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The Benefits of Being a Resident Assistant

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Written by Jennifer Willcoxon January 11th, 2022

I have many years of financial aid experience, from a federal work-study student to associate director of financial aid, with many stops along the way. I started as a federal work-study student in the financial aid office at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and became a financial aid counselor upon graduation.  I then accepted a position as a financial aid counselor at St. Louis University. From there I joined the student-lending world, where I spent a decade working for Bank One and JP Morgan Chase marketing federal and private student loans to colleges in the Southeast. Before joining College Coach, I was the associate director of financial aid at Albany Medical College.
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Are there ways to lower the cost of college once you are enrolled? Can you actually save money while you are in college? According to the Education Data Initiative, the annual cost of on-campus room and board ranges from $10,216 to $11,945. Imagine getting these charges waived. Enter the Resident Assistant (RA) position. RAs play an important role in residential life on most campuses. I remember walking into my freshman dorm and seeing the RAs in the office, laughing together and having fun! I also remember having to find my RA when I locked myself out of my room. RAs do many things and get more than a paycheck from this job. Let’s look closer and see what it means to be a college RA. What is a Resident Assistant? An RA is typically an upperclassman who is hired to manage a portion/floor of a residence hall. Primary responsibilities include organizing programs and activities and ensuring that all dorm residents adhere to the campus code of conduct. Other ways RAs make a difference is by helping new students acclimate to college life, which can include dealing with some very stressful situations during a period of great transition. How are RAs compensated? Compensation varies greatly so check with the housing office at your college for details. An RA may receive a stipend to cover their room charge while, at some institutions, meal plans and a small monthly reimbursement are also included. The average cost of room/board as an RA may result in approximately a $20,000 savings over two years. Having reduced or free room and/or board could make the difference in whether or not you have to borrow a student loan for your education. How do I apply? The housing office hires RAs. You may have to submit a formal application and interview with the Residence Life Director and current students. Some colleges even hold group exercises as part of the application process. Most new RAs are hired in the spring semester of the sophomore year and have to complete a training program before officially starting the job. Other perks
  • Leadership experience: you will have to think on your toes and take charge of situations.
  • Resume builder: you are adding valuable skills to your resume, written and verbal communication, time management, crisis-intervention, leadership, teamwork, and problem resolution.
  • Better accommodations: this could mean a single room or a slightly better shared living arrangement for you.
  • Network: you are helping to build your network on campus. Most college RA groups are like family and you can build lifelong friendships.
Is there a downside to being an RA?
  • You are in charge: you must follow and enforce the rules/policies of the college.
  • Serious time commitment: you will likely come to campus a few weeks early for freshman orientation and dorm setup. You are responsible for some weekend call hours and late nights, thus limiting your time for other activities and commitments.
  • You must live on campus: even if your best friends move off campus to a sweet apartment or house, you still live on campus.
  • Possible change in financial aid or tax implications: if you receive need-based financial aid you may see a change in your financial aid award due to the fact you are not being billed for room and board (so as not to create a taxable event). Depending on how your college handles the room and board charges, you may be taxed on this portion. If your school considers you a student employee you would receive a stipend and this amount, reported on your W-2, is subject to federal and state tax withholdings. It is best practice to check in with the Financial Aid Office if you have any questions.
Being an RA is a tough job and may not be the answer for all students. If you’re a current college student and feel being an RA could be a good fit for you, check in with your RA on campus. They are an excellent resource for sharing their firsthand experience. Although it is a challenging position, being an RA provides both personal growth opportunities and potential discounts on room and board costs for current college students.

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