Becoming an RA: A Campus Job that Builds Life Skills and Covers Housing

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One of the most expensive parts of going to schools away from home can be housing and groceries. If family is not able to support that cost, this can be one of the most daunting parts of paying for college. There are many ways to navigate this cost, like getting part time jobs between classes or living in university housing so part of that is covered in student loans. I am going to tell you about how I covered this expense and found an amazing community of people by becoming an RA.

RA is short for residential advisor or residential assistant, depending on the university. These are upperclassmen who live in the dorms and assist in running them. For most schools, these students are compensated with room and board. When I first started at my university, I had no clue that this was an option. It wasn’t until a friend mentioned she was applying that I found out it was a role open to everyone.

RA responsibilities vary widely across schools. There are commonalities though. Generally, an RA is responsible for a floor of new students, or residents. RAs become mentors and try their best to foster community in their floor and help give advice to students that are in the place they were not so long ago. The less glamorous part of the job is enforcement of university housing policy. This means doing night rounds with other RAs to ensure the safety and comfort of the community (this often means writing up parties). While that may sound like a lot of work and energy, it was not every night. Even though my staff was one of the smallest on my campus, I only had 1 night every other week and 2 weekends every semester. As with many campus jobs, being an RA is incredibly flexible and is able to work around class, study, and exam schedules.

(Above: A rock painting event I helped organize with other RAs for residents to get to know each other.)

Even though I applied to be an RA because of the housing benefits, I found a lot more meaning in the job. All my coworkers were driven and cared about others. These people ended up being some of my closest friends. The job certainly was not always easy, but we were never alone in it. I built friendships with some of my residents that are still strong years later. I also got to feel like I was making an impact in the life of others. Being an RA meant that we were trained to know resources for students and how to support people in times of crisis. College can be hard. Being able to be there for someone and showing them options when they are struggling is incredibly gratifying. Also, knowing those resources for yourself can help you get through the tougher parts of college.

(Above: My fellow RAs and dear friends)

Being an RA also teaches a ton of life skills. Public speaking, leadership, crisis management, cross-cultural communication, professional writing, and organization are just a few that jump to mind. The RA role stands out on a resume. Many of my friends have had amazing discussions with future employers because their interviewer was also an RA.

Becoming an RA is not the perfect housing solution for everyone but be conscious that it is often an option! If you live in student housing your first year, talk to your RA, and ask them about their experience. Becoming an RA might be a good fit for you!

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Written by Natalie Anderson on Mar 13, 2022