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  • A resident advisor, or RA, is usually an upperclassman who lives on campus and serves as a mentor for newer students.
  • They’re tasked with enforcing dorm rules and creating a safe, inclusive environment.
  • Most RAs receive free or discounted room and board, among other perks.

If you’re looking for a college job, you wouldn’t be alone. In 2020, almost three-quarters of part-time undergraduate students were employed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. About 40% of full-time students were in the same boat. Becoming a college RA, or resident advisor, might be worth exploring.

RAs are usually upperclassmen who live on campus and serve as mentors to younger students. The role of an RA goes further than that and can offer some nice perks—but there are trade-offs. Let’s unpack what it all entails and if becoming an RA is right for you.

What is an RA in college?

A resident advisor is a college student who lives in student housing. They act as mentors to newer students living on campus. RAs are trained to create a safe, welcoming environment and to help freshmen transition to college life. Being an RA is a job like any other. That means you’ll have to go through an application process and meet your school’s eligibility requirements, but you can expect to be compensated.

What does an RA do in college?

Promotes a safe environment for students

A college dorm is usually a melting pot of different cultures and identities. RAs are typically trained in diversity and inclusion strategies. At the very least, students should feel safe and welcome. RAs often go a step further, planning activities and events that celebrate student differences and help folks connect. On the whole, they prioritize student safety and will intervene if there are any signs of potential misconduct.

Creates opportunities for social connection

Moving away for college can be a huge transition, especially when students are paired with roommates they don’t know. Throw in academic demands and homesickness and it’s easy to see how new students can get overwhelmed. Part of the RA’s job is facilitating community connections. That can include:

  • Group activities like themed get-togethers to break the ice and make friends
  • Dorm movie nights
  • Collective crafting and dorm decorating
  • Events that take students out and about around the community

Links students to campus resources

The RA should be well-acquainted with campus resources. That can include everything from mental health counseling and medical services to study groups and academic advising. It isn’t uncommon for the RA to check in with the students in their dorm to see what kind of support they need. If, for example, they’re thinking about switching their major, the RA might connect them with a more senior student who’s already in that program to share advice.

Enforces dorm rules

Student housing comes with a code of conduct. Every college is different but common rules include:

  • No weapons
  • No drugs or alcohol
  • No pets
  • No loud music after a certain hour
  • No candles or open flames
  • No overnight guests
  • No unregistered visitors
  • Curfews or quiet hours

The RA is usually required to do dorm checks to make sure the rules are being followed. If students are violating the rules, the RA will follow their college’s protocol for addressing the situation.

Helps students navigate conflict

College roommates aren’t always matches made in heaven. Students may run into issues with their suitemate or someone else who lives in the dorm. The RA can be a great resource because most are trained in conflict resolution. They may bring the parties together to facilitate a safe, productive conversation. In extreme situations, they can help arrange a roommate switch or a transfer to another dorm.

Pros and cons of being an RA


  • Compensation: RAs typically receive free or discounted room and board. In some cases, RAs might also get a private room. Many colleges also offer a salary or hourly wage on top of that. You might receive a break on your meal plan as well.
  • Leadership skills: Being an RA can be a great addition to your résumé, especially when applying for internships and post-college jobs. It demonstrates that you know how to be a leader and a creative problem-solver.
  • Mentoring: Guiding younger students can feel really satisfying. Being an RA might be a great opportunity to connect with others and feel like you’re making a difference.
  • Meeting new people: Connecting with students and other RAs can help build out your social circle and expand your network.


  • Time commitment: Your college may require you to put in a minimum number of hours, which may affect your study time and social life.
  • Living on campus: Dorm life may feel restrictive as an upperclassman. You’re also sacrificing privacy if you have to use a shared bathroom and communal living spaces.
  • Enforcing rules: If students are breaking the rules, you’ll have to be okay with being the bad guy. It’s probably a safe bet that not every student will want to be your friend.
  • High stress: The demands of being an RA could be stressful, especially if you mix in late nights and emotional drama between students.

What skills are required to be an RA?

  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Clear communication
  • Leadership qualities
  • The ability to thrive in social settings
  • Good time-management skills

Who is eligible to be an RA?

Every college has its own criteria for becoming an RA. Students generally must:

  • Meet a minimum GPA requirement
  • Be enrolled in a certain amount of credits at the school
  • Have completed a certain amount of coursework prior to applying
  • Be in good standing in terms of conduct

How to become an RA?

Check with your college to see what the process looks like. You’ll likely have to provide references, complete an application, and confirm that you’re available to make the time commitment. You’ll also have to get through the interview process. If you do become an RA, chances are you’ll have to maintain a certain number of credits and stay in good standing academically and in terms of conduct.

Is being an RA worth it? For some, it can be a cool experience that beefs up their résumé and provides free or discounted room and board. Only you can decide if it sounds like the right fit for you.

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