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Should I Be a Resident Adviser (RA)?

A Seemingly Cool Job Has Its Pros and Cons

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Hispanic student reading in dorm room
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If you've ever lived on campus, your Resident Adviser (RA) was probably one of the first people you met on move-in day. RAs coordinate move in, get to know their residents, build community, handle emergencies, and overall make themselves available to people in their residence halls. Oh -- and did I mention that they get their own rooms?

Being an RA can be a great gig as long as you know what you're getting into. A private (at least most of the time) room, fun activities and job where you get paid to hang out with people can be counterbalanced by late nights, tough situations and a major time commitment. While the pros usually outweigh the cons, it's good to know what you're getting into in advance.

Being an RA: The Pros

  1. You get your own room. Let's face it: this is a major draw. When you aren't on duty, you finally get some private space of your own without having to worry about a roommate.
  2. The pay is usually pretty good. You may already want to live in the halls, so being paid with a waiver of full or partial room and board fees and/or a stipend can be a great deal financially.
  3. You'll get great leadership experience. While your role as an RA may require you to get your residents involved, it will also require you to step past your own comfort zone from time to time and develop some solid leadership skills.
  4. You can give back to your community. Being an RA is a feel-good job. You do good work, help people out, help build a sense of community, and make a difference in people's lives. What's not to like about that?
  5. It looks good on a resume. Let's be honest about this one, too. If you're looking for ways to demonstrate your leadership skills, being an RA looks great on a resume. And you can always use some of your experiences to demonstrate your "practical experience" in a job interview.
  6. The hours can be great. You don't have to worry about commuting to a job off campus or finding time to fit a job in during usual business hours. You're most likely already in your hall at night -- and now you can get paid for it.
  7. You'll be part of an awesome team. Working with other RAs and the rest of your hall staff can be a major benefit. Most folks involved in residence life are really interesting, engaging, smart people, and being part of a team like that can be a highly rewarding experience.
  8. You get to return to campus early. In order to get yourself moved in and your hall up and running (not to mention going through training), most RAs are able to return to campus earlier than everyone else.

Being an RA: The Cons

  1. It's a major time commitment. Being an RA takes a lot of time. You may need to get your paper done the night you're on call, but if a sick resident appears you have to handle it. Being good at time management is a key skill to learn -- early -- since your time isn't always your own as an RA.
  2. You don't have much privacy. When you're on duty, your room door is often required to be open. Your stuff, your room, your wall decorations: all of it becomes fodder for people who just want to come in and hang out. Additionally, even when you're not on duty, other students may view you as a friendly, accessible person. It can be hard to maintain your sense of privacy amidst that environment.
  3. You are held to higher standards. Anyone -- from an RA to a corporate CEO -- who is in a leadership position is held to a higher standard, even when they're not officially on the job. Keep that in mind when thinking about how being an RA will affect your life when you're technically no longer on the clock.
  4. You may have to deal with issues you already worked through your first year in school. If you have any first-year students in your hall, you may have to deal with issues like homesickness, self-confidence, time management, and freshman fears. It may be frustrating to listen to someone who has been at school for 2 weeks cry about their experience when you were able to move past everything years ago.
  5. You have to return to campus early. Returning early to campus for training, set-up, and freshman move-in can throw a major wrench in your summer plans. Coming back to campus a week (or two or three) early can have a major impact on your summer travel, research, or job plans.

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