How Do I Become a Residential Advisor?

C. Mitchell

The steps needed to become a residential advisor vary slightly depending on the job, but the process almost always requires an application, a successful interview, and at least some experience working with students in a residential dorm-type setting. One of the best ways to become a residential advisor, or “RA,” is to spend time working with young people in a leadership capacity, whether as a camp counselor, tutor, or teacher. Build a resume that emphasizes your interest and experience. This way, when suitable jobs open up, you will be ready to go with a strong application.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Residential advisors work in a variety of settings, including boarding schools, university dorms, and fraternity and sorority houses. Most of the time, private school RAs — that is, RAs who work with younger, school-aged children — are full-time positions. Boarding schools are usually the place to look for residential advisor careers. Colleges and universities, on the other hand, typically hire students to assume RA responsibilities on a part-time, stipend basis.

A boarding school advisor is typically an adult who lives on a dormitory floor or in a boarding house, and acts as both a program director and point person for any residential issues. Advisors mitigate disputes between roommates, keep tabs on missing students, and address any concerns that arise between the residents. Planning social and excursion activities is often also part of the job.

In order to become a residential advisor in a boarding school, you must typically have extensive experience working with children. Most schools look for applicants who will be able to care for residents while enforcing the rules. A criminal background check is almost always required, and licenses, particularly first aid, are often recommended, as well.

Getting a residential advisor job in a university dorm is usually quite a different process. These positions are almost always filled by current students. Most schools publish applications for residential advisor positions in the spring, with those selected serving a one-year term beginning the next fall. Residential advisor training usually happens sometime over the summer.

Most colleges have strict resident life rules. There is usually a minimum GPA requirement to become a residential advisor, and you must also usually show a demonstrated involvement in a number of campus activities. You need to be both academically and socially savvy, able to balance the demands of coursework with the stresses of managing residents and planning activities. RAs in fraternities or sororities must also typically be a member of that group in order to be eligible to become a residential advisor.

Becoming a residential advisor is usually a matter of finding a job that is a good fit, and demonstrating that you have the experience and the skills to fulfill all aspects of the position. If you are hoping to get a job in a specific school, it is often a good idea to talk to the school’s residential life director on an informational basis. Find out what they look for in their RAs, as well as when they expect to have openings. In a college setting, work hard in your classes, spend time getting to know your fellow students, and keep an eye out for hiring announcements.

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