The Best Job For College Students

This post is in honor of my awesome Co-RA of yore, who is in town this week visiting Mr. PoP and I. So glad to see him!


“The average person graduates with HOW much college debt?!”

College is expensive. And since no one in their right mind really WANTS to graduate with thousands upon thousands in unnecessary student loan debt, it makes sense to get a job. (If you don’t believe me, believe the NYTimes.) But without a degree and limited time, what kind of job can you get that makes a real difference to your bottom line?

Don’t let your mind go to the gutter thinking of jobs with questionable moral or legal status. This isn’t that kind of post. =)


Costs of College

For this example, I’m going to cite the prices for the University of Florida, which is a one of our state’s flagship state universities. For an undergrad living on campus, the cost of attendance is $20,580 per academic year, inclusive of tuition, fees, books room and board, etc.

Almost half (46%!) of this total are costs for housing and food. So you could cut your funding needs almost in half if you could eliminate those expenses. But you still need a roof over your head and food in your belly, right?


The Answer – Be An RA

For those of you not up on the lingo, and RA is a resident assistant (sometimes called resident advisor). The gig varies slightly from university to university, but the idea is basically the same everywhere. In exchange for housing and food on campus during the academic year, you love in the dorm (sorry!) residence halls, and serve the role of peace keeper and “community organizer”. (You, too, could be president someday!)

Note, nowhere in the job description did I mention tyrant, snitch, bully, or police force. Contrary to popular opinion those terms generally aren’t in the job description.


I lived in the dorms my freshman year, incidentally where I met Mr. PoP (everybody say awww!), but after paying for food and housing my freshman year, I became an RA and saved some big bucks!


The Monetary Benefits

  • Housing – $5,240 (again from UF) As a bonus, when I was an RA I always had a double room to myself. RAs need their privacy, you know!
  • Food – $4,130 We always got our choice of any on campus meal plan we wanted. Naturally rather than scrimping and picking the cheapest meal plan like I did my freshman year and counting every swipe of my meal card, I chose the most expensive and at the end of the semester usually had “dining dollars” leftover to cover ice cream runs at the student union or swipe for friends and residents who had run low.
  • A Tiny Stipend – $500 We also got a very small taxable stipend each semester. Not huge, but who’s going to turn down a couple hundred bucks?
  • Total Monetary Benefits: $9,870


Hours Worked

  • Training Before Move-In – 24 hours Usually three 8-hour days followed with free pizza and watching movies with your co-RAs (this is college after all) before the student body moves in for the year.
  • Move-In – 24 hours Again, we each had three 8-hour shifts helping out with move-in. Sometimes you were meeting parents, sometimes helping carry boxes or teaching students how to flip the metal bed frames over to create space for all the rubbermaids full of crap that they brought with them from home that they’ll never use.
  • Move Out – 25 hours Often move-out worked out to a lot less than this because you scheduled the move-outs in half-hour increments, but most of the time they took 5-10 minutes.
  • Weekly Desk Duties – 96 hours We worked one night/week 9pm – midnight sitting at the dorm’s information desk. It was a great time to do homework or have friends stop by and hang out.
  • Monthly Weekend Desk Duty – 80 hours One weekend per month you worked both Friday and Saturday night from 9pm – 2am at the desk. Again, a great time for homework or hanging out with friends before or after they went out for the evening.
  • Random Meetings / Community Building – 64 hours This was just random stuff that came up, not really regularly, but we’ll call it 8 hours/month.
  • Total Hours – 313

Net Hourly Wage – $31.53/hour, most of which is tax free. Plus, if you subtract the hours where you’re probably doing homework (call this 96 of the 176 desk hours), then it’s more like $45.48 per hour tax-free.

There are a lot of professionals who don’t see an after-tax hourly wage anywhere near those values. And remember this is something that you’re mostly doing in your free time. It doesn’t interfere with classes or if you want to have another job on campus during the days to pick up a little more cash on the side.


Non-Monetary Benefits

In addition to the monetary benefits, being an RA looks pretty good on the resume and references as well. (One of our current tenants is a former RA and it was definitely a big PLUS for them that we felt confident they were responsible.)

