Getting a part-time job right on campus that will completely pay for your residence room and board? That’s pretty much the deal if you want to sign up to become a Residence Advisor (RA) and in some cases on the governing council at residences on campuses across Canada.
If you’re a rural kid, or someone that is attending a school away from home you’ve no doubt noticed just how big a percentage of your costs are due to living expenses. People will march and pound drums if tuition increases by 5%, but for many people that don’t get to live at home while attending school the much bigger concern is paying for your own cost of living. Expenses vary widely across Canada, but on many campuses you’re now looking at over $1,000 a month for room and food costs to live in residence, and to get an apartment close to schools isn’t going to be much cheaper than that. Therefore, if you can find a way to pay for that, while still getting to have a life and an open slate for a summer job, that’s a pretty sweet deal.
Do You Want to Be the Cops or the Robbers?We should be clear right from the start, being an RA and being a residence council member are NOT the same position. The responsibilities and job description of each vary depending on the specific institution, but by and large RAs usually answer to the university administration (often the student housing division), while councils are elected by their peers. RAs are primarily there as a liaison between the “adults” that run the show and the students. They might run certain programming, and are definitely there to help students with whatever challenges they face, but inevitably their main duty is to make sure rules get followed on a daily basis, and that people respect each other’s rights while living in residence.
Being on council on the other hand is an entirely different matter. In most places councils are responsible for planning everything from parties, to pub crawls, late night study sessions, intramural nights, and other fun stuff. Most residences will charge an extra “student council fee” that most people don’t even think about as they look at the bottom line and write the cheque, but basically this money goes directly to the council budget and allows them to plan all of this programming. Most of the time council is not responsible for enforcing the rules of the building.
Mo Money Mo Problems
Now before you go running off to join a party-planning committee you should know that the compensation (re: pay) for the positions are not really comparable. RAs have way more responsibility in most cases (in terms of following rules and being accountable anyway) and usually have to go through some pretty substantial training so they usually get paid more. In fact, many residence council members won’t get paid at all except through various perks (maybe a topic for another time). Depending on the specific agreements that govern your residence, councils can vote themselves honorariums if they feel they deserve them, they might get a portion of their rooms and/or meal plans paid for, or get a larger room for a base price. They might even get paid a set salary for the year. It is usually pretty standard for RAs to simply get their entire room paid for, but they need to pay for their food (again, each institution is different). This makes it a pretty great deal in most cases. After all, where else can you “work” 2-3 nights per week, never leave campus, and make the equivalent of ~$5,000 in after-tax compensation?
It’s About More Than the Money (That Doesn’t Sound Cliché At All)
Personally, I chose to be on residence council for three years instead of becoming an RA simply because I treasured my freedom while I was in school. I didn’t want to be subject to a duty roster or have to go to meetings with people I didn’t really respect in some cases. Now there is no doubt I did not get paid nearly as much as the RAs did, but it was a personal decision that worked out for me. If you think that being an RA is easy I’d encourage you to think again since trying to get freshmen to follow rules the first few months they are aware from home is often a real adventure. Dealing with high-pressure situations when students come to you with intense depression (most RA teams have suicide prevention training), study stress, and understanding about their sexual orientation are just a few of the many things RAs have to deal with. They are also routinely held to higher behaviour standards in regards to their personal conduct as well. Some people do a terrible job of being an RA and for them, being an RA isn’t really that difficult or time-consuming, for most though, it is a major responsibility.
Some Spin-Off Benefits
Being on either residence council or on the RA team is a great way to absorb some of the financial hit while you go to school. It’s a perfect scenario in terms of building a connections network that will likely be filled with striving go-getters and they’ll be nice to have on your friends list or LinkedIn contacts in a few years. Being able to list these positions on a résumé is also a nice perk, particularly if you make the effort to link these positions to specific skills that you gained. For example anyone can say they have “teamwork skills”, you could say that you understand the difficulties that can arise when trying to plan events or create governing documents with a diverse group of people – because you’ve been there & done that.
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I definitely have fond memories of my time spent on council and I encourage people that are looking to stay in residence to check out their options. Justin was on so many councils I think he lost track of them all, and the connections and skill sets he gained as a result have served him unbelievable well in his professional life!