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Should You Become a Resident Advisor?


Being a Resident Advisor (or “RA”) often comes with significant perks (like free room and board), but there are pros and cons to consider before you apply for the job.

What is an RA?

A college RA, also known as a Resident Advisor or Resident Assistant, is an undergraduate or graduate student who lives in the dorms or other student housing and serves as a supportive resource for campus residents.

RAs are responsible for creating a welcoming, safe and supportive living and learning environment and for communicating and enforcing university and campus housing rules. Their duties can include planning and conducting community-building events, resolving conflicts between roommates, helping students who are struggling academically, and even giving key cards to residents when they’re locked out in the middle of the night.

What makes a great RA?

Great RAs genuinely like people and want to help the students in their dorm adjust to college life and succeed academically. They must also be good communicators because, in addition to their residents, RAs often interact with a variety of individuals, including university officials, faculty, staff, parents and campus police.


Cultural competence is also important. “I served residents from backgrounds spanning various regions and countries,” says Angela, an RA at University of South Carolina and a student featured in CollegeData’s Road to College Student Stories. “I had to actively seek out their interests and remain open to learning from their unique backgrounds. Understanding my residents’ experiences enabled me to contribute positively to their on-campus journey.”


Gabby, a former RA at Xavier University also featured in CollegeData’s Student Stories, adds, “Some qualities that may give you an advantage are being able to think on your feet, remaining cool in emergency situations, and being an active listener.”


If you think you might have what it takes to be an RA, here are some pros and cons to consider.

Pro: Free or discounted room and board

Getting a free, single room in the dorms can be a strong motivator for becoming an RA. This benefit can significantly reduce your college costs, and some positions also come with free or reduced-price meal plans as well as a stipend.

It’s always smart to investigate what benefits you’ll receive, as housing benefits and pay for RAs vary widely among colleges. For example, for the 2024-2025 school year, RAs at the University of Minnesota receive a free room, a free unlimited meal plan, and a $250 stipend paid each semester, while RAs in the apartment residences at Iowa State receive a $3,588 stipend per semester and a free shared apartment, but no meal plan.

Con: Living in a fishbowl


RAs are considered role models and representatives of their college or university. As a result, they’re held to a higher standard of conduct than the residents under their supervision. “You have to follow the same rules you tell everyone else to follow,” writes former RA Kate Beckman in Cosmopolitan. “If you don't want your residents coming back to the dorm drunk, you can't do that either.”

Any reports of misconduct on your part may be grounds for termination, so how you behave on and around campus is important. This can make some RAs feel that they are being watched – even when they’re technically “off duty.”

Pro: Skills development and training

RAs usually gain leadership experience and develop effective skills in communication, conflict resolution, project and event management, and public speaking. These skills can be invaluable, and they also look good on a resume or grad school application.

“This role not only taught me to think outside the box but also equipped me with the ability to communicate effectively during times of crisis, whether with students, parents, or authority figures,” explains Angela.

Some RA positions even come with formal training in leadership, diversity and inclusion, suicide prevention and other areas. Sometimes the training is required. For example, at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign RAs must take a 2-credit, 10-week class on the impact of social identity on the self and community.

Con: Long hours


Because RAs live where they work and work where they live, the job can feel never-ending. RAs have “on call” shifts where they must be available at any time of the day or night to respond to residents or emergencies. “I was essentially ‘on-call’ 24/7,” says Gabby. “It was a huge time commitment.”

In addition, RAs are typically expected to attend meetings during the week and work over school breaks. They’re usually required to be available a few weeks before school starts to prepare housing units for incoming residents, attend training and team-building events, and to help residents move-in.

The demanding hours, say some students, can make it difficult to find time to study or take part in other campus activities or clubs. At UIUC, RAs are expected to keep their weekends and evenings flexible, so they can interact with residents. They’re also prohibited from holding any positions in major campus activities that might conflict with the job, such as the Student Senate or marching band.

And, depending on what happens during your shift, your study time and sleep may be interrupted. “I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who is studying for the MCAT or pre-law, as you will have to split your time juggling RA responsibilities and studying,” says Gabby.

Other students say that balance is achievable — even if you’re pre-med  if you can manage your time well. “I was very busy with 16 credits, applying to grad school, working on a capstone, working 15 hours a week, and clubs, but I still managed to find time to have fun with friends,” writes one former RA on Reddit. “With good time management skills, you can make it work.”

Pro: MAKING a difference in students’ lives

Many RAs are truly interested in people and like to make a positive impact on their lives. They find it rewarding to contribute to their residents’ college experience and personal growth.

“If you’re [an RA] because you love working with people, want to see them grow, and want to serve as a support system, it’s worth it,” writes one former RA on Reddit. “Despite all the silly things you might have to do, you’ll get a lot out of working with your residents and being there for them.”

Some students were befriended or supported by an RA as freshmen, and that experience made them want to apply for the job. “Witnessing my RA’s genuine concern for her residents and her proactive approach to fostering a positive on-campus experience left a lasting impression on me,” says Angela.

Con: Handling stressful and unpleasant situations and sometimes laying down the law

Interacting with your residents isn’t always fun or rewarding, however, especially when you have to write someone up for breaking a rule or you have to shut down a party.

You also may be stuck with some dorm maintenance duties occasionally, like fixing a leaking faucet, unclogging a toilet, or replacing a busted light. Even if you aren’t expected to do the work yourself, it might be your job to contact and schedule plumbers, electricians, or maintenance staff to fix those problems.

Sometimes you may need to be a supportive friend during a romantic breakup or mediate a conflict between roommates. More significantly, you might also encounter crisis situations, including sexual assault, depression, suicidal ideation, and physical fights.

A Definite Pro: Friendship, Support and Community

ra-friendshipDespite the challenges of the position, RAs often say that one of the best things about the job is the connections and friendships they formed with their fellow RAs. My RA staff became my family each year, and I still keep in contact with a few of them,” says Gabby.I would really recommend this position to students who are looking for a community.”

If you’re considering becoming an Resident Advisor, the first question to ask yourself is why you’re attracted to the job. Remember that it’s not just about free room and board and try to image how you’d fare handling the various challenges and constraints that would be required of you. If they seem manageable, and you like being part of a community, truly enjoy working with people, and would find it satisfying to help other students navigate their first years of college, then you might have the makings of a great RA.

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