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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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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.