College Dorm Life: What Is an RA?

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A resident adviser—or "RA"—is an upperclassman who is available to college students living in dorms and resident halls. Dorm residents may be more comfortable talking to an RA than an older adult in a sterile on-campus housing office, making this peer-to-peer guidance can be valuable for incoming freshmen.

Importance of the RA's Job

Schools have different names for their RAs. Some use the term "resident adviser'" while others say "resident assistant." Other campuses may use the abbreviation "CA," meaning "community adviser" or "community assistant."

Typically, the RA is in charge of a single floor in a dormitory, though in larger dorms RAs are responsible for a wing of the floor instead of the whole floor. They are often upperclassmen who live on the floor and are available in shifts to aid the other students with a variety of concerns and build a sense of community. If one RA is unavailable for an urgent matter, students can turn to others in their dorm for help.

The RA may be one of the first students a college freshman comes in contact with on move-in day. RAs offer answers to move-in day questions for anxious students and their equally concerned parents, and their experience on campus is invaluable to new freshmen who have many things to learn about college life. Students apply to be RAs and go through extensive interviews and training to ensure they are prepared to handle most situations that might come up.

What a Resident Adviser Does

Resident advisers demonstrate great leadership skills, compassion, and are trained to solve the problems of a diverse group of students. 

RAs oversee dorm life, plan social events and keep an eye on homesick freshmen. They can provide a sympathetic ear and practical advice for students who need help dealing with academic, social, medical, or personal problems.

RAs also mediate roommate disputes and enforce residence hall rules. This includes calling campus security for alcohol- or drug-related infractions and seeking medical attention in emergencies.

Overall, the RA should be a person who college students can turn to and someone they can trust. If an RA cannot solve a problem or feel that more help is needed, they can direct students to the right campus support center where they can find help.

The job of an RA is not all about solving conflicts. They are also there to ensure college students are having fun, relieving stress in healthy ways, and simply enjoying college life. A good RA will notice when a student seems to be uncomfortable or unhappy and will reach out in an unobtrusive but supportive way to offer help.

RAs may also schedule a movie or game night as a break from finals week, host holiday parties, or other fun activities to bring their residents together.

Who Can Be an RA

Most colleges require that RAs be upperclassmen though some will consider well-qualified sophomores.

The application process for becoming an RA is rigorous because it is a very important job. It takes a special type of person to be understanding, flexible, and stern enough to handle the responsibilities of a resident adviser. It also requires patience.

Many college students choose to apply for an RA position because it is a great experience that looks good on a resume. Potential employers appreciate leaders with real-world problem-solving skills.

RAs are compensated for their time because it is considered a job on campus. This often includes free room and board, though some colleges may offer other benefits as well.