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Resident Assistant Jobs: Everything You Need to Know
If you’re interested in getting more involved on campus, you may have looked into the resident assistant position. Resident assistants, or RAs, are undergraduate or graduate students who help residents transition onto campus and maintain order in their dorms. They may be known by different names, like resident adviser or resident care assistant, depending on your school.
Since many RAs are compensated with free or subsidized housing, many students apply in order to reduce their expenses. However, the RA position can be mentally and emotionally draining, not to mention a big time commitment.
Therefore, those who don’t feel passionate about the work may end up being miserable. For that reason, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you submit your application.
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What are the responsibilities of an RA?
The duties of an RA can vary depending on the school. However, most will fall within a few different categories.
Create a sense of community
Especially when assigned to first-year dorms, resident assistants are expected to help students transition into campus life. Part of this responsibility includes leading meetings and icebreakers to help students meet each other.
They also may organize events like study breaks and game nights throughout the year. This often entails collaborating with other RAs and the office of student life. On top of that, they’ll also keep up with and promote other on-campus activities and affairs.
Outside of planning events, RAs also try to create an environment where students feel welcome. They’ll make sure that their dorm or floor is a place where students can pursue academic and social development. This could mean enforcing quiet hours or addressing or reporting bullying.
Support students in their on-campus experience
Students should be able to look to their RAs to act as a resource for their on-campus needs. They may ask their RA about specialized meal plans, intramural sports or extracurriculars.
While many questions may just require a quick search through the college website or RA training materials, others may be more nuanced. For example, some students ask about how to approach a conversation with a professor. Others may want emotional support and advice after being rejected from a club they applied to.
Fortunately, many potential situations may have been covered in training or meetings. However, as an RA, it’s important to exercise your communication and problem-solving skills when unexpected conflicts arise.
Aside from supporting students directly, resident assistants are often tasked with maintaining a safe physical environment. While you probably won’t be expected to act as a building janitor, you may have to report clogged toilets and leaky water fountains. Some RAs may even have to schedule and oversee repairs or cleaning crews.
Follow and enforce campus rules
One of the potential downsides of being an RA is that you’re held to a higher standard than other residents. As an authority figure within the dorm, students and faculty expect you to be a role model. Some RAs may feel as though their actions are constantly scrutinized. For resident assistants, a report of misconduct may result in termination from the role.
Another less pleasant part of the job may be enforcing rules within your dorm. While you’ll probably get pretty close with many of your residents over the course of the year, it’s still your job to maintain order. Therefore, you may sometimes have to play the bad guy when it comes to reporting violations like partying or underage drinking.
Attend RA meetings and trainings
As an RA, you’ll probably spend a lot of time in meetings. Aside from leading floor meetings for your dorm, many resident assistants also need to attend weekly staff meetings to talk about relevant issues and plan for upcoming events. Some might also have team-building meetings to get to know the other RAs.
Even before the school year starts, many accepted RAs have to attend long training sessions to prepare. During these meetings, they’ll go over important information for the job. Some of these may just focus on logistics like supervisors, hours and scheduling. However, others may focus on key issues like mental health, alcohol abuse, sexual assault and fire safety.
What are the benefits of being an RA?
Working as an RA can be a challenge. Since you’re basically on call at all times, it can feel overwhelming for some. However, it can also be a rewarding experience.
Resident assistants have to exercise a variety of skills to do their job, including leadership, crisis management and communication. Not only can this promote personal growth, but it can also be a valuable experience to add to your resume. Many successful individuals served as RAs at their school, including Wellesley College’s Hillary Clinton and the University of Virginia’s Katie Couric.
If you think you’d like to pursue a career in student affairs down the line, the RA position is a great stepping stone. It’ll give you a great introduction to the field and equip you with many of the basic skills you’ll need. If you’re unsure about whether or not that’s the path for you, becoming an RA can also give you some hands-on experience to help you decide if you should pursue it further.
Compensation for RAs can vary widely by institution. For example, Northwestern University grants RAs a single room, an open access meal plan and a stipend of $500 per quarter. By contrast, Cornell College RAs receive $2,800 toward a single room billed at the rate of a double.
According to a survey by Reslife.net, 88% of RAs received housing, and 70% received a meal plan or a cash supplement. Additionally, 60% received a stipend. However, ⅓ of those stipends totaled less than $1000.
Since becoming an RA is a significant time commitment, it’s important to evaluate your institution’s package before applying. Many institutions will expect their RAs to limit or give up outside employment in order to focus on their responsibilities. Therefore, you’ll want to decide whether or not the job is worth the time and effort.
How do you become an RA?
If the RA position seems like the right role for you, the next step is to land the job. Competition for the resident assistant position may depend on a number of factors. While some schools might get plenty of applicants each year, others may struggle to convince more students to apply. Either way, most institutions won’t take just anyone, so the selection process can be quite involved.
At the University of Maryland, information sessions begin in December, and applications are due in January. Applicants must sign up for interviews and submit two references around January. After that, the University selects a subset of applicants to participate in a Groundwork course. Throughout spring semester, some candidates are offered RA positions, while others might choose to remain in the pool to be considered for future positions.
Just like with any job, it’s important to convey enthusiasm and interest during the application process. You’ll also want to be professional and friendly during the interviews, as well as in any other interactions you have with the office of student life.
While you may feel pressured to come off as extra outgoing, many RAs say that’s not necessary. If you’re naturally extroverted, that’s great! However, many selection committees will look for a diverse array of personalities. Therefore, it’s most important to be yourself.
The resident assistant position definitely isn’t for everyone, but it can be a great fit for many students. If you’re thinking of becoming a resident assistant, look into what the role entails at your school. Talk to the office of student life, get to know your RAs and attend interest meetings. Becoming an RA could be the highlight of your college experience!
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Frequently asked questions about becoming an RA
Is becoming an RA hard?
The RA application process varies by school, but it is typically more rigorous than the other campus jobs. Don’t take that to mean that you need an impressive resume to land the position – many RAs do not have extensive previous work experience. But you’ll have to demonstrate through interviews and on-campus involvement that you are ready to be a community leader.
Do RAs have to pay for housing?
This varies by school; some schools pay for their RAs’ housing, and others will pay for part of it. Other schools do not pay any of their RAs’ housing. That being said, it is typically one of the higher-paying jobs on campus. That is both in its hourly rate and the numbers of hours worked. Check in with your office of residential life to find out whether RAs receive subsidized housing.
How to ace my RA interview?
When selecting RAs, schools want to ensure that you are a student who shows empathy, is responsible, and can balance many different responsibilities at once. Make sure to prepare anecdotes to illustrate each of these characteristics about yourself, and remember to exhibit your past experience in an attractive way.
It can be a good idea to talk to some current RAs before your interview in order to find out what exactly they are looking for. The better prepared you are, the better you’ll do. Try to write out certain points you want to touch on and rehearse some of your anecdotes beforehand.
What skills do I need to be an RA?
To be an RA, you should be kind and responsible, and ensure that you have no troubles meeting your other obligations. Make sure to speak with compassion and act with understanding, as part of your role might involve getting some of your peers in trouble. This could be awkward if you have American History 204 with them on Wednesday mornings. Make sure you can handle this possibility gracefully before stepping up to be an RA.