Category Archives: Career

The Hidden Benefits of Being an RA

There are few positions in the world that are as multifaceted as those within Housing and Residence Life.  As an RA, you have the opportunity to try many different things and gain many diverse skills.  From effectively communicating with your supervisor and residents to planning and executing a large-scale student event – these accomplishments are significant and provide you with a skill set that many others do not have.  Professionally, this makes you more marketable.

Being aware of these benefits may also help you to be more invested in the RA position and all of the opportunities for growth that it offers.  Given the right mindset, one could argue that being an RA can actually help prepare you for any job you have interest in.  In this post, I will cover some of the basic professional, personal, social, and financial skills RAs typically attain.  I will also discuss some additional benefits that we often overlook as we get caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of the job.

Hidden Baby

I have always known there were many benefits to being an RA.  This realization hit me most, however, when I began working at Methodist University.  The person in my apartment before me owned all of her own furniture and there was none in storage to use when I moved in.  There were two other new staff members also in this position.  As a result, I was tasked with pricing, comparing, and selecting the furniture for three whole apartments.  This was something completely new to me.  I am no furniture expert, but by the end of the process I was familiar enough with it to know basic furniture needs, some of the best companies to work with, who to talk to, and how to make a good deal.  This is a skill that will benefit me long down the road when it is time for me to start furnishing my own home on my own dime.

Saving money is important!  According to CNN Money, the average wedding cost couples $28,400 in the year 2012.  This number is staggering – and as someone in the process of planning a wedding, it is incredibly daunting…except, I have been planning programs now for years on a budget and what, really, is the difference between coordinating a large-scale program and planning a wedding?  The details may be a little different, but the mechanics are the same.  I already know how to plan an event, how to talk to vendors, the importance of delegating tasks, and who best to ask for help.  As a result, the wedding I am planning will cost well less than one-third of CNN Money’s average and will be just as spectacular!

These are only two examples of how the skills you gain from being an RA will benefit you.  Below are some others.

Professional

  • Resume builder – this is twofold, as it provides you work experience and it opens doors for additional work-related opportunities (i.e. committee involvement, volunteer work, ect.)
  • Networking – as an RA, you are constantly working with and meeting others (Housing professionals, campus resources, off-campus organizations, ect.) and these connections will help for a very long time
  • Experience with Diverse Populations – in the real world, there is no predicting who you will be working with, so your time spent working with people from all walks of life (various ethnicities, socio-economic statuses, sexual orientations, ect.) will come in very handy
  • Knowledge of Resources – while training may sometimes be boring, your Housing Office is providing you with a plethora of good information that has the potential to assist you for the rest of your life
  • Employers LOVE to see Housing Experience on a Resume – they too know that the skills you gained as an RA are transferrable

Personal

  • Public Speaking – a skill some people work to develop all of their lives is one that you develop on a daily basis and utilize constantly while communicating with your residents
  • Administration/Organization – it is impossible to be a good RA and NOT learn how to remain organized (especially when it comes to time management) and complete administrative tasks (RCRs, Incident Reports, Duty Logs, ect.)
  • Conflict Resolution – no matter what you end up doing in life, knowing how to resolve a conflict will be essential
  • Working with a Budget – this is something so very many people simply do not know how to do, but as an RA you are constantly thinking about how to do big things for your residents with only a little bit of money
  • Event Planning – as I mentioned already, the potential with this skill is endless
  • Improvisation – Housing staff members are always thinking on their feet and the ability to process information quickly is an incredible asset in the workforce
  • Key Management – it may seem small, but keys, no matter what stage of life you are in you will have to maintain keys (car, house, work, ect.) and replacing them can be very expensive (ask my husband!)

