Residence life sees rising number of RA applications

Tara Powers

The number of Resident Assistant applications this year increased in comparison to applications in the spring of 2008, according to the Office for Residence Life. This year, rising sophomores were allowed to apply for positions as RAs, creating a larger pool from which applications could be drawn.

Although numbers vary, over the past six years, Residence Life has had anywhere from 135 to 175 candidates. Villanova currently has a staff of 112 students, both returning and new RAs. Current RAs go through an internal reappointment process to be re-hired and placed about a week before the new staff is selected. Residence Life then knows exactly how many new RAs are needed and where vacancies are located.

Interviews are offered in November for students planning to study abroad in the spring, but no decisions are made until February, when the rest of the applicant pool has been established.

“I really wanted to become an RA because of the impact my freshman year RA had on me and my experience at Villanova,” said junior Allison Kahl, a West Campus RA. “I also wanted to further develop my leadership qualities and establish friendships and connections with like-minded peers.”

The influence of previous RAs was a factor for junior Theresa Henry, who is applying for an RA position this year, as well.

“My RA freshman year had a great talent for building community and constantly being a friendly face for all the girls in my hall,” Henry said. “It’s slightly more difficult to bring [sophomores and juniors] out of their comfort zones and get them involved, and I believe I can inspire them to get involved in the residence hall community.”

At the time of initial hiring last year, Residence Life reported 42 returning RAs, as well as 136 applicants for the remaining 70 positions. This year, about 50 RAs are planning to return for next year – although the reappointment process is still underway – and there are 175 applicants for the 62 remaining positions.

“We have changed our applicant guidelines this year to include rising sophomores, so I did expect that this year would be a little more competitive,” assistant director for staff training and development Jennifer Derry said, adding that in the past, only rising juniors, seniors and graduate students were eligible to apply. “Those rising sophomores are only eligible to be hired in all-freshmen halls for next year, however, so it really may only be more competitive for a subset of our applicant pool.”

Trends in the gender of RA applicants also exist.

“It is more typical to see a larger number of females apply than males,” Derry said, adding that these numbers vary by year as well. “It’s about a 55/45 split on average.”

In 2008, Residence Life hired exactly 35 males and 35 females. Since students are housed by gender, there is often significantly more competition for female RA positions. For the past 25 years, RAs have been eligible for housing and meal plans incentives.

Those in traditional residence halls receive a waiver of room charges and an Alternative meal plan, while those in the West Campus apartments receive a waiver of room charges and a Commuter Extra meal plan.

“The compensation that RAs receive is pretty attractive to both students and parents, probably more so now than in the past few years,” Derry said. “Although RAs don’t get to see an actual paycheck, the meal plan and room – which for some has also given them an extra year or two of on-campus housing – are a pretty nice break on a financial aid package.”

The application process begins with the completion of a NOVASIS form and selection of an interview time.

Applicants must submit a letter of recommendation and résumé, and are encouraged to attend an information session.

The interview itself is a two-hour process, consisting of a one-on-one portion and a group evaluation activity.

“The group evaluations are somewhat similar to the ones done by New Student Orientation but involve a little more inquiry into personalities and leadership potential,” Kahl said.

The new members of the RA staff return to campus before classes begin for a week of training, which focuses on ways to build community in the residence halls and apartments. 

According to Residence Life, everything an RA does is directed toward community building among their residents, down to upholding University policy to maintain a safe and respectful environment.

Summer training consists of both instructional and hands-on sessions, focusing on topics such as resolving roommate conflicts and addressing policy violations.

The program makes use of role playing and interactive simulation in order to make the situations as realistic as possible.

“While some RAs are more comfortable with it than others, I don’t know of a single person on my staff who would ever consider enforcing University policy to be their favorite part of the job,” Derry said. “Because of that, we do spend a good amount of time helping prepare RAs for the reality of that part of the position. Our goal is to help the staff to feel more comfortable for that first incident they have to confront on the job.”

“The policy enforcement part of the job is also one of the most difficult, but if you take the time to establish a relationship of respect with your residents, it becomes easier to handle and address,” Kahl said.

In addition to this training, the RA Mentor Program was started in the fall of 2000 as a sort of leadership prep course for sophomores thinking about becoming RAs. About 50-75 percent of RAMP participants apply each year, and of those, about 70 percent are usually hired. Of current RAs, between 35-40 percent were part of RAMP as sophomores.

“I think it’s really helpful for people to go though RAMP first, but it’s certainly not required or necessary,” Derry said. “But I do think that those who go through RAMP first feel more prepared initially for the job, know more of what to expect and come into the job with some close relationships that they were able to build in RAMP.”

This year, RAMP will include other class years as well, since upperclassmen have expressed interest in the program.

Applications will be available after spring break for the fall 2009 program.

“I often hear my staff say that being an RA isn’t a job but a way of life,” Derry said. “I hope that no one applies for the position solely because of the benefits, but I also recognize that no one would do this job for free. A lot is expected of an RA, and I see my staff giving an awful lot back to the community in return.”

Kahl agreed with Derry’s assessment of the demands an RA faces.

“There’s a lot that people don’t see, like the meetings every week and event planning, as well as break and move-in duty that take up a lot of time and effort,” Kahl said. “While it is a very large commitment, it is definitely a very fulfilling experience.”