to receive future employment, especially in related, service-oriented industries. Additionally, working as an RA is a great way to accumulate a strong list of reliable references.
  • Transferrable Skills and Training
    Not only does the position provide valuable job experience, but it also helps develop a wide variety of transferrable skills and training. Transferrable skills refer to facilities that will be useful in almost any industry. For example, RAs must learn and hone their abilities to manage crises, communicate verbally and in writing, manage their time, and handle potentially sensitive information.
  • Leadership Opportunities
    RAs are some of the most active leaders at a college or university. Not only do they perform the duties associated with their positions, but they often take on many other roles on campus. They are also often surrounded be knowledgeable staff members familiar with various leadership opportunities as they become available. As a result, it is generally quite easy to gain extensive experience in this area.

Cons


  • Demanding Commitment
    Becoming an RA can significantly impact the college experience. It’s a big commitment that demands more than some full-time jobs. Because individuals in these positions live where they work, it can feel that there is never a break. Additionally, some of the busiest times are nights and weekends, which means that personal extracurricular activities will likely be limited.
  • Stronger Consequences
    As mentioned above, many colleges and universities hold their RAs to higher standards than regular students. Those working in this capacity have a responsibility to uphold institutional policies and regulations. As some of the most visible role models on campus, they are often punished more severely when a violation occurs. In some cases, this could mean losing the position and being permanently removed from on-campus housing.
  • Difficult and Delicate Situations
    RAs are responsible for handling some relatively tricky problems, from moderating roommate disagreements to breaking up parties and much more. They are also often the first individuals on the scene at an emergency. Depending on the circumstances, this could result in exposure to some very intense situations that may be stressful, scary, upsetting, disturbing, and/or emotionally charged.

Salary Expectations


Every college and university structures payment for resident assistants differently. As previously stated, many departments offer some sort of housing incentive. This can range from a moderate discount to full coverage of all room and board expenses. Additionally, it is also not uncommon for RAs to receive some sort of monthly payment for their services. While they are never paid hourly, the compensation provided can make a significant impact on the cost of attending higher education institutions. Some packages, including housing and meal plans, are valued at nearly $30,000 per year.