Social

  • Forced Outside of Comfort Zone – while it is sometimes nice to be comfortable, being asked to try new things or consider things differently is how we grow
  • Leadership Opportunities – as an RA, you are identified as a leader on campus and you will find that many people will gravitate to you; use these opportunities to build strong relationships
  • Access to Cool Events – programming is an essential part of campus life and there are always opportunities for RAs to help plan, run, or participate in them!
  • Family Away from Home – this is no lie or gimmick, for many the Housing staff really does become a family; maybe you won’t jive with everyone on staff, but you will, without a doubt, make friendships that will last a lifetime

Financial

  • Compensation – this varies per university, but can include any variation of a free/discounted room, free parking, or monthly stipend
  • Free Swag – most offices will provide RAs with Housing shirts, name tags, and various other nick-nacks as the year progresses (especially during RA Appreciation Week!)
  • Summer Internships – as I mentioned in Wait, This Can be a Career? The Best Kept Higher Education Non-Secret, there are countless opportunities to work as an RA over the summer to make some additional money
  • Graduate School Assistance – as an RA, you are instantly qualified to apply for graduate assistantships that will help pay for your future education; I also discuss this in greater detail in my previous post

But What Really Matters?

  • You make a difference
  • You are a symbol of change
  • You learn something new everyday
  • You are a teacher
  • You change lives
  • You challenge preconceptions
  • You are a mentor
  • You are a confidant
  • You save lives

So while you may feel like the things you are doing as an RA are mundane, it’s all in the way you look at it.  Sure, filling out RCRs isn’t the most thrilling task, but it does help you learn to be observant, thorough, and complete paperwork quickly.  These things make you extremely marketable – as do all of the other skills you are gaining!

What other skills have you developed in your role as an RA and how will these skills benefit you in the future?  Please take a moment to share your thoughts so that I can expand my lists in the future for others.

Advertisements

Wait, This Can be a Career? The Best Kept Higher Education Non-Secret

Yes, Student Affairs is a real job – we didn’t all just randomly fall into it.  Many universities fail to express this to their RAs.  I refer to this unfortunate circumstance as a “non-secret” because, as Student Affairs professionals, we don’t intentionally keep this information from you.  We do, however, often seem to overlook it.  In this blog post,  I will share my personal experience with this realization and how knowing it sooner could have saved me years, provide a simple explorative action plan now that you have this valuable knowledge, and offer some links to begin your Higher Education program search.

Shhhh

My Experience

Outside of being an RA, one of my favorite groups was Pride Productions, the Student Activities organization we had at Greensboro College.  I loved helping organize and run university events and was lucky enough to attend the 2008 NACA Conference in Atlanta, GA.  I was also appointed the SGA Student Activities Liaison, meaning I was directly responsible for approving or denying student organizational funding requests.  I was right in the action!

I worked side-by-side vast numbers of Higher Education professionals on a daily basis and I took every opportunity anyone offered.  I had the skills, I had the energy, and, while I didn’t know it at the time, I also had an interest in the field.  But no one ever told me!  I obviously enjoyed working with students and I was good at it…but no one ever broached the topic and, as naive as it sounds, I never stopped to consider that the “grownups” around me were working real jobs.  For this, I ultimately paid the price.

Graduation imminent, I began looking for graduate programs. I became especially interested in the English program at NC State.  I was also excited about their Resident Director positions, which provide a tuition remission, furnished apartment, stipend, and partial meal plan.

As I began inquiring about this opportunity, I discovered that the university had just changed their assistantship policy and required that all Resident Directors pursue a degree in Higher Education.  I was a top candidate and came highly recommended, but I had applied to the English Department instead.  My recruiter spoke with the director and even presented my case to a board, but in the end it was decided that I did not qualify.

During my final phone call with NC State University Housing, they asked me if I had any intention of going into Higher Education.  I remember thinking, “Higher Education?  What’s that?”  Slightly perplexed, I said “no,” the phone call ended, and I began looking at other options.  I literally look back on this memory and cringe!

I ultimately chose Radford University because I could be a Resident Director and work on my Master’s in English at the same time.  It was not until halfway through my first year that someone finally shared with me the secret of Higher Education.  Unfortunately, Radford had discontinued their Higher Education program and I settled for a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction, hoping to gain some transferrable skills.

Don’t get me wrong – the path I chose lead me to my husband, provided exceptional experiences, and has worked out beautifully!  Knowing what I know now, I would make the same choice again.  But I didn’t know then what I know now and logically, if I had been aware that Higher Education existed, I could be at a very different stage in my career.  If I had known, I likely would have attended NC State, would have a Master’s in Higher Education instead of a “related field,” and would be better qualified for future positions.

