Becoming a Resident Adviser (RA)

The application process can be long and challenging

Friends hanging out in college bedroom with their RA
Eric Raptosh Photography/Blend Images/Getty Images

You may have wanted to be a resident adviser or resident assistant (RA) since the moment you first moved on campus or you may just want to explore the idea. Either way, you've ideally carefully considered the pros and cons of the position and are now looking to get your application in. What should you expect? And how can you be sure that your application stands out from the crowd?

The RA application process varies, so you'll need to check with the office that manages residence life at your college to get to know the specific requirements at your school. While this may not be the exact process you experience, the following overview can help you prepare to apply and interview for an RA position.

Step One: The Application

  • What you'll be asked to do: Most colleges and universities have prospective RAs fill out a several-page application, either online or in hard copy. You'll be asked about your involvement on campus, why you want to be an RA, what your leadership experience has been and what goals you'd like to accomplish as an RA.
  • What they're looking for: Residence life professional staff are looking for people who come from a wide range of experiences. Be honest about what you've been involved in, where your interests are and what you're most passionate about. Conversely, if you haven't been that involved, be honest about that—and that you are now looking to become more involved in an RA role (and why). Your new potential boss(es) will be looking for people who are engaged with their community, want to be a part of building a community and are thoughtful about their role on campus. 

Step Two: The Group Interview

  • What you'll be asked to do: You may be asked to participate in a group interview, where you'll be put in a small group with other applicants. You'll most likely have to introduce yourself and participate in team-building and problem-solving exercises—all while being observed.
  • What they're looking for: Your potential new employers are looking for candidates who work well with others, who are self-confident, who listen well, and who demonstrate leadership skills. Remember, however, that this doesn't mean you have to worry about leading your team through a possible challenge; leaders can also be quiet people in the background who see common ground, can help mediate conflict and provide positive reinforcement for others who may be struggling. Just make sure to be yourself while doing your best to work well with those in your group.

Step Three: The Individual Interview

  • What you'll be asked to do: You'll have a much smaller interview with one (or two) full-time residence life staff members where you're the only candidate present. (This actually may come before or after a group interview, if there is one.) While this may sound nerve-racking, it can actually be less stressful than the group interview process. You'll be asked questions similar to the ones you saw on the application you first submitted.
  • What they're looking for: This is the most important time to be yourself, as your interviewer(s) is most likely looking for someone who is a good listener and that can make other people comfortable. Make sure to be relaxed and friendly, make good eye contact and be honest in your answers. Additionally, be prepared to think on your feet: Your interviewer(s) may ask you how you'd handle a variety of scenarios an RA may encounter or ask you to share an experience where you helped mediate a conflict. Keep yourself focused and do your best to communicate that you're a smart, friendly, helpful person that will make a great addition to next year's RA staff. And don't forget to bring some questions of your own!