Pros & Cons of Being a Resident Advisor
When you first got to college, becoming an RA may not have been on the top of your to-do list. You probably imagined yourself heading out to fun parties with your friends on a Saturday night, not doing rounds in the dorm.
Now that you’re a full-time college student, the idea of becoming a resident advisor seems slightly more appealing. Sure, you’d have to deal with some negatives, but the job does come with its perks. Before you jump into life as an RA, it’s a good idea to think through some of the benefits and downsides to determine if it’s the right decision for you. Here are a few common starting points.
What Is an RA?
A resident assistant or resident advisor, is live-in position held by students. Generally, the goal of an RA is to create a safe and comfortable environment for the residents of a dorm. Depending on the school and dorm, the list of responsibilities and tasks may vary, but typically include things like:
• Enforcing the rules and policies of the university or college.
• Sharing information about the residence hall, campus activities, and available resources.
• Mediating conflicts between roommates or floor members.
• Coordinating and hosting programs and events for the floor.
If the majority of your students are freshman or are new to campus, you’ll also likely be responsible for helping students acclimate to their new surroundings.
The application process is typically rigorous and can be time consuming. After being selected for the job you’ll also usually have to attend training, which can be fairly intensive depending on the school.
The Pros of Being an RA
Here are some of the biggest benefits of being a resident assistant during college.
Getting Free or Discounted Room and Board
One of the most appealing reasons for students to become an RA is a significant discount on housing. Many colleges pay RAs with free or discounted room and board, sometimes even including food from the cafeteria. Compensation can range from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the school.
Consider this: the average cost of room and board alone at a four-year public institution was $11,400 in 2018. If you were planning on paying for room and board with student loans, becoming an RA could allow you to graduate with a significantly reduced debt burden.
Developing Leadership Experience
Many RAs say the best part of the job is learning how to calmly and confidently take control of a situation. Being an RA means you’re in charge, and that means making decisions quickly and standing by them. The more you’re forced to assert yourself, the more natural it becomes.
That’s a valuable skill to have in the real world. Whatever your chosen career path, developing leadership experience can help you progress quickly.
Having a Room to Yourself
Some colleges give RAs their own private dorm room. This perk is a huge benefit, especially for students who want more privacy but can’t afford a single room. Beyond the increase in quality of life, living without a roommate can allow you to focus more deeply on your studies and get a better night’s sleep.
Not all schools automatically give RAs their own room, so see what your school’s policy is before applying. Some universities may require a small fee if you want to live in a single room as an RA.
Meeting New People
The life of an RA is more than just a rule enforcer. They also organize events, answer questions about university life, and help residents with personal problems.
RAs oversee dozens of students, so there’s ample opportunity to make friends and form relationships. Meeting new people also grows your network, which can help when you’re applying for an internship or job after college.
Gaining Valuable Job Experience
Being an RA could add a boost to your resume. Think of all the skills an RA learns: crisis-management, written and verbal communication, leadership skills, and more. These are all qualities you can effectively leverage in a job interview.
When you apply for an internship or job, use your RA experience to prove how you can work in teams, how well you can problem solve and how confident you are in new situations. Employers respect college students who already have work experience, and time as an RA definitely counts.
Learning Time Management Skills
Being an RA is a huge responsibility and a major time commitment. When you become an RA, you learn to juggle and prioritize your activities. This can serve you well in other situations, like working in your chosen career path or going to grad school.
The Cons of Being a Resident Advisor
There are also a few negatives to consider before you accept your new role as resident advisor.
It’s a Big Time Commitment
Working as an RA is a serious time commitment. Typically you’ll have to do rounds a few nights a week. Each school is different though so confirm the responsibilities and job description directly with your college.
A student taking 12 credit hours a semester, for example, can probably work as an RA and not see major consequences for their grades. A pre-med student or someone studying for the LSATs might have a very different experience.
If you don’t think you’ll have enough time to be an RA and handle all of your school work, it may not be worth the effort. After all, doing poorly in your classes could affect your chances of getting into grad school or scoring a prime job after graduation.
Another factor to consider, as an RA you’ll be living where you work, which could make it difficult to maintain a life work balance. You’ll be on-call during nights, weekends, and sometimes holidays. While this could mean you can study in your room, it could also mean you’re interrupted with an emergency that you’ll be responsible for handling.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not you’ll be able to handle the time commitment with your workload it could be worth talking to a current RA who is in your major or program of study. Ask how they’ve been handling the time commitments and juggling their responsibilities.
Have they been overwhelmed? Ask them if they have any tips for how to be an RA in college and still be a successful student. While everyone is different, this could provide a baseline to see how difficult balancing everything will be for you.
Impacts Your College Experience
Acting your age is one of the best parts of going to college. Staying up late, watching movies instead of doing homework is all part of the college lifestyle—unless you’re an RA.
Part of your responsibilities as an RA will be to enforce campus rules and policies, which can mean you need to uphold those standards in front of your students. You may even need to watch what you post on social media or risk being reported to the Resident Director.
If you go to a university where people tend to move off campus after their freshman year, you could end up feeling left out. RAs have to live in the same dorm as the students they supervise, and that means sharing a bathroom with a dozen other people, not having a kitchen, and subsisting on dining hall food.
Living in a big house with all your friends is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If that kind of lifestyle is something you’ve always dreamed of, becoming an RA might not be right for you.
Limits Extracurricular Activities
When you’re an RA, your time is mostly spent going to class and taking care of your residents. Most RAs have to be on their floor a certain amount of time, limiting the room in their schedule for extracurricular activities.
This can be hard to reconcile if you have other passions that are time-intensive. Joining a club soccer team might be hard if they practice twice a week and you have rounds at the same time. Be realistic about what you want from college and how being an RA might affect that.
What to Do with Your Student Loans
Even with the supplemental income you earn as an RA, you may still need to take out student loans to finance your education. If that’s the case, know you’re not locked into the loans you took out before you graduated.
After you’ve finished college and have joined the working world, your new financial standing may allow you to refinance your student loans to a lower interest rate.
If you have federal student loans, refinancing them means you lose out on federal benefits like deferment or income-driven repayment plans. To see how your student loans could improve when you refinance, however, take a look at our student loan refinance calculator.
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