CM’s Master Guide to Being a Resident Assistant

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Congratulations! You nailed your interview and convinced the dean that you can manage a hall full of reckless, irresponsible college students. Now that you’re a resident assistant, you might want to start thinking about more than just free room and board. To leave a lasting impact on your hall, you need to brace yourself for a year full of obstacles and learn to find a middle ground between you and your residents. Embracing the #RALife and prepping for the unavoidable awkward situations you find yourself in takes patience and charisma. But all the hard work goes a long way towards earning the “Best RA Award” in the minds of your hall mates. Thankfully, you’re not the first college student to enter the unpredictable world of RA-ing, so take a moment to learn from your predecessors.


The Job Description

Despite the self-explanatory title, nobody really understands what their resident assistant does. To answer the question that everyone asks, RAs assist their residents. Shocking, right? While people tend to call RAs “glorified hall monitors,” the job is much more important than that. “Being a resident assistant requires one thing: the willingness to serve. Whether it’s staying up late to listen, cleaning the toilets or taking a shift no one else wants, it all comes down to service,” Pacific Union College graduate Aaron Jewett said. RAs ensure the well-being of their residents, whatever that entails. If residents ask questions, RAs answer them; If residents are down, RAs lift them up; If residents vomit all over the bathroom floor, well, good RAs help with that too. RAs keep the dorm safe, sound and satisfied.

The Benefits

Every college rewards their RAs differently, and it’s important to check with your school’s policy before applying. The most common benefit that RAs receive is free room and board which doesn’t sound very exciting, but we’re talking thousands of dollars completely wiped clean from your bill. Set that cash aside for your future Lambo…or at least tuition (it seems that they’re the same price these days). Other colleges offer hourly pay, a free meal plan or a stipend for the semester. Regardless of the payment, RAs tend to score their own room. That means no more scrubbing your roommate’s dried toothpaste off the sink, tripping over your roommate’s pile of dirty laundry or waking up two hours before your first class every day thanks to your roommate’s third consecutive alarm. Hell, I don’t even need compensation—Just give me a single and I’m set.

The Commitment

Diving into the field of housing means waving your rebellious side goodbye. RAs act as role models, leaders and dorm enthusiasts. From the moment you accept the position, you agree to follow dorm policy and keep personal issues separate from the job. You might believe in free will, but if the school says students can’t drink in their rooms, it’s your job to enforce it. Even if you come down with the Monday Blues, that ear-to-ear grin better not leave your face. RAs are expected to adopt a new lifestyle and accept that even when they’re “off duty,” they’re never really off duty. RA life is challenging, exhausting and makes you look forward to the five minutes in the bathroom stall where you can finally relax. But does that mean it isn’t worth it? Absolutely not.


1. What does it take to be a good RA?

“Being a good RA means properly and professionally resolving conflicts that may arise in dorm life…Being a good RA means proper communication between your RA team and dorm staff…Being an RA can wear you emotionally a lot of the time, so if you don’t take time for yourself, you can burn out and be ineffective to meet your residence hall’s needs,” Pacific Union College senior John Mangan said.

2. What is the most frustrating part of being an RA?

“The most frustrating thing about being an RA is when you spend a lot of time planning a ‘really cool’ event for your residents and then nobody shows up. It’s easy to feel like you wasted your time and are unappreciated, but it’s more incentive to be present in the halls so that next time they’ll be more willing to hang out,” Point Loma Nazarene University senior Chandler Vargas said.

3. What is the most rewarding part of being an RA?

“The relationships that you build with fellow staff members and residents are extremely rewarding and often provide lasting friendships. Many of my best friends I met through Residence Life, and I have countless positive memories with them,” Whitman College graduate Luke Hampton said.

4. In your experience, what do first-time RAs struggle with most?

“The number one thing first-time RAs struggle with is confronting conflicts or incidents. It’s scary to knock on a door not knowing who or what is on the other side. Stay confident and don’t go into situations alone. Maybe let [another RA] handle the first few [confrontations] to see how you should respond,” Mercyhurst University graduate Toni Zusinas said.

5. How can RAs find a sweet balance between being an enforcer on the hall and being a friend?

“I found that being an enforcer was much easier once I’d established some sort of friendship with each individual. I tried to relate to each person in some way and once I had that connection, I was able to gain trust and respect. It allowed me to be an enforcer without losing their friendship,” Walla Walla University senior Daniel Hincapie said.


1. “Don’t try to power trip over your residents or try to be someone you’re not. Be yourself and be genuine. Your residents will respect that about you even if you never become great friends. Also, remember that they are people just like you…don’t hesitate to go out of your way to encourage someone.”–Chandler Vargas, PLNU Class of 2017

2. “Don’t be so incredibly strict. If something needs to be addressed then that’s your job, but don’t go eavesdropping on every door during your rounds.”–Toni Zusinas, MU Class of 2016

3. “Your RA team is full of individuals you can trust and call upon if you need anything. They are fun and interesting individuals that are working towards a common goal; don’t hesitate to ask them for help.”–Daniel Hincapie, WWU Class of 2017 


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Resident Advisors (TV Show)

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Kyler is a junior communication major at Walla Walla University in Washington state. He enjoys scary movies, afternoon naps and the occasional outdoor adventure.

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