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Resident Assistants: Who They Are and What They Do

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Transitioning from high school to college can be a big deal. It’s one thing to expect tougher classes , but there are quite a few people you’ll have to deal with in college— people that you probably never heard of back while you were in high school, especially if you move out of your parents’ home to live on campus. Although living in the dorms is fun for many students, it can wind up being harder than you’d imagined. If you ever need assistance or advice while you’re living on campus, you can speak with your resident assistant.

What is a Resident Assistant?

Resident assistants, sometimes shortened to RA, are college students that are employed by the college to help out with everyday life in the dorm. Most schools have one resident assistant per floor in each dorm building. Resident assistants are upperclassmen that have lived in dorms before and understand the ins and outs of daily dorm life. The university uses resident assistants to help their fellow students and make sure that people are following the rules while living in the dorms.

Although the procedures vary from school to school, students that wish to become resident assistants have to go through a rather stringent application process. Resident assistants need to have lived in the dorms for a set amount of time and meet other various requirements, including a minimum GPA.

Being selected by a college to be a resident assistant is a fairly competitive process, because the position typically comes with free or reduced room and board. That can drastically cut costs or the amount of student loans needed for the school year, and it makes the position worthwhile for a lot of students.

It’s also a respected position of leadership and authority that involves organizing group events for students in the dorm, as well as quite a bit of conflict resolution. The title of Resident Assistant should make a good impression on resumes or graduate school applications for those reasons alone!

What Does a Resident Assistant Do?

Being a resident assistant isn’t as easy as it sounds. They have to work hard for their free or discounted dorm room! Resident assistants are usually required to arrive at school a week or two early so they can undergo training programs before the general student population moves into the dorms. They are educated in all of the dorm rules, and they’re taught what to do should a student is caught breaking those rules. They’re also coached in general first aid, taught what to should an emergency – medical or other type of emergency – occur on their floor, and how to help handle disputes between roommates. They have to deal with keeping track of their residents during inclement weather incidents, such as evacuations for hurricanes or flooding.

Resident assistants normally organize events for the students living on their floor, typically at the start of school – a “welcome” meeting of sorts – to go over rules and regulations. They may also hold other socials or events throughout the school year in order to get students together to go over any necessary information.

One downfall of being a resident assistant is the fact that they’re often thought of as “the bad guy” among other students. Underage drinking is an illegal activity that somehow manages to happen anyway on most college campuses, and resident assistants often have to break up parties or fights and report the offending students to the college or university. Students who were caught breaking the rules wind up feeling that it’s the resident assistant’s “fault” for turning them in, even though their job is to enforce the rules of the dorm and the school.

In some instances, resident assistants even act as peer counselors. They have to feel comfortable talking with students about conflicts with roommates or floor mates, or even personal problems such as depression or eating disorders that the students don’t wish to talk about with “official” counselors.

The role of a resident assistant isn’t a piece of cake, but it’s a rewarding job that carries several benefits along with its downfalls. If you’re interested in becoming a resident assistance, contact the Residence Life office at your school and find out if you’ve got what it takes!


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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