How to Be a Resident Assistant (RA)
A resident assistant is responsible for monitoring and supporting undergraduates in college housing on campus. As a resident assistant, or RA, you are also expected to be a role model for your peers and incoming students. Among the perks of becoming an RA is discounted room and board at the university and experience as a mentor in higher education. But the path to becoming an RA requires gaining the necessary experience and skills as well as submitting a strong application for the position. You should then strive to do well in the position once you become an RA.
Getting the Necessary Experience and Skills
Earn at least 40 undergraduate credits.To become an RA, you must first earn at least 40 undergraduate credits at your chosen university or college. Many RAs start off as first year undergraduate students and then apply for the position for the second year of their degree. Doing one year of full time classes will allow you to earn the required credits for the position.
- Some institutions may require less undergraduate credits to apply for the position. Check the listed requirements for the position to determine the number of credits you will need to apply.
- Most institutions will require you to have a cumulative G.P.A. of 2.75 at the time of your application. The G.P.A. requirements may vary based on your institution’s requirements for RAs, so be sure to check their specific guidelines.
- You may also be required to live in student housing for at least one year in order to apply to be an RA. This could be a dormitory or other student housing on campus. Living for one year in student housing will allow you to get a good sense of the atmosphere of student housing and make connections with your peers.
Learn the key tasks and expectations of the position.As an RA, you will be expected to develop community spirit in the residence halls by creating or adding to social programs and events for students. You will also need to be willing to lay down the law when necessary and report any incidents or issues among residents. In your role, you will act as a source of information for students and perform administrative tasks.
- As an RA, you will need to attend weekly staff meetings and hold regular floor meetings with the residents. You will also need to post information relating to the residence hall on bulletin boards or online forums.
- You will also need to be knowledgeable about the institution’s policies and procedures as well as campus resources.
Note the interpersonal aspects of the position.RAs are also expected to be the leaders or role models in the residence halls. You will need to be comfortable with being a role model and enforcing the rules of the residence hall. The position is very interpersonal, as you will need to be willing to respond to student issues and conflicts in a professional, helpful way.
- Another key aspect of the position is developing community in the residence hall. This means you must make an effort to connect with the residents and get students involved in social events in the residence hall. You will act as a leader in building community spirit and creating connections between residents in the hall.
- You should also have good listening and communication skills, as you will need to take the time to talk and listen to the residents. You will be expected to get to know the residents and create social programs or events for them.
Understand the “on-duty” tasks of the position.As an RA, you will be expected to perform several “on-duty” tasks. You may be required to be on-duty as a staff member for a set number of days in the semester, depending on your institution’s requirements. When you are on-duty, you will need to be on campus or close to campus so you can be easy to locate in the event of an issue.
- When you are on-duty, you will need to be prepared to respond to any emergencies or incidents in the residence halls and be able to mediate and resolve any conflicts among the residents. For example, you may need to respond to students who are over-intoxicated. You may also need to mediate physical or verbal altercations between residents.
- You will also need to write up and submit incident reports for any issues you addressed as an RA when on-duty.
Be prepared to mediate any issues or conflicts.As an RA, you will also need to be prepared to mediate any conflicts or issues in the residence hall. You will need to act as the problem solver, the listener, and the mediator for students. When a resident has a dispute with another resident or an issue with the residence hall, they will likely come to you. It is your job to be a good listener and work with them to come up with a good solution.
- You may end up dealing with mental crises as well, such as residents who struggle with depression, drug addiction, eating disorders, or alcohol poisoning. You may need to contact your supervisor or speak to a counselor to get advice on how to handle these mental issues with students.
- Keep in mind you may end up being the bad guy in certain situations, especially when you have to lay down the law and deal with a resident’s poor behavior. This is to be expected and considered part of your job. You are not there to judge anyone, only to enforce the rules of the residence hall and make living in the dorm enjoyable for everyone.
Keep in mind the perks of being an RA.Being an RA is a job, and like any job, you will need to dedicate time and hard work to the position. But there are several perks to being an RA and they could make the position worth pursuing. You should weigh the perks of the position against the expectations of the position to ensure it is the right fit for you.
- As an RA, you will have your own private room, paid for in full or partially by the institution during your time of employment. Depending on the institution, you may also receive a monthly stipend.
- You also get experience as a mentor in higher education and learn how to be a good role model to students. These perks may be ideal if you are planning on pursuing a career in higher education and/or working with young people. Having RA experience on your resume can look good to potential employers.
Applying for the Position
Complete the application.Depending on your institution, you may apply for the position through an online application or by dropping off an application in person. You should check the deadline for the application, which may vary from November to January, depending on your institution.
