As spring semester draws to a close, you realize it’s time to figure out where you’ll live for the upcoming school year. So what’s it going to be? Renting an apartment with all of your friends and ignoring your weeping bank account? Or the sub-par supplemental dorm room, which may not be ideal, but is at least affordable?
It’s at this point that some of you smart cookies might snap your fingers as you realize—wait a minute!—RA’s get free room and board! That settles it. You’ll become an RA, and your housing woes will be no more. But hold your horses, collegiettes, because there’s a lot more to being an RA than just a free single room all to yourself.
Being a Resident Assistant is seriously time-consuming, and has the potential to be extremely difficult if you’re not in it for the right reasons (i.e., if you’re doing it to get the free housing). However, there are also a lot of things about being an RA that make the job an amazing experience! Before you sign up, make sure you know exactly what the position will involve:
1. You’re expected to be in your room pretty much all the time.
Excluding the time you spare for classes. And the time you set aside for your extracurricular activities, although you’re not able to get as quite as involved on campus as you might want to, since your responsibility as a Resident Assistant is supposed to be your principal out-of-class activity. Any activity that could take you away from that needs to be approved by the RA coordinator before you sign up to join. Besides that, you can’t take any impromptu road trips when you’re supposed to be on shift, and any vacation time needs to be pre-approved by the RA coordinator way in advance.
My own RA here at Penn State, Lia Perlata, keeps a “Where Am I?” board outside of her room, dictating that at any given moment, she could be “here,” “in class,” “in a meeting,” “asleep,” “at the gym,” “out,” or “getting food.” It’s like the big clock at the Weasleys’ house in Harry Potter, or a not-remotely-technological version of FourSquare. She’s constantly got to be sure we know where she is, in case anyone in the hall needs something.
2. You’re responsible for dealing with any issues your residents face.
Any time that anyone in the hall needs something, they come to Lia, and it’s her job to help them sort through the wreckage. If you’re not used to this sort of thing, it might be a bit uncomfortable and emotionally draining—depending on the issues, which can range from a roommate conflict, to an academic issue, to a personal difficulty. RA’s are expected to handle any and every physical or mental crisis thrown their way—depression, drug addiction, eating disorders, alcohol poisoning, whatever it may be, the RA is there to help.
And when you put upwards of 50 kids in a hall together, things are bound to get dramatic. Which is where the RA comes in. It’s their job to mediate any fights between roommates, yes, even ones like “I hate when she chews her gum so loudly while I’m doing my homework!”
3. You’ll go through a pretty long training process.
Potential RA’s are trained on how to handle conflicts, briefed on campus services like psychological counseling and tutoring in case their students need them, instructed in emergency procedures, and more. That’s a hefty chunk of the summer spent learning things to help you handle dorm room drama, instead of soaking up the summer sun.
4. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy.
These kids are fresh out of high school, and they’re ready to show it by partying as hard as their tolerance-free freshman bodies will allow them to. It’s your job to stop it! As tempting as it could be to be the “nice RA” and pretend not to see the handle of cheap vodka those girls are sneaking into their room, you have to write them up. Even if it’s not something as bad as possession or underage drinking, you’ll have to ensure that everyone is following the rules. Jessie Nendza, another RA at Penn State, has had to approach people about breaching the dorm’s guest policies, noise violations, and more, and although it’s not a pleasant task, it keeps everybody in line.
5. At times, you will be hated.
No matter how sugary-sweet you were at the beginning of the year, no matter how patiently you’ve answered every question from “Where’s the laundry room?” to “Which classes should I take?” they’re still going to write you off after you write them up for breaking the rules. No one wants to be the one raining on everyone’s parade, and even though they know that you don’t enjoy having to punish them for partying, they’ll still shoot you dirty looks for a few weeks. They’ll respect you in the end, though, and that’s how you know that you’re doing the right thing!
6. You’ll need to model appropriate behavior at all times in front of your students.
Even if you’re 21, you aren’t supposed to be seen drinking, carrying alcohol around, or in a drunken state at all. The girls in that hall, whether they’ll admit it or not, look up to you. If they see you silly and slurring, you’ll lose their respect and any control you have over them.
Now, of course, that’s not to say that becoming an RA is all bad! There are definitely a lot of seriously glamorous perks associated with this coveted on-campus job.
1. You get free room and board, which includes both a big single room to yourself and, at some colleges, the cost of food in dining halls all across campus. Some colleges even offer free parking and discounts on tuition to Resident Assistance on campus, which is a huge plus. And some schools pay RA’s a financial stipend along with these perks, somewhere in the ballpark of $600 per semester. So free housing, free food, free parking, discounted tuition, and you’d get paid on top of it all!
2. You can plan a bunch of fun things to do with your students.
My hall held a “mocktail hour” in the dorm lounge, tie-dyed shirts, had an ice cream social, made bows featuring our school colors to wear at the homecoming football game, and did so many more fun things together, all thanks to the RA’s in our building. As an RA, you’re asked to utilize your creativity and outgoing personality to keep students engaged and interacting with each other. The activities that you coordinate shape those students’ college memories!
3. You’ll get a resume boost.
Being a Resident Assistant amps up your resume and gives you great experience for your career. You’ll learn important skills in leadership, event facilitation, conflict management, counseling, and negotiation, which are essential in the professional world. When employers see that you were an RA, they understand that you possess this skill set, and that gives you a leg up on the career competition.
4. Most importantly,you’re helping people.
Whether or not they’re willing to admit it, freshmen are scared when they first come to a new school. They’ll look to their RA’s for guidance, for a model on how to act and where to go on campus, and for help overall. Resident Assistants are a huge asset to students, and help them to stay afloat as their lives in college threaten to capsize from time to time. Residents are so grateful to have someone to talk to about their issues. Their appreciation alone is priceless! That right there should be enough of a reason for anyone to want to become an RA.
But the free single room doesn’t hurt!