Life in Transition

Navigating Personal Finances During Life Transitions

Saving Money In College as a Resident Assistant

The tuition of a four-year university is already daunting, and the cost-of-attendence just keeps climbing.  Adding a bigger blow to the wallet is that many universities are requiring students to live in expensive campus housing and buy a meal plan.  One way to get around paying for the extra costs is getting a resident assistant (RA) position in one of the dormitories.

What is an RA?

An RA is a peer mentor who supervises students living in residence halls and dorms.  Responsibilities include conflict mediation between roommates, planning events for students, helping students transition to university life, helping with check-in and check-outs, submitting maintanance requests, and enforcing university rules.  RAs usually go through a rigorous training process.  Usually students cannot apply for an RA position until they are finish with their freshman year.

What are the benefits?

Compensation varies from institution to institution.  Usually, RAs will get free room and board.  Another perk is that RAs are not required to have a roommate, which is usually madatory in university housing.  Some universities will also pay an hourly wage on top of the room and board stipend.

What are the drawbacks?

The main drawback is having less freedom than the average student.  When my husband was an RA, he was required to be in the building by midnight during the week, and by 2 a.m. on weekends.  During holidays and breaks, he could not just go where ever he wanted whenever he wanted.  He had to divide holidays between the other RAs in his building.  For example, each year he had a two week Christmas break, but he had to either go home a week later or go back to school a week early.  He also spent one weekend a month on-call, which meant he could not leave the building the entire weekend, expect to take two hour-long breaks to get lunch and dinner. 

The second major draw back depends on what kind of students live on your assigned hall.  If the students are conciencious of others and well-behaved, then the RA will spend a lot of time having fun hanging out with their residents.  If the students are wild and immature, the RA will spend a lot time disciplining students and mediating conflicts.  One year, my husband was assigned to a floor of rowdy freshman boys.  He spent a lot of time busting residents for alcohol and drug violations and trying to clean inappropriate graffiti (use your imagination) off the walls. 

The Numbers

My husband spent two years of his undergraduate career as an RA, and just began a new RA position recently.  As an undergrad, he received a generous scholarship from the university that included full tuition and a $6700 annual stipend and an annual $2500 scholarship sponsored by the state (read about scholarships in Kentucky here and here).  So technically he did not need any extra money to pay for his living expenses while in school.  Since his RA position provided him free room and board, he pocketed stipend and stuck it in a bank account.  In two years, he saved $18400 from his stipends alone.  On top of that, he was paid an hourly wage of $6.90 for 13.25 hours a week for 37 weeks a year for a total of $3383 annually.  Assuming that he spent between $250-$300 a month on gas, entertainment, and eating out (this is a high estimate), he would not have needed to touch his stipend at all.  His biweekly paycheck was more than enough to cover his miscellaneous expenses.  Overall, my husband was able to pay a semester of dental school with his own savings.

Money saved in two years as an RA: $18400

Right my husband is starting his second gig as an RA in the graduate student housing complex.  Instead of trying to build his net worth (only to wipe it away paying for grad school), the goal of taking the position is to cut costs.  Right now, we get a free one-bedroom apartment that includes all utilities, internet, and cable.  The university charges $779 for the same room so in a year we will save $9348.  However, if he did not have the RA position, we would not live in campus housing and find someplace cheaper.  I estimate that an apartment, Internet, and utilites (we wouldn’t get cable) would be average $625/month or $7500 annually.  On top of that, he will get paid $7.50/hour for 15 hours/week for 52 weeks, which is a nice bonus since he would not be able to get a “regular” part time job.  So, his annual salary is $5850 which we will put directly into his tuition savings account.  With these savings combined with the money we had already saved, we may be able to delay taking out loans for another year.

Total Costs Cut: $13350/yr

Overall, a college student has the potential to either build a large savings account or greatly reduce the amount of loans needed.

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11 thoughts on “Saving Money In College as a Resident Assistant

  1. I don’t know that we can do this here in Canada..living on campus is more rare here. I’ve always lived on my own but what a neat idea for American students!

  2. This sounds like a great deal – I’ve never looked at the finances of that job before. One of my friends at my current university is an RA in an undergrad dorm and really seems to enjoy it. It’s definitely helping him defray some of the cost of doing his master’s. And I still can’t get over that you get to live with him – I’ve never heard of that!

    My college had proctors, not resident advisors, which is similar but a bit different – no disciplinary responsibilities or at least not the drugs and alcohol types. I’m not sure how much they were paid or if they got free room and board. I never had much interaction with them aside from being welcome during orientation. There were only about 12 for the whole school (700 students) and only seniors could be in the role and there was a very rigorous selection process. Is that about the same ratio of RAs to students that your husband has?

    • His university allows spouses to live with RAs in family style dorms. I guess they realized that a lot of graduate students are married. The number of students depend on which dorm you are placed in. Most RAs are in charge of a floor, which can range from 30-50 students. Right now he’s a senior RA so he’s in charge of the whole building, but there are three other RAs helping him.

  3. Good post – plus that’s awesome that you get to live there too! I especially like how you recognize the difference between what you “save” by living there vs what you would have actually spent if it wasn’t at the residence apartment rate. (ps, thanks for the comment)

  4. Sounds like a nice way to save money in school so people can pay down their student loans faster. Probably helpful to build leadership skills too (^_^).

  5. A timely post for me, as my two youngest will be seniors in high school in the fall, and university tuition is sky-high. Really, if my two go to the university of their choice (and if they didn’t earn any scholarship money, we’re hoping that not to be the case), their 4 year tuition combined would be more than my husband and I paid for our home, including the mortgage interest! So we are investigating all possibilities for our daughters’ university years.
    My nephew is an RA, and yes, he can’t just up and leave over break as the rest of the students can, he does get some time away each break, and the trade off for free room/board is well worth it for him.
    Thanks for the post.

  6. Hmm very interesting! I didn’t live on campus when I was in college, but this would’ve been tempting.

  7. What a great idea to work and get free room and board. I lived at home when I attended College and University. But I will definitely recommend this to people I know in College.

  8. I always lived off campus while going to UBC, but I think they did a similar program in their residences. Good idea!

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