You are probably reading this article because of your interest in becoming a Resident Assistant, or RA, at your college. Today, I’m going to talk about what it’s like to be an RA, especially at UC Berkeley, since that is where I know the most. I’ll cover everything from when RAs are hired, how to apply and become an RA in college, and even give some tips for the application and interview process.
Currently, I’m working full-time at a law firm. A bit about my experience: I was a Resident Assistant during my sophomore year, and then I became a Senior Resident Assistant for my junior and senior years. I lived in the dorms throughout college and was part of the hall staff for 3 years, except for my freshman year. Now, let’s move on to the main thing and help you become a Resident Assistant in your school.
What is a Resident Assistant or RA?
An RA is usually an older student who lives in the dorms with first-year or transfer students. The RA is there to be a mentor or guide. You can talk to your RA for advice, and they also organize events to help everyone get to know each other and build a community. A big benefit of being an RA is that many colleges offer free housing and meals. For example, at UC Berkeley, being an RA can save you about $20,000 because of the high cost of living and meals in the San Francisco Bay Area. At other colleges, RAs get free housing and meals, plus a stipend. It really depends on the college and the living costs in that area.
I think being an RA is a good choice if you like making friends and building a community among the people living in the dorms. The main reason I wanted to be an RA is that I came from Maryland to California for college. I didn’t know anyone in my first year, so I wanted to help others make friends and build strong friendships, especially those who were new to the state or didn’t have high school friends at the college.
Also, make sure to read the job description on your school’s website to help you understand what an RA does and their responsibilities. Sometimes, people apply or go for interviews without really knowing what the job involves. So, knowing what an RA does every day is necessary.
How to Become an RA in College
I am going to stick to the point of this article and make sure that you know all you have to know for your preparation. You are not the only student who wants to become an RA in college, so the competition can sometimes be fierce. But don’t let that bother you. With these 7 steps, you can secure your spot as a college RA.
1. Note the Timeline for RA Application
There is a timeline for applying to be an RA. If you are thinking about it, you should know when to apply because it’s different for each school. At UC Berkeley, for example, RA applications open in October and close in November of the fall semester. If you miss this, you can’t apply for the next year. You apply a year in advance. For Berkeley, this is quite early. If you are a freshman or a new transfer student, you only have about two months to decide whether to apply for the next year. or not So, remember this so you don’t miss the deadline.
So, at Berkeley, after the applications close, you’ll find out in January if you have an interview invite or not. The RA interviews are held in mid-January when classes begin. By February, you will know if you are chosen to be an RA for the next year, put on the waitlist, or not selected. If you are accepted or waitlisted, you need to take a one-unit class in the spring semester. It’s a pass/fail course where they teach about social justice and similar topics. Remember to keep track of deadlines for the college you are interested in, especially if you want to apply to be an RA, so you don’t miss out.
2. Join the Student Government in Your Dorm at College
Many colleges have a student government in the dorms. Join them to meet other students, RAs, and RA supervisors in your dorm.
At Berkeley, they have a student government called Hall Association. It’s similar to what you might have seen in high school, with roles like president, various vice presidents, treasurer, and other positions. I joined this in my first year. My role was RHA member for my dorm, which means Residence Hall Assembly member. This role allows you to attend meetings on Monday nights with students from all the UC Berkeley dorms. We voted on things like bills and organized big events for the dorms. Joining the Hall Association is a good way to get involved. You meet Resident Assistants who aren’t yours, and also the Resident Director. The Resident Director is in charge of the RAs and also oversees the Hall Association. Getting to know the Resident Directors is useful because they conduct interviews in January if you apply for certain positions. So, be familiar with them to help you stand out and be recognized to become an RA in college.
3. Meet Your Current Resident Assistant
Also, before you can apply to be a Resident Assistant, set up a time to chat with your current Resident Assistant or the Resident Director. The Resident Director is kind of like the boss of the Resident Assistants in the dorm. You can have a casual coffee chat with them.
