There are certain things you can do in life that automatically indicate you’re a nice person. You might let a desperate fellow customer go ahead of you in line at the supermarket, even if he wins that trip to Hawaii the store had mysteriously started advertising that day. You can tell the waitress that the french onion soup is delicious, even if you only ordered it to try to conquer your irrational childhood abhorrence for french onion soup. You could agree to play board games with your annoying little cousin despite the fact that you’d rather amputate your own thumbs. Partaking in any one of these activities clearly demonstrates that you’re a selfless and altruistic person. Fortunately, being a college Residence Advisor is not among these activities.
Instead, an “RAship” has enormous perks that could potentially make your college experience a lot easier, whether financially, socially or even academically. And, you can do it all under the guise of helping curious and disoriented freshmen adjust to college life.
The part you probably weren’t prepared for is that the freshmen were only disoriented because they drank way too much alcohol before classes even started, and now you—as an RA—are obligated to discipline them for the windows smashed, drug policies broken and ambulances called (the following advice is based mostly on personal experience, you see).
Full disclosure: I am not—nor have I ever been—an RA, yet as freshman year’s official “RA-teacher’s pet,” I’m a de facto RA-in-training. Also, I became well acquainted with the administrative and/or disciplinary side of the RAship, having employed my own RA’s “just-text-me-if-you-want-me-to-tell-your-neighbor-to-turn-down-her-obnoxiously-loud-music” offer more than a couple times. It just got a little awkward when my neighbor was my RA (let’s just call her “Christie”).
Despite siccing my RA on my floormates with irksome frequency, I learned a lot from Christie. As the leader of orientation week for my dorm floor, she was one of the first people to make me feel welcome at college. She helped facilitate a sense of togetherness during orientation that made it easy to make new friends. And it’s a huge benefit of being an RA that you get to help fellow students adjust to the social scene, living arrangements and, eventually, academic climate of college, an adjustment process that mostly occurs during orientation. The downside is that you have to come to school for orientation, cutting summer vacation short.
In fact, RAs are often expected to stay on campus until everyone they’re supervising has left, which can shorten breaks, eradicate travel plans and generally lead to misery and impatience. However, a limiting schedule might not be so bad if you plan on staying for breaks anyway, whether to do research, hang with friends or simply because home is too far away. And colleges often provide incentive for students to become RAs. You might get a free single, extended meal plan, complimentary access to laundry rooms and more. Some RAs even receive a stipend, as colleges will often consider Residence Advisory an “on-campus job.”
However, even if these perks sound appealing, not just anyone can become an RA. As role models for a sizable group of students, RAs are expected to have excellent leadership skills, complete a rigorous application process and sometimes fulfill high academic standards before they are considered qualified.
And then there are the various reasons that tend to negate the benefits. For example, even if RAs are awarded singles they usually have to live in freshman housing, which is often sub-par. Also, depending on the school, more flexible meal plans and accessible laundry and other services may not be notable incentives. According to my parents, the quality of college food has improved over the decades, yet a meal plan that substitutes cold mush for hot mush still isn’t too impressive.
Living with freshman may also entail getting tied up in some nasty feuds. I myself chose my freshman housing without much knowledge as to the reputation of certain dorms, houses or suites on campus. The result is that drunken imbeciles could be doing skateboard tricks in the stairwell all night when some floormates are trying to study or sleep. Tension (or worse) inevitably results. Routine room checks are tedious and time-consuming, but usually the “surprises” are most dreaded among RAs.
Co-ed floors can also be a source of added strain on RAs, who may not find out about someone’s fireworks-experiment-gone-wrong in the opposite sex’s bathroom for quite some time after it actually happened. And even when she does find out about dorm damage, an RA is quickly thrust into the role of sleuth to find the perpetrator. It turns out not many people are willing to admit they were stupid enough to blow the toilet bowl off with fireworks.
Despite some inevitable bumps in the road, RAs have a great opportunity to unite rival college archetypes around community events and other planned programs. Colleges typically supply RAs with money to fund these events, and sometimes RAs can keep the leftover funds at the end of the semester as long as they meet certain event quotas. This demonstration of organization and leadership skills also acts as an impressive supplement to an RA’s resume.
But there are more noble incentives than financial compensation and resume-boosting. RAs also tend to develop a close relationship with the students they oversee, leading to lasting friendships and social connections. Furthermore, as an accessible upperclassman, students in your house, suite or floor will often come to you seeking help with school. These mini-tutoring sessions could help you keep intro-level course material fresh in your mind, prepare you for tutoring jobs and allow you to learn the material in greater depth. Still, colleges will at least hope that altruism is one of your motivations for joining the residence life staff.
Obviously, the benefits and detriments of an RAship vary widely depending on the school. Overall, having helped a group of freshman adjust to college life may be rewarding but also frustrating at times. On campuses across the country, whether or not it’s worth it to become an RA remains a hot-button issue. At the end of the day, being an RA is probably both more challenging and more beneficial than pretending to adore french onion soup.