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The pros and cons of being a college resident assistant (RA)

Published April 5, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    Resident advisors (RAs) play an invaluable role in helping college students living on-campus in dorms and other student housing. They hold many responsibilities, including planning dorm activities and helping to resolve conflicts between roommates. RAs also help ensure residents follow the rules colleges set for students living on campus. In return, they usually get free housing.

    Given that housing is a significant expense, this can seem like a very exciting opportunity for students wanting to save money and give back to their college community. Still, it’s important to go into it with your eyes wide open, as it comes with a lot of work and responsibility.

    Let’s break down the pros and cons of being an RA.

    The pros of being an RA

    You could save money

    For the most part, students who become on-campus RAs get free housing. With the average cost of a dorm at a four-year college for the 2022-23 academic year (the latest year data is available) being $6,774, that can mean huge savings. The job can also come with extra money-saving perks like free parking, access to a dorm room that your college might charge a premium for, and even a free meal plan.

    You likely won’t have a roommate

    For the most part, as an RA, you won’t have a roommate (and you won’t have to pay extra for the perk). For people who like privacy, the ability to study in their dorm room, want to decorate their space their way, or just don’t like to live with others, this perk can be huge.

    It can be a resume builder

    Applying for internships and jobs in college can be challenging because you probably don’t have much of a work history, and a work history is crucial to building a solid resume.

    That’s where being an RA can really come in handy, particularly in the years during college and right after college, when you don’t have much on your resume as far as work experience. It’ll show future employers that you are responsible, good at time management, experienced in conflict resolution, and not afraid to work hard.

    It’s a great way to give back

    If you had a great RA or other upperclassmen who were mentors, you know how meaningful it can be to have someone to turn to during college. Being an RA can be a great way to give back to your college community.

    The cons of being an RA

    It can be stressful

    Being an RA is going to put you right in the middle of the lives of your residents, and that can be stressful. Altercations, love triangles, friend problems, disciplinary action, safety violations — you’ll be putting out fires daily as an RA, and that’s not for everyone.

    Your schedule won’t be flexible

    For many college students, one of their favorite parts of college is having a lot of power over their schedule. This won’t be the case if you’re an RA. You’ll likely have a curfew, hours you’re required to be available in your room, and you might even be required to stay in the dorm over vacations if other residents are there.

    Sometimes you’ll have to be the bad guy

    There’s a disciplinary aspect to the role that isn’t for everyone. It can be hard to have to be the bad guy and discipline students who, in many ways, are peers, but that’s part of the job.

    It’s a lot of work (on top of your course load)

    For some students, the added work involved, on top of a busy course load, can just be too much to handle. For instance, if a crisis pops up with one of your residents, and you're studying for a midterm, you could get derailed when it comes to studying. It’s something to consider, especially if you’re going into a year that you know will be tough academically.

    Final thoughts

    There’s a lot to consider if you’re deciding on whether or not to be an RA. While the benefits can be huge, the drawbacks are very much worth considering.