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What To Know About Applying To Be a Resident Advisor

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

At most colleges and universities around the country, late fall not only means midterms, but also RA application season! If you are like most students, you may remember having an RA for your floor or building that lived with you during your freshman year.

 If you have ever wanted to become an RA and are looking for some tips on how to excel in the process, you have come to the right place.

What is an RA?

Before we get started, it’s important you know what an RA is. A Resident Assistant, or RA, is typically an upperclassman that lives with freshmen or other students in the residence halls.

RA’s have a number of roles, including enforcing housing policy and making sure that all students are safe. However, the most integral part of their role is to foster a welcoming and inclusive community for their residents so they feel like their dorm is a second home away from home. 

Depending on your school, the exact responsibilities that you may have as an RA may be different, but in general, some things you can count on doing include helping students with room lock outs, doing rounds of the buildings, coming up with community building events, and attending meetings for RAs.

If you want to know more about what goes on behind the scenes, I suggest reaching out to your current or former RA to get some more information on the process. That way, the information you learn will also be specific to your school!

Before we proceed, I also want to express one small disclaimer. I am an RA at Pennsylvania State University. While I have a general understanding of what it is like to be an RA at other schools, every school is different.

Even within Penn State, there are significant differences in the way the RA role is structured from campus to campus. Thus, while the core duties likely will stay the same, keep in mind that this is from my perspective as a Penn State RA.

While your experience may not be exactly the same, the key themes that come up during the process are likely universal at all colleges. 

Benefits of being an RA

While colleges would probably like if they could get away with not giving any compensation to their RAs, they realize this is a lot of work, and thus they compensate accordingly.

What you get depends on your school, but the general benefits you get include free room and board as a baseline. Some schools, Penn State included, offer monetary compensation on top of this, but the amount and frequency will vary by school.

Other universities may offer more benefits, so reach out to your specific housing office at your university to find out what you get as an RA. The baseline room and board coverage is typically enough to get many students to apply because of how much it can help out with expenses.

Everyone wants free housing and the other perks that come along with being an RA, so it is typically is a pretty selective process, but worth it if you qualify!

Interview process

So, now you know what’s in it for you, and you have decided you want to apply to be an RA. You are wondering how you can prepare so you have the best shot.

Each school has a different application process, but you can probably count on an interview to be incorporated somewhere in it. So, in this section, I will be covering the likely themes to come up during your interviews as well as possible questions that you might have (I got these questions!).

Before we dive into the questions, it is first important to take a look at common themes that will show up in your application process to be an RA. Your university is looking for students who truly want to be of assistance to their students and communities.

Sure, some people are applying only for the benefits of free housing, but the school can usually see straight through your answers if this is the case. Even if part of the reason you are applying is for the room and board, it is important to make sure you actually want to be an RA.

I will reiterate that being an RA can be hard and a lot of work, so make sure you actually want to become an RA before you apply. You will miss out on some fun events sometimes, and you may have to give up some nights out with your friends, but if it is worth it to you, then great!

Colleges will truly be able to see your passion shine if you are intrinsically motivated to be an RA, rather than extrinsically for the benefits. 

With this in mind, they are looking for a few common themes in your applications. They are looking for people who are truly passionate about the job and want to make a difference within their communities.

This is hard to fake so, if this is not you, you may want to reconsider. Another theme they will likely look for is the ability to make hard decisions quickly, as this is something you will have to do when dealing with situations involving housing policy.

Some other common themes include general respect, kindness, and the ability to mesh well with a variety of different people, even if they have different values than you.

Overall, they want well-rounded, unique individuals who are informed about the school and bring unique experiences to the table that their students can relate to and turn to as a resource. Thus, other important themes include diversity of thought, safety, and the ability to create inclusive environments.

Speaking from personal experience, all of the themes I listed above came up during my own interview process. So, I will give you an example of some of the questions I received.

Pros and Cons of Being an RA

The first and most basic question I got was to “tell me a little bit about yourself.” This is generic, but everyone knows this is one of the most difficult interview questions to answer.

Remember that being an RA is a job so answer this in a manner that is fitting! I suggest that you highlight an experience that you had at school that shows that you bring a unique background to the table.

Even though you won’t say it outright, showcasing this unique background tells your interviewer that you have an experience that other students might not have, and that you will be able to provide valuable insight to other students.

For example, I highlighted that I was a transfer student from a Penn State branch campus as well as an out of state student. In this way, the interviewer can infer that I will be able to provide unique perspectives and be able to relate to students who may be feeling out of place or homesick because I also went through similar experiences.

I also have a unique set of knowledge and skills regarding Penn State transfers that may be helpful to students looking to transfer. In this way, think about what you bring to the table when answering this question.

