Working as a Resident Assistant: What You Need to Know

In looking up ways to save money on room and board in college, chances are you’ve seen someone mention being a resident assistant (RA) as an option. But how does one become an RA? And what does an RA do, anyways?

 

Read on to find out.

 

 

Resistant Assistant Application Basics

At some schools, the resident assistant application process can be incredibly arduous—sometimes taking months. Make note of all important dates, and attend any pre-application orientation meetings.

 

Some schools may require supplementary materials, including essays and interviews, so take care to make those as thorough, complete, and error-free as possible. Additionally, emphasize any past leadership roles you’ve held as selection committees often look for that as well.

 

If your school requires an interview, it’s a good idea to ask current RAs to find out what the resident assistant interview questions are like. Get a feel for what the committee will ask so you can prepare your answers.

 

For instance, interview questions will likely focus on your interest in the job and how you see yourself fulfilling it, so be ready to explain why you want to become an RA, what kind of RA you think you’ll be and how you will handle difficult situations in this role.

 

It’s a long process, so you’ll need to be patient. Which will ultimately come in handy if you are accepted to the position!

 

 

Benefits of Being a Resident Assistant

Working as a resident assistant provides a number of benefits, some of which probably drew you to the position and others you find out later. Here are some of the biggest ones.

 

Future Employment

Your experience as a resident assistant will benefit you well beyond your college years. Employers are aware of how much responsibility RAs take on, so having a resident assistant position on your resume will be a boon for you.

Working as an RA also demonstrates leaderships, problem-solving skills, creativity, teamwork, and time management, along with a host of other soft skills. Those are attractive qualities to future employers as well.

 

Social

Another socially advantageous benefit of being an RA is the potential to “pull” your friends into housing with you. Though each school has a different housing selection process, at some colleges, RAs are assigned their rooms before any other students; if a given RA is placed into a suite, they can choose which friends live with them.

 

If living with your friends isn’t something you’d like to do, or you simply prefer living on your own, that’s a possibility as well. Most schools assign RAs a single room, although some schools do assign RAs to double rooms as singles on a contingent basis. In other words, you might be placed alone in a double room with the understanding that, should the need arise, you will be assigned a roommate.  

 

You will also have a chance to form relationships with the students you supervise. Or, at the very least, learn to live and work with different personalities.

 

Housing Stipend

There are more than a few financial benefits to being a resident assistant. One big financial benefit is the having your room and board compensated.

 

Before starting the application process, check with your school’s RA program to see if your full room and board will be covered—some colleges only pay a portion of dorm fees. While even a portion makes a difference, the work involved might not be worth it to you.

 

You may want to check with the Financial Aid office to see if your aid will be affected should you take on an RA position—some schools will deduct RA compensation from your overall aid package. Also be aware that your room and board award may be taxable.

 

Though it varies from school to school, some RAs may be eligible for an additional stipend. Though resident assistant salaries are not all the same, one can expect a small stipend for food and other associated living expenses.

 

Overall Compensation

The total amount you receive for your service varies depending on the average housing and living costs at your school. Due to the variables affecting overall room and board costs, total RA compensation can range anywhere between $3,000-$18,000 in terms of covered housing costs and stipend.

 

Once again, it’s best to check with your individual school to see what the compensation package might look like for you.

 

 

What Does an RA Do?

Now that you know the application process and the benefits of being an RA, you might be wondering what an RA actually does. It’s a fair question. After all, if you’re going to do a job, you might as well know what you’re getting into.

 

As you can imagine, being an RA involves a number of different responsibilities.

 

Training

One of the first things you’ll experience after accepting your RA position is the required training. The intensiveness of this training varies, though at some schools it may last for several days or up to two weeks.

 

RA training generally involves preparing you for different emergency situations, including evacuation plans, as well as briefing you about more mundane protocol (hours you’ll be required to serve, who you’ll report to, what days you need to be on campus, etc.). This training generally takes place over the summer.

 

Keep in mind that your RA duties will likely require that you stay on campus either before or after other students arrive or depart.

 

Work Hours

Though each school has unique policies, some schools may require you to stay during all or part of breaks (including Winter Break), keep your dorm door open during your “on duty” hours so your residents can drop by, or place a limit on how many nights you can be away from campus each semester.

 

If possible, research this part of the job before applying. It’s usually the make-or-break part for most applicants.

 

Meetings

During the school year, you’ll have several different types of administrative meetings to attend. For instance, there will be your (likely weekly) RA meeting, where you meet with other RAs and your supervisors to debrief on your past week and plan for the next.

 

There will also be other team building activities throughout the year that will let you bond with your fellow RAs, as well as trainings for things like drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and fire safety.

 

Overseeing Residents

Your primary duty, of course, is to the residents you oversee. While you’ll plan floor meetings and decorate your hall(s) no matter which students you supervise, if you’re assigned to freshmen, you might have extra responsibilities. For example, while all students living in dorms have floor meetings at least twice per semester, you may be required to host a hall meeting with freshmen up to once a week.

 

You might also be required to plan or supervise group/floor activities.

 

Most of your interactions with residents, however, will be on a one-on-one basis. And this is where your interpersonal skills will really be put to the test: resolving roommate drama, handling noise complaints, dealing with sickness and emergency services.

 

It’s a big, complicated job and you need to make sure you’re prepared going into it.

 

Although being a resident assistant offers many financial perks, you shouldn’t apply just because you want to save money. The position is a lot of work, and both you and your residents will be best served if you’re emotionally invested in your RA duties.

 

 

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This post was written by Jennifer Kaplan, a senior studying Comparative Literature and Political Science at Barnard College. She’s worked as a tutor, helping students with the Common App.

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