In this chat, you can tell your RA or RD that you are interested in becoming an RA. Ask them for any advice they have or to explain what the RA job involves and what kind of skills they are looking for. This is just a relaxed way to ask questions and show you are interested in the position. You will also get to learn about the RA role from someone who is doing it. You can find out what they like or don’t like about the job, and what their favorite part is. This helps you figure out whether you’d really like to become an RA in college or not.
4. Apply to Become an RA in College
During your application process, carefully read and follow all the instructions for your application. If your school requires you to attend an information session, be sure to go, sign in, and get your name on the attendance list to show you were present. For example, at Berkeley, you must submit your application as a single PDF file. This is mentioned several times on their website, but still, some people send their applications in different formats, such as multiple Word documents or PDFs. Remember, the application clearly states it should be one single PDF. You need to combine all your documents into one PDF file. Not doing this is like not following the instructions, and it’s a silly reason for your application to be overlooked.
Another key point is to stick to the word count. For Berkeley’s application, you are supposed to write the word count at the start of your essay. Some applicants forget to include the word count, or they write more than the allowed number of words. The application specifies a maximum word count, and exceeding it or not mentioning it is just another avoidable mistake. So, be sure to read the application thoroughly and follow all the instructions.
5. Apply for this Position Very Early
So, a really important tip is to apply early and before the deadline. I’ve been a hiring coordinator, and I’ve seen a lot of people email us after the deadline, asking for an extension or saying things like, “I missed the deadline because my internet stopped working on the last night.” But we always think, “The application was open for a whole month. Why didn’t you start sooner?” It’s not a good look if your internet fails just 30 minutes before the deadline and you email us a day later. It seems a bit odd. So, start early. That way, if something unexpected happens, like a family emergency or your Wi-Fi goes down, you will still meet the deadline and not miss the chance to become an RA in college.
6. Prepare for the Interview
Now, about interviews, a cool thing about RA interviews is that they email you the topics of the questions in advance. So, there is no excuse not to practice. You can look up common questions on teamwork, for example, and practice them with a friend.
I suggest you read the RA job description to understand what is involved, especially in crisis response. Ask an RA about these situations. When you get emails about topics for your interview, prepare in advance. Practice answering questions on those topics. Look up some practice questions online and think about how you’d answer them.
You want to use real examples in your answers. From my experience interviewing people for student jobs at Berkeley, a common mistake is talking too much without really answering the question or giving specific examples. For instance, if you are asked about working in a team, make sure to share a real example of when you did that. So, prepare well for your interview with solid examples and practice questions on those five topics.
Another aspect of interviews is preparing questions for the interviewers. In the end, there might be some spare time, and you wouldn’t want it to feel uncomfortable. Often, the RA or professional staff will ask if you have any questions. You should have a few questions ready so you are not caught off guard thinking, “Oh no, I don’t have any questions.” Make sure to prepare some questions because you are not familiar with everything about the job since it’s new to you. You can ask simple things like, “What do you enjoy most about being an RA? What’s the toughest part of the job?” You might also inquire about their experiences with night duties or their favorite event they have organized for residents. Asking these kinds of questions shows your genuine interest in the RA position you are applying for.
7. Await the Result
So the last thing I want to talk about is the Resident Assistant waitlist. As I mentioned before, after the interviews, you can either get accepted, waitlisted, or rejected. In my case, during my freshman year, I was put on the waitlist for the RA position. Luckily, I got off the waitlist pretty quickly, around April or May, before the school year was over. So, I knew I’d be an RA the following August. My advice is to stay on the waitlist if you get a spot. I also advise you to live in the university dorms if you are waitlisted. This way, if you get the RA position, it’s easier to leave your dorm contract than if you were renting an apartment off-campus. Leaving an apartment lease mid-year to become an RA can be tough. Just something to keep in mind.
And yeah, these are my tips on becoming a Resident Assistant in college, including the whole process of applying and interviewing. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments. I’d love to answer them. Also, let me know if you want more articles like this. Thanks a lot for reading, and share this post if you find it helpful.
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