My interviewer also asked me what kinds of passions I have. While this question may come as a surprise to you, it makes sense in the context of becoming an RA.

Not only does the interviewer want to learn more about you, but they are also trying to build a team of RAs that are diverse, unique, and have different passions. The more types of people there are on the RA team, the more likely students will be able to relate to at least one person.

Again, examine yourself for the answer to this, and highlight things you are passionate about or like to do in your free time!

The next question I got was asking me why I want to be an RA. This question should come as no surprise.

Hint, this question is here to weed out people who are truly passionate about the role versus people who are just in it for the benefits. People who are truly passionate will display this not only in the quality of their answer, but in the way they answer.

Again, make sure that when you are explaining why you want to be an RA, you display that you are intrinsically motivated. You may want to highlight how you have previously had great experiences with your RAs and want to be the same for your future residents.

You can also say that you want to give back to your university community and help students where you did not get any so no one else has to go through what you did.

No matter what your answer is, think carefully about what you are going to say, as the theme you adopt in the answer to this question should be carried throughout the rest of your interview.

Another question that should come as no surprise is to ask you to explain and provide examples as to a few qualities that would make you a good fit for this RA role.

As with any interview question, but specifically this question, stick to the STAR method. If you have not heard of the STAR method before, it stands for situation, task, action, and result.

The basic idea is to first explain the context of your example (hence the situation), the task that you had to accomplish (think of this as the problem), the action you took, and the result that came from it as well as what you learned.

Using this method, you will be sure to provide in depth explanations to why the qualities you have make you a good fit rather than rattling off a list of qualities with no examples to back up your claim.

When thinking about what qualities to highlight, I would suggest your top two to three, and make sure they are unique. As someone who has been the interviewer for many positions in clubs and other situations, a common quality that constantly comes up is the ability to be organized.

So, if you were thinking about this as one of your qualities, I would suggest thinking about a different one. For instance, a better quality to highlight would be that you love to meet new people, and you can talk about an experience you have that highlights that.

I specifically showed my love for meeting new people by talking about how I felt energized after talking with all the recruiters at the career fair, whereas most people feel drained or exhausted. In this way, I am directly showing, not telling, not only how qualified I am, but also how I am different in a good way from other people.

You may also be asked to describe a time when you have solved a difficult problem and what you learned from it. As an RA, you may be put into uncomfortable situations in which you will have to solve problems, whether it is mediating a roommate conflict or having to deal with the disciplinary consequences of finding students with alcohol.

Use the STAR method again here to showcase how you were able to deal with the difficult situation. As you think about what situation to use to answer this question, think back to the common themes that interviewers will be looking for.

As an example, I highlighted an instance in which I solved a problem and learned about the power of the group over the individual, and how working together yields better results than working alone. 

One more question that may be difficult for some people is if you are asked how you make decisions under time constraints. This question is aimed at examining how you think rather than looking for a specific right or wrong answer.

Again, as an RA you will likely have instances in which you need to make important decisions on a time crunch, such as if there is a fire alarm going off or if you are facing a suicidal ideation case. In these instances, it is critical to make accurate decisions in a timely manner.

One final question you may get is how you connect with people. It makes sense why interviewers would ask you this, because your role as an RA is to connect with all of your residents to make them feel comfortable, safe, and heard.

Based on your answers so far, they might already know that you are good at connecting with people, but this question is looking to the future and asking how WILL you connect with your future residents.

Thinking back to my own answer, I provided examples in which I said I connected with people through activities and bonding moments. I then followed up with my own experience in how I connected with people through an activity and how I would create activities of my own for my floor to bond together. I

n this way, I not only answer the question, but also show the interviewer how it can be applied as an RA to my residents.

You may get other questions, but these are a few basic ones that you are likely to get as you progress through the interview process. Make sure to think deeply about each of your answers and make sure to display your passion and excitement for the role.

Ending Note

There are several common themes that will come up as you interview for your role. Some of these themes include respect, empathy, quick-thinking, inclusivity, and passion.

In answering these questions, you will need to take time to turn inwards and truly examine yourself. Your interviewer will likely see right through you if you are just motivated for the benefits, so ask yourself why you are applying for this role.

In the end, ensure that you are doing it primarily because you want to make a difference in your future residents’ lives. If this is the case, being an RA will be a rewarding and fulfilling role for you. Best of luck in your quest to become an RA!

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Author: Sophia

Sophia is a current college freshman at Pennsylvania State University with plans to major in marketing. When she's not studying or in the gym, you can find Sophia watching her favorite Youtube channels or streamers. In the future, she hopes to travel the world while developing her marketing skills and building her network.