Don’t let this happen to you!  Take some time to think about what opportunities being an RA offers and whether Higher Education is right for you.

Action Plan

So you’re interested – now what?

  1. Explore.  You are likely already doing this.  As a student, you are being exposed to what Higher Education is every day by doing nothing more than what you are already doing!  You are further involved because you are (or are considering becoming) an RA.  I recommend exploring other parts of the campus too.  So you don’t want to be an RA forever?  That’s just the gateway.  Counseling, Career Services, Admissions, Student Activities, Greek Life, Advising – these are all Higher Education positions too.  Try some things and see if this is a career you could see yourself doing for the rest of your working life.
  2. Talk.  There is no greater power than the power of communication.  Go out of  your way to speak with campus professionals.  Express your interest to them.  You will find that, while we are slow to inform you that Higher Education is a career, we love to share our excitement for it with people who are interested.  Many professionals will be impressed that you are approaching them and will be more than happy to take the time to chat about their office.  This will leave a lasting impression, I promise you.
  3. Consider.  Once you have done some exploring and talking, take time to consider if Higher Education is really the career for your.  This is an important decision.  Don’t blow it off.  It is easy to think you have been thinking about something for a long time because it crosses your mind every now and then.  This doesn’t count.  Take time to literally sit down and reflect on what you want and how you can get there.  Ask yourself – What makes me happy?  What am I good at?  What do I see myself doing in 20 years?
  4. Do.  This isn’t just about making the decision and committing to it.  This is about taking every opportunity that presents itself and running with them.  I was once told that Higher Education is what you make it – the more you put in, the more you get out.  I have found that this is absolutely true!  For every ounce of energy you expend, you will be repaid.  Make a commitment to doing more on your campus and within the field to gain experiences that will become vital later in your career.

Okay, let’s say that you go through these steps and decide that Higher Education just isn’t for you.  There is not problem with this!  I love this field and am dedicated to it, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to be.  It’s okay if you have other goals – just remember that a graduate assistantship (like the one I had at Radford) may provide you a really inexpensive means of achieving those goals.  Even if you aren’t “in it for life,” it is still worth using your experience as an RA to help advance your education.

Suggested Resources

Summer Internships

Many universities offer summer RA positions for high school student camps or college prep.  This is a wonderful way to explore the field a little and make some additional money over the summer!  Most large universities offer positions like this.

Some examples of programs to look for include:

  1. Governor’s School
  2. Upward Bound
  3. Boy’s and Girls State of America

A really great resource for summer internships is ACUHO-I.  You can learn more about their internship programs by clicking here.  I also recommend speaking with your supervisor.  Professionals are often on listservs that send out information about summer internships for RAs all of the time.  If you inform your supervisor that you are interested in them, he/she can easily forward the announcements to you.

Placement Exchange Programs

Many Placement Exchanges take place during the Spring and are open for those looking for either summer placement or graduate-level positions.  If you are looking for a little summer adventure or are very open to going anywhere for graduate school, I highly recommend looking into one of these programs.

  1. Oshkosh Placement Exchange (OPE)
  2. Southern Placement Exchange (SPE)
  3. New England Student Affairs Placement Conference (NESAPC)
  4. Western New York Placement Exchange (WNYPE)
  5. The Placement Exchange – The Placement Exchange does not usually highlight and hire for graduate-level positions.  This is really good if you are not planning to do your graduate work yet and want to go straight into the workforce for a while.

Student Affairs Graduate Programs

It would be impossible for me to list all of the Higher Education graduate programs in the nation, but I do want to highlight a few of the ones I hear professionals mention most.  I recommend that you research these schools in depth and talk to some of the professionals on your campus.  Who knows, maybe someone you talk to everyday has a connection at the school you are considering!

  1. NC State
  2. University of Connecticut
  3. Virginia Tech
  4. Duke University
  5. Florida State University
  6. Miami University of Ohio
  7. University of Georgia

Closing Thoughts

Have you considered a job in Higher Education?  What are your personal thoughts on this career choice?

If you have already decided that this is the field for you, please share any suggestions you have for making this decision.  What resources have been helpful to you?