Barely older than the incoming freshmen they work with, resident advisers do everything from edit term papers to give first aid to enforce quiet hours. Somewhere in that mix, there’s a way to make your RA useful for you.
Ah, the resident adviser. The narc. The upperclassman on a power trip. The one who committed social suicide.
As an RA for the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve heard all the names (and plenty of other things) from freshmen who would rather their college stick them and 700 other first years in an unsupervised residence hall and test how closely they can mimic Lord of the Flies.
Aside from the drawback of someone inevitably ending up as Piggy, a community of freshmen without upperclassmen mentors would miss out on tips and tricks from a student who has already navigated through the first awkward year of college.
If you’re resigned to only speaking with your RA when he or she catches you smoking in your room, good luck. But if you want a little extra out of your residence hall experience, here are some ways to take advantage of that instant mentor you meet on move-in day.
1. Get your network on.
When you sit down for your first class in your major, everyone will be more or less at the same place: excited to start work they’re interested in but knowing next to no one in the department.
While those classmates will likely be some of your good friends throughout college, they also become your competition. They’re the ones you’ll be trying to beat out for local internships and, eventually, post-graduation jobs. So how can you get ahead?
Chances are, your RA knows someone in your major who’s already in tune with the professors and curriculum, and who could probably ace your lower-division class in his or her sleep. Ask your RA for an introduction to someone in your major. Whether it’s a former roommate, significant other or gym partner, your RA probably knows someone who can give you a leg up in your department.
Or, if you don’t quite know what you want to study yet…
2. Learn the truth about different majors on campus.
Ask professors about the department in which they teach and they’ll probably give you a glowing review with everything you want to hear. But ask RAs what kind of reputation that department has, and they’ll be more likely to give you the real details on it: how full the classes are, what kinds of professors they hire and how often they hear friends in that major complaining about 4 a.m. cram sessions.
Yes, as RAs, we are stewards of the university, sworn under penalty of death to never say anything bad about it. But we care a lot more about supporting our residents than making the college look good, so we’ll dish if it’s something important and will help you out. (Don’t, of course, let your RA scare you away from studying something if you’re truly passionate about it.)
3. Discover your school’s secret opportunities.
After the rush of sitting in your first 400-person lecture wears off, you might think to yourself, “This is great, but isn’t there more to college?”
Yes, there is. In fact, there’s a lot more — way too much to cover in one week of orientation. Even after being in school for years, some students still don’t know about all the academic, social and interest-based opportunities on campus.
RAs spend time during their training sessions learning about all these resources, and they’re waiting to show off that knowledge. Ask them what kind of clubs would be good to go to your first week, how to get help if you’re falling behind in a class and if there are any clubs they wish they’d have joined when they were freshmen.
4. Find out how to deal with campus food.
Maybe you have a five-star restaurant next to your residence hall, but if not, you’re going to need to learn how to survive with the same food night after night for the whole school year. Lucky for you, RAs have already done this once — and if their job gives them a meal plan, they’re doing it again for the second (or third) time.
RAs have most likely mastered which campus staples are tastiest — and safest — at the on-campus restaurants. Grab a bite to eat with them and avoid having to learn the hard way which foods you should stay clear of.
5. Get someone on your side.
People mess up when they come to college. RAs get that. It would be best to never have to deal with policy violations, but we all signed up for the job knowing exactly what it brings.
If you do get in trouble, start by being honest with your RA. We’re most likely not the ones who decide what kind of punishment might come your way, but, depending on how your school’s system is set up, we can push for some leniency if we think you deserve it.
Treat us with respect and we’ll give you the same. Approach us like we’re the bad guys and that’s exactly what we’ll be.
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