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There are lots of ways to save and/or earn money for college. Jocelyn Paonita over at The Scholarship System wrote a great article this week with some ideas for saving money in college. One sure way to save and possibly earn money in college is by becoming an resident assistant or an R.A. A resident assistant is a student leader who supervises the students on the floor of their dorm. Depending on the university, they go by different titles such as resident adviser, community mentor, or community adviser. So should your child consider becoming an R.A.?

I only remember interacting with an R.A. one time throughout my entire college career. Either the R.A.’s I had weren’t very good, or maybe we were all just lower maintenance back then. I did attend college AGES ago, of which I was reminded a few years ago by a group of high school boys who asked me if my high school yearbook had been carved on stone tablets. Buttholes.  🙂 I imagine being an R.A. these days is a little more difficult because everyone is so delicate now. I read an article about a university that built a cry closet on campus. I wonder if it is for the R.A.’s to use. 🙂

Let’s talk about how a student can become an R.A., and the pros and cons.

What are the qualifications to become an R.A.?

Qualifications can differ from school to school, but generally, most colleges and universities require that in order to be considered, a student must have lived in a dorm on campus for at least two semesters, have completed at least 30 hours of course work, and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.

My daughter and I talked during her freshman year about her becoming an R.A. in the future, and she decided to apply this year (her sophomore year) for a position next year. She did not feel ready at the end of her freshman year to apply. She felt she needed more time to get used to the rhythm of college life and to become more familiar with all that her campus had to offer. After living in two different dorms, she felt ready this year to apply. She applied earlier in the spring and was chosen for a position next year.


How does the application process work?

Most schools will hold orientation meetings throughout the school year where students can attend and learn more about the position. Interested students should attend one of these meetings and ask questions to see if becoming an R.A. is something they would like to do. They should also familiarize themselves with all of the deadlines of the application process.

The written application

The student will be required to submit an application where they list their general information, describe their leadership and work experience, provide references from the staff of their university or college, and write an essay describing why they would like to be an R.A., along with their vision for themselves in the role and what qualities they think they possess that qualify them for the job.

Should Your Child Consider Becoming an R.A.?Students should take the application very seriously, as it is the first impression the selection committee has of their personality and abilities. Students should list their involvement in campus organizations, clubs, and volunteer opportunities. They should highlight any leadership positions they have held and any recognition they have received for their involvement. The application should be treated like a resume’ that touts the student’s accomplishments.


The group interview

Once the application has been submitted, the student will be contacted regarding interviews. There is usually a group and an individual interview. The group interview tends to involve all applicants being observed at the same time while they are placed in different scenarios such as:

  • Encouraging a homesick student
  • Mediating roommate disputes
  • Addressing drug or alcohol use in the dorm
  • Tactfully addressing hygiene issues
  • Assisting a student dealing with depression and other mental health issues
  • Offering guidance regarding campus resources such as healthcare and tutoring

The interviewers are looking for students who are approachable, responsible, fair, and informed. Students can prepare for this interview by familiarizing themselves with university policies and practicing their professionalism.

Should Your Child Consider Becoming an R.A.?

Students should be polite and respectful to the interviewers and fellow applicants during the group interview. They have a lot of eyes on them during this part of the process and want to make a good impression.


The individual interview

During the individual interview students will be asked for detailed responses to questions like how will they build relationships among the residents on their floor? They might also be asked to describe a program or social event they would organize for their residence hall with a limited budget of say, $20. They may be asked to elaborate on how they would help resolve a conflict between two roommates. They may be asked about how they will manage their time between their studies and leadership duties. They might be asked to describe a time when they successfully helped resolve a conflict or diffuse a stressful situation. These are some of the many possible questions a student may encounter in their individual interview.

Should Your Child Consider Becoming an R.A.?

Students should focus on highlighting their experience, their personality, their organizational skills, and most of all, their enthusiasm! Their demeanor and answers should convey that they are excited about the possibility of a leadership position in their residence hall. They should also dress professionally.

After a student has completed the interview process, they will just need to wait for the committee to make its choices. Not only will decisions have to be made regarding which students will be chosen, but also to which resident hall they will be assigned. This can take some time, so be patient. Students can expect to wait at least a couple of weeks to find out if they were chosen.


