You’re an RA. You love your job. You think you might want to go into housing as a career, or at least for part of your career. But you don’t hear a lot of people say “I want to be a Residence Hall Director when I grow up”, so you may not know how to go about making your way into the field of student affairs and housing. The good news is that it is not a complex process. The next few paragraphs will hopefully help you embark on your journey!

We will start with the assumption that you want to work in housing as a full-time professional. The first thing to know is that you do not need a specific undergraduate major to enter the field or to go to grad school for student affairs/housing. Housing professionals have very diverse undergraduate majors, from Spanish to Psychology and Education to Biology. The first decision to be made is whether or not you want to go to grad school and earn a Master’s Degree. The majority of large, public universities require a Master’s Degree for their entry-level full time housing professionals. However, some colleges (mostly smaller and private) only require a Bachelor’s Degree and some residence hall experience, which you probably will have attained through being an RA. A little bit of research on the internet will help you figure out the requirements that varying universities have. (See the list of job search websites at the end of this article.)

If you’ve decided you want to go on to graduate school and earn some type of Master’s degree, the next step is to pick some schools that interest you and research them. The majority of Master’s level full time housing professionals have their degrees in Higher Education Administration, Counseling, Educational Leadership, College Student Personnel, or a Master’s in Business Administration. If you know for sure you want to work in housing full time or in another college student affairs environment, one of the above mentioned degrees will probably prove most helpful. However, there are other housing professionals who have Master degrees in psychology, communications, general education, etc. – usually these candidates have a lot of residence hall experience to back them up.

Items to think about during your research:

  • What colleges/universities offer the degree you’re looking for
  • Requirements to apply for the desired graduate program (undergraduate GPA, GRE/MAT, essay, letters of recommendation)
  • Degree requirements (36/48 hours, thesis/non-thesis, comprehensive exams, internship)
  • Is the program theory-laden or is it more practical-oriented? Counseling-based or administrative based? Which styles appeal to you?
  • Availability of graduate level internships in housing or another student affairs department on campus
  • Remuneration for grad internships: tuition waiver, salary, furnished room/apartment, meal plan, parking spot
  • Duties entailed in the grad internship: hours per week, supervision/advising duties, administrative duties, number of people supervised, flexibility of schedule, on-call/duty requirements
  • Other financial aid options if the grad internship does not cover all expenses
  • The pros and cons of possibly continuing your graduate education at the same institution where you received your undergraduate degree
  • Talk to housing professionals that you work with (your supervisor, Director of Housing, Asst. Directors of Housing) to get their input and advice on good grad school programs
  • To facilitate your research, use these websites:

After you’ve done your research – both online and talking with current/past full time housing professionals – you can continue with the grad school application process at the schools of your choice. Rely on your heart and head to help you narrow down the list. Once you’ve applied for grad school, there may be additional processes (depending on the university) to apply for internships. Consult with the individual university for additional information. Once the application processes are under your belt, you are well on your way to starting your career in housing.

Regardless of how much time you have left before earning your undergraduate degree, you can still make the most of your time as an RA to prepare you for the future.

Seek out opportunities to gain experience:

Participate in RA recruitment and interviewing
Assist with RA Training
Serve on departmental teams/committees
Present programs to large audiences; develop a repertoire of topics that you’re knowledgeable about enough to present on
Attend conferences (RA Drive-In’s, RHA conferences – NACURH, regional/state RHA conferences)
Get involved with your Residence Hall Association
Ask your supervisor if you can lead a staff meeting
Ask your supervisor if you can sit in on some of his/her meetings
Submit program ideas and other RA tips to Resident
If your current college/university has a Higher Education (or related) Master’s degree program, visit one of the faculty members; ask to sit in on a class
Borrow some of your supervisor’s books/journals on developmental theory, diversity, legal issues, leadership, higher education administration and read some things that interest you
Participating in the above activities will not only help to confirm whether or not you want a career in housing, it will also make you more knowledgeable and marketable when you apply to grad school and eventually when you apply for your first professional job.

A career in housing can be exciting, fulfilling, and rewarding in many different aspects. The road to that career can also be exciting. At times it may seem overwhelming – so many choices/decisions to make, grad school admissions requirements, etc. But always remember, there are a plethora of resources to help you and support you – including your supervisor, your housing department, and to name a few. Best of luck and enjoy the journey.

Housing/Student Affairs websites (each has it’s own job search link within the main site):

Association of College and University Housing Officers International
American College Personnel Association
National Association of Student Personnel Administrators

Written by:
Karen McLaughlin
Residence Hall Coordinator, East Carolina University

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