Why Become an RA? Advice from Real RAs on the Ups and Downs of Res Life

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Attending college. Getting a free room and board. Becoming a great leader. Preparing for real life situations before adulthood. You can most efficiently combine all of these goals in only one way: a resident assistant position. An RA trains some time after their freshman year to help make residents feel welcome to college life. They act as a peer leader for college students who live on campus, a superior and a friend. An RA has the responsibilities to build floor community in their hall, host programs throughout the year, deal with any roommate conflicts, be there as a friendly face for anything needed and make sure all of the residents are following their university’s policies.

But with all the rules of the dorms and a limited taste of the life experience of renting your own apartment, why would a student become an RA?

Financial advantages

To help encourage college students to become an RA, universities have financial packages for these student workers. Every university has different arrangements, but they usually consist of at least a free room. Missouri Southern University senior Jay Collier has been an RA for the previous three years, and the financial benefits hugely influenced his decision to take this leadership position. “To be honest, the financial package was a big reason I became an RA,” Collier said. “Free room and board, stipend every month and we get a book voucher. It’s also really good for a resume and improving leadership skills.”

The financial deal is a little different at all institutions, and at Washington University, it actually changes based off of the length of having the job. Senior Kathryn Achuck explains the financial side of things for WashU in her second year as an RA. “Here, the financial package depends on how long you’ve been an RA,” Achuck said “The first year, you get a free room and half of a meal plan and the second year you get a free room and the full meal plan. Rarely do people do it for three or more years, because you have to be a junior to get the job, so you’d have to be in grad school pretty much.”

Missouri Western State University junior Paul Granberry has been an RA for two years and shares what his financial gain is at his university. “I get a free room and board for being an RA,” Granberry said. “So, I have $1,600 on my card that I can spend at any eating establishment in the university. I also get paid $150 each month throughout the school year.”

Although it may start out as just a way to help pay for school and look good on a resume, there are so many different reasons to be an RA. It helps students grow and adapt to real world problems.

Learning to Handle Adult Responsibilities

All college students have a variety of responsibilities, but RAs have more responsibilities than average students in order to create a nice residential hall environment. They must keep the residential halls intact, along with other obligations. Over time, RAs build these obligations into their everyday routine. “Our responsibilities are mainly geared towards our lifestyles,” Granberry said. “Have it be weekly desk shifts, weekly on call shifts, hosting programs or being on duty, it tends to just be an eventual routine.”

At many universities, RAs have to work the front desk in the residential halls a certain amount of hours per week. They help check out equipment, answer residents’ questions and answer phone calls. While someone works the desk, typically another RA works on-call shifts during the day, dealing with any problems that may arise. “We have to be on call and on duty so many times throughout the semester-which is when we respond to incidents, make sure there are no violations being made or unlock rooms for residents who got locked out of their room,” Granberry said. Once the evening comes around, on-call shifts end and there are typically multiple RAs scheduled to be on duty, where they all deal with problems. “From 8 to 5 p.m., there are on call shifts evenly distributed with all the RAs, and then after 5 p.m., there are two people on duty. They’re on duty until the next morning, and then the cycle resets,” he said.

In addition to dealing with incidents and letting residents into their rooms, RAs must conduct a certain amount of rounds throughout the halls. That means walking through every hallway, making sure nobody violates any rules or that some staff member addresses any maintenance issues. RAs on duty must hold on to phones or other communication devices provided by the university to communicate among hall staff. Having phone calls at any time of the night can lead to some long nights and lack of sleep, according to Achuck. “My sleeping schedule has really changed a lot,” Achuck said. “I used to go to bed relatively early, but now I stay up later because my residents are usually up until 1 or 2 in the morning. I have tended to adjust the times that I sleep since most incidents happen at night time.”

Along with weekly on-call shifts, desk shifts and duty days, RAs must conduct multiple programs throughout the semester. “We host programs to help residents interact with each other and sometimes to learn life lessons. We tend to do more informal events because advertising usually doesn’t affect how many people show up, it usually depends on their schedules,” Achuck said.

Interacting with others who live in other hallways or floors where most residents always hang out in their rooms can get hard for students, but these programs offer a way to create relationships, Granberry says. “I like conducting programs the most out of everything,” he said. “Having a variety of people come out and eat different food, play games or just hang out is a great way to create good relationships and countless memories.”