What exactly does an R.A. do?

In addition to serving as a good role model and fostering relationships among residents, there are some practical duties expected of R.A.’s, which can include:

  • Checking students into the dorm in the fall and out of the dorm in the spring
  • Organizing social gatherings in the dorm
  • Documenting policy violations
  • Reporting maintenance issues to the appropriate staff
  • Conducting room inspections
  • Possibly working at a front desk a few hours a week if the dorm has a front desk
  • Enforcing quiet hours as specified by school policy

And that all important last line of every job description you will ever encounter:

Other duties as assigned! 🙂 This may actually be the most important directive on any job description, and the one that if embraced, can allow a person to shine in any job. Be willing to do what is asked, and then do a little bit more. And do it cheerfully. Nothing endears a person more to their superiors than being the one who will always jump in to do whatever is needed to accomplish the task. And by the way, kids, that’s how you get promoted, too. Don’t be the one whining about when you will be noticed and promoted. Throw yourself into whatever job you are given and then do the crap out of it with gusto. You’ll be noticed. 🙂

Should Your Child Consider Becoming and R.A.?

What are the pros and cons of being an R.A.?

First, let’s get the cons out of the way.

  • You have to report back to school earlier than other students, and stay later at the end of the school year. This can cut your summers a bit short.
  • You have to behave yourself now. 🙂
  • Your time will not be entirely your own any longer. You will need to balance your own studies and activities along with the needs of your residents.
  • You might have to be the “bad guy” sometimes, including taking away contraband drugs and alcohol, which means you won’t always be liked. This is good practice for life. There will always be someone who doesn’t like you. 🙂

Now the pros:

  • FREE ROOM AND BOARD! At the beginning of this post I mentioned there were lots of ways to save and/or earn money in college. This is a HUGE one. At most schools, R.A.’s get their own room and a free meal plan. Some schools also provide R.A.’s with a small monthly stipend. Take a look at the cost of attendance for your child’s school to determine the value of room and board.
  • I mentioned having to move in early and stay late as a con. It can also be a pro in that you will be able to move in and out with far fewer people around and the line for the elevator will be practically nonexistent. 🙂
  • Getting to meet all of your neighbors.
  • Getting to plan social events.
  • Developing life skills such as conflict resolution, time management, leadership, and how to motivate others. (The answer to that last one is FOOD.) 🙂
  • Not only does serving as an R.A. look good on a resume’, it actually gives a student skills that future employers would find desirable.

One very important consideration I want to mention is about the free room and board. Even though that is a huge financial perk, I would never encourage any student to choose to pursue being an R.A. strictly to save money. When my daughter first started talking about whether or not she would like to be an R.A., I told her to ONLY do it if she truly wanted the experience. One should never do a job like that for the money, because there will be days it will be really hard. On any given day, you might find yourself wearing the hat of a nanny, a therapist, a referee, a DEA agent, and a priest. You will reminisce about the days when YOU were the irresponsible one being shushed. 🙂 This is a job you will quickly come to hate if you are only in it for the money. That’s pretty much true of any job, but especially one where you are in charge of helping a lot of other people follow the rules.

If your child enjoys meeting new people and helping foster friendships among groups of people, then becoming an R.A. may be a great opportunity for them to exercise leadership skills and experience college in a whole new way.

Start talking about it together for next year if your child expresses an interest in becoming an R.A. Discuss the pros and cons, the implications on their time and grades, and do some homework. Most residential life sections of a school’s website will have a job description. Read through it and talk about it.

My daughter is very responsible and has always had a heart for helping people. She always sought out the person who needed a friend when she was little. She will have two years of college under her belt in a few weeks, and has great study habits and good grades. I think she was wise to wait until the upcoming school year to become an R.A. and I think she will learn a lot in her new position. I am excited for her AND my bank account.  🙂

Do you have any questions I didn’t cover? Or additional advice to share? Feel free to let me know in the comment section.

And I’d love for you to follow me on Pinterest!

Becoming an R.A.



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