- You will need to submit a cover letter and a resume as part of your application. Make sure you emphasize any leadership roles or mentoring roles you have held in the past, through an employer or in a volunteer position. You should also include any positions or roles that demonstrate your organizational skills and your communication skills.
- You may need two professional references as part of your application. Try to choose references who can vouch for your leadership skills and your ability to be responsible and accountable.
Prepare for the interview.Once your application is processed, you may be called in for an interview for the position. You should be well prepared for the interview so it goes well and you can put your best self forward. Make sure you understand the expectations of the position and feel confident that you can fulfill many, if not all, of them.
- You should also be dressed appropriately, appearing well groomed and put together. Your overall appearance should be neat and clean. You should bring an extra copy of your resume and cover letter as well as a copy of your references.
- You should be prepared to field questions about your leadership skills and your people skills. You may have to answer questions about how you would handle a conflict between residents and how you would get residents engaged in community events or programs.
- Try to project open body language, where you maintain eye contact with the interviewer and position your body towards them. You should nod and smile to show them you are listening and try to answer any of their questions concisely and clearly. Make sure you ask any follow up questions you may have to show you are engaged and interested.
Get the training schedule.If your interview goes well, you may be invited to do training for the RA position. Training for the position will likely be mandatory and may be scheduled during the summer, so be prepared to sacrifice your summertime to get ready for the position.
- The training process for RAs is often extensive and detailed. This will ensure you are well-prepared for the role and do not feel overwhelmed or stressed in your new position.
Doing Well in the Position
Make yourself available to students.As an RA, you will be expected to be available for students who live in the residence hall as much as possible. Issues, conflicts, and incidents could occur at any moment, and it is your job address them. You may end up spending a lot of time in your dorm room or in the residence hall, when you are not in class, so you can be available for residents. You should be prepared to make yourself available for students and be willing to engage with students on a regular basis.
- You may end up creating a “Where am I?” board on your door so students know where you are and how they can reach you. This will allow you to let students know if you are “available”, “in class”, “at a meeting”, “asleep”, or “out of the room.”
Try to be a good role model.You will be expected to follow the rules of the residence hall and set a good example for the residents. You should act like a leader and a good role model by always following the rules in the dorm and following protocol. This is a major requirement of the position and you should try to act like a good role model whenever possible.
- Bear in mind that though you are expected to be a good role model, you are also human. Though you may try to always set a good example, you may make mistakes. You may forget a meeting with a resident or accidentally screw up some paperwork. If this happens, apologize, make amends, and move forward. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to always be perfect, because you likely won’t be and that’s okay.
Plan engaging events and programs.You will also be responsible for planning social events and programs in the residence hall to create a sense of community and connection. This could be fun, get to know you events like a “mocktail hour” event or an ice cream social in the residence hall. You may also plan events that relate to the institution directly, such as a homecoming football game party or a first week of class hang out. You will be responsible for making the events fun and engaging to students.
- Keep in mind it may be challenging to get students to participate in events and programming, especially if they are overwhelmed with school and other commitments. You may need to be a bit of a cheerleader and rally students to participate in events you are planning.
- You should also ask your residents what they would like to as an event or program. Making events that fit their needs and wants could bring up the level attendance and the amount of fun they have.
Avoid playing favorites.You may end up making friends with residents, especially if you are in the same age range and spend so much time living together. It’s natural that you may make friends and having close relationships with residents is a good thing. But you should be wary of playing favorites and showing preference for a particular resident because you are friends. Try to stay impartial and fair as an RA.
- Remember that if your friendship with a resident is really meaningful and real, they will respect your position as the RA. You should be friendly and open to all residents in the dorm, but you should also try to maintain a certain boundary so you do not end up showing preference to certain residents.
Practice self-care and get support from your staff.Being an RA can be stressful, especially if you are also trying to balance a full course load and other commitments. You should make sure you practice self-care as an RA and try to devote some time to yourself. This may be a quick nap between classes and on-duty time as an RA. Or you may try to read alone in your room with the door closed for 10-15 minutes before bed to get some "you" time. Fitting self-care into your schedule will be an important part of staying calm and balanced as an RA.
- You should also get support from the other staff in the residence hall. This could be other RAs on your floor or your supervisor. Reach out to them if you need help with a resident issue or if you just want to destress and blow off steam after a long day.
- You should lean on the resources offered at the university as well. Get in touch with the Residence Dean if you have a resident issue you cannot handle on your own or if you feel you need some guidance as an RA.
Video: Answering Questions about being an RA
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