Learning to balance a schedule

Having to deal with RA responsibilities can feel difficult when also attending classes, being in other extracurricular or other typical college responsibilities. RAs also want to find time for themselves, but finding “me time” can be a challenge, Achuck says. “Balancing my life with res life can be pretty hard to do sometimes,” she said. “I want to find time for myself, but I don’t want to disappoint anyone. Balancing res life with college is just being flexible and good at time management.’’

When already having other obligations with college, RAs tend to be pretty busy. Having a busy schedule is just something that RAs must become accustomed to, according to Granberry. “The thing I like the least about being an RA is the busy hours,” Granberry said. “Over time, I just have to become accustomed to being busy with all the responsibilities that I have with both RA and college stuff.”

Collier suggests planning ahead of time in order to stay on top of both college responsibilities and RA responsibilities. “I like to plan stuff out by scheduling and managing during the little free time I do have,” he said. “I use sticky notes to stay organized. I have one for school and one for RA stuff. Every Sunday I make a week-long note, so I know what I have going on that week.”

Being busy with balancing their schedules, being an RA teaches some individuals how to adapt to the real world. Some improve with managing their time and some tend to take a different approach on their personal health. “I actually got healthier once I got this job. I think having to balance all of these different priorities helped me realize the value of my own health. I’m more dedicated and structured to a healthy lifestyle now. Eating well, working out and getting sleep are all things that I find are very important,” Collier said.

Although time management and keeping a healthy balance in the life of an RA looks tough, it can pay off in the end. Sacrificing partying and going out every night may not seem ideal, but it is worth it in the long run. “The only real disadvantage is that we sometimes miss out on certain social elements of college, like parties on-campus. There are certain rules with partying and such on campus for RAs, but one night of partying isn’t worth losing this job, though. It’s not that big of a deal for long- time benefits in this job,” Collier said.

Building Relationships

Making an impact on every resident can challenge even the friendliest of RAs, so creating relationships with different types in different ways gives RAs a taste of the dynamics of the real world. Having good relationships with residents helps smooth the icing on the cake. “I think building relationships is the primary job responsibility. It makes the whole year a lot easier and it shows that you are willing to care about them,” Collier said. “To let them know I’m not just the mall cop down the hall.”

Availability also helps residents feel more comfortable. Achuck believes that availability has a huge impact on how residents feel about their RAs. “Being available to your residents has a large impact on your relationships with them,” she said. “It’s difficult for them to come to you if you aren’t available. So, you have to make sure you’re on the floor consistently, make an effort to get to know your residents and make them feel welcome to college.”

Although creating relationships in the hall can be relatively easy at times, RAs still have to do their jobs. When violations occur, they must write up the residents. Catching residents with drugs or alcohol, an overnight guest when not allowed or loud gatherings during quiet hours test an RAs ability to play bad cop. If RAs become good friends with the residents, they have to make sure those friends still follow the rules, which can get difficult, according to Collier. “One of the harder parts is finding a fine line between being a friend and being an RA,” Collier said. “I make it very clear from the beginning that I am willing to be someone’s friend if they need a friend, but I have a job and I have to do what I have to do. I’m not out to get people, but it is my job.” RAs can’t be friends with everyone, but they try their best to create consistent relationships with as many residents as possible.

These relationships sometimes continue for the rest of their college careers. “One of the more rewarding things is having old residents come up and talk to me when I see them around campus. It makes me feel like I’ve impacted them because I have had close to 100 residents in my time here, so it’s definitely pretty cool when they come up to me,” Collier said.

Personal growth

The role of an RA helps college students prepare for the real world more than any other job at that stage of life can by putting them in certain situations that help them grow as a person and a professional. “I feel like this is the best college job that helps develop generic professional skills,” Collier said. “Being an RA teaches skills that help with anything and everything: people skills, conflict management, being responsible for other people and preparing for real life problems.”

Overall, being a resident assistant is more than just a job to help pay for college and a good leadership role to put on a resume. These individuals have on-the-job training for real life scenarios that they can’t receive at any other job at before adulthood. The relationships, experiences and growth that they gain is bigger than a free room to live in for eight or nine months; it lasts a lifetime.

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