10 Things That Will Help You Better Understand Your College Residential Assistant

Get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the things a college RA deals with, plus what they love about it. Your friendly neighborhood retired RA spills it all.

Published November 1, 2023

Listen up, kids. You’ve said your goodbyes, you’re fresh out of the house, and the twinkle of excitement at being a grown-up still lingers in your eyes. Or — even if those college days are long behind you, there are still a few things I can still give insight on as a former RA. 

As a proud member of a residential college and turned RA for said residential college, I got to live and breathe my residents. We slept and played and had classes all in the same building and it’s given me memories I wouldn’t trade for the world for … and some I’d happily scrub from my brain folds to get rid of. So, step back in time with me and take a peep into the things your RA definitely wants you to know.

We Know You're Intoxicated, Even When You Try to Hide It


Most people living in university dorms are below the legal drinking age, but that doesn’t always stop them from enjoying the spirits the upperclassmen have to offer. No matter how much you hype yourself up outside the dorm entrance, the minute you walk through those doors, we know. The giggling, the way you zoom to your room, refusing to make eye contact with us. Most students aren't nearly as subtle as they think.

We Don't Want to Call the Cops on You


It wasn’t so long ago that we were rowdy freshmen ourselves testing the limits of what we could get away with. And campus police aren’t any happier to deal with us than they are to deal with you and whatever contraband you've stored in the ceiling tiles or behind your clothes racks. So, know that if we call the cops on you, it’s most likely because you really pushed the limits.

The Paperwork Can Be Ridiculous


RAs will do everything in their power not to have to intervene in an incident. We’ll pull out Yoda-style crisis management just to keep things from amping up to something reportable. Believe us when we say writing those reports is an absolute nightmare. You can’t include any pronouns, everyone has to be referred to by their name, and you’ve got to write them up right after everything’s gone down.

The Pay Isn't Great


Every university’s pay scale is different, but when I was an RA circa 2016, we made barely over the state’s minimum wage at $8.50 an hour. We definitely weren’t getting paid for the amount of time we were on the clock and the extra paperwork, programming, board decorating, and mediating we had to do.

We're Struggling With Our Studies, Too


It’s so easy to forget that your RA is a student, too. We’ve got piles and piles of homework to get done and only so many hours in the day to finish it. Your RA on duty will probably really appreciate it if you don't wake them up for something that could wait until morning.

Yes, We Do Have to Take the Phones Everywhere


Every university does its on-call schedule differently, but when you’ve got the RA cell phone and you’re on duty — those calls wait for no one and nothing. So, yes, we have to take that phone with us everywhere, and we’re chained to the building until we get to pass it off. Better not luxuriate in a hot shower for too long lest you tempt fate and get an emergency call in the middle of it.

We Have to Follow the Rules About Door Access


It’s a well-known fact that RAs have access to master keys that’ll get you into any room in the building. Of course, this is a great measure in the case of an emergency. We totally feel for you when you can't find your room key anywhere, but losing your keys isn’t an emergency, and we don't want to have to risk explaining to our bosses why we broke one of the most important rules in the book to let you in.

Sometimes Things Can Get Ugly


On the outside, being an RA seems like a goofy job where you spend most of your time sitting behind a desk or checking in with students. And while a large portion of your time is spent playing grown-up babysitter, on occasion, things go sideways in a flash.

RAs take their role and the impact they have on students' lives very seriously, and at times they are the first ones there at critical and heartbreaking moments. You might need to intervene in a student’s suicide ideation event, manage an extremely intoxicated and violent intruder, or even be the first person in the room to discover a body. The life of an RA is full of highs and lows, and sometimes those lows are really low. 

At the end of the day, RAs are there to help and really want to be there for students. We know that the RA can sometimes be the difference between a student having a frustrating year struggling with roommates or other issues — and having a year that they can look back on in a positive light.

Our Favorite Residents Have a Really Special Place in Our Hearts


Unlike parents, we don’t have to stay neutral. Over the course of the year, we might have favorite residents and they’ll hold a special place in our hearts years after they’ve grown up. I’ll never stop feeling proud of seeing my old residents move through huge milestones like having kids, getting married, nailing their first job, and so on. 

We'll Go to Bat for You 100% of the Time


There’s a special bond that an RA feels for their flock, and it’s what has us checking in with you when we see you looking down or asking your friends how you’re really doing. We want to see you succeed — and even feel a little responsible for it — so we’ll go to bat for you 100% of the time.

You Never Forget Your Time as an RA


Now that it’s pushing a decade since I showed up to resident assistant training, there’s one thing that sticks with me. You really never forget your time as an RA. From that initial evening-long crisis phone call I got in my very first week in charge to the kids whose names and faces I still remember, everything’s still there. I might not remember my best friend’s phone number, but I can definitely draw you a map of the building I patrolled.

So, if you’re a freshman embarking on their first collegiate adventure, keep in mind that your RA will remember you for years to come. Try to make those memories good ones, yeah?

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10 Things That Will Help You Better Understand Your College Residential Assistant