It was also pretty fun most of the time. Being an RA forced me to get to know people that my typically introverted self wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know, and to find out that I really liked sharing tips and tricks of how to maximize situations for your own benefit (something I enjoy doing on this blog, too!).

And lastly, what other job can I say that I had where I was paid to beat on doors with a giant plastic bat or where I saved a whole building from burning down?


Anyone else out there a former RA? Or does anyone have any suggestions on highly lucrative (but legal!) jobs for college students?


51 comments to The Best Job For College Students

  • Sounds like a good deal.

    Greg was never an RA, but he did do a paid internship while he finished school. Not only did he get paid, but they provided us with a free apartment with zero utility bills. It was a great financial headstart to our marriage bcause we saved most of the money we made that year.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Types of Investments: Slicing Through The MystiqueMy Profile

  • We did this as graduate students. Saved $20K/year off rent and got a small stipend.

    HOWEVER, it was a LOT of work We had to stop after two years so we could finish our dissertations! We used the money we saved plus some stock market interest to buy a house when we graduated.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..I don’t get regular clothes shopping and a challenge updateMy Profile

  • That’s pretty awesome. I never lived in a dorm in college (I rented a house) but if I did, then I probably would have done this!
    Michelle recently posted..$1,121 in Extra Income and Life UpdatesMy Profile

  • I was fortunate enough to have a scholarship that covered my dorm expenses, but I think being an RA would have been a great job. I think if you can get work study, this is a great job as well. I did that in optometry school. It didn’t pay much, but worked with my schedule and added a few extra dollars. I was assistant to the continuing ed director, so that gave me something to put on the resume, and he gave me a good reference as well.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Is Poverty in the United States an Excuse to do Poorly in School?My Profile

    • I agree that work study programs are great – I did some of them as well. But for hours invested, being an RA definitely had the highest ROI on my when I was in school.

  • D5

    My cousin was an RA while in college, and now she works in hospitality management at a resort. I’d like to say that the adult guests are better behaved than college students, but from what she tells me working at our large public university was great preparation!
    D5 recently posted..Quick Post – Breaking in New ShoesMy Profile

    • Haha, nice! I have a lot of friends and family that have worked in hospitality for many years, and some of their stories are ridiculous. Especially at places where you wouldn’t expect it like the Ritz or St Regis!

  • I was an RA for two years! I saved a boatload and had a great way to build my resume.

    I took the res life love even further by being an RD (resident director–boss of the RAs for a particular building) while in grad school. I scored a free 2BR/2BA apartment in Boston which included utilities, parking and a meal plan for FREE! :)
    The Happy Homeowner recently posted..Would You Ever NOT Pay Your Bills on Purpose?My Profile

  • Being an RA can be a sweet gig, considering all of the possible benefits. I was not one, though I had been offered an RA spot. I lived in a really small dorm which meant that it was like one big family and would’ve missed my friends as the spot was in a mu larger dorm across campus. Looking back I probably would take it now just to get the benefits.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Losing Isaac – Finding Life in the Death of a ChildMy Profile

    • I did luck out that I had an awesome dorm – the same small one where I had lived my freshman year. It would have been less fun to move to a building where I didn’t know everyone, but I portably still would have done it.

  • Brian

    I just did a lot of studies… usually averaged $20/hr for really what amounted to no work. The best ones were the sleep studies! Of course you have to go to a University that has lots of research going on. I also lucked upon economics studies/games that paid based on your performance in their scenarios. Those usually averaged in the $40-60/hr pay range. If you can find those gigs they are pretty sweet.

    I thought about being an RA, but usually those spots seemed to be snatched up by foreign students or returning RAs. Seems like the foreign kids knew this was a pretty sweet gig!

    • Any of Dan Ariely’s studies? I love his behavioral economics books!

      A lot of the RAs were out of state students (myself included), which I think was largely because our scholarships were awarded as dollar amounts, not tuition waivers. So for an in-state strident, the same scholarship would go much further since their tuition base was so much lower.

  • I was an RA my junior year and the first semester of my senior year. The second semester of my senior year I was a RD after the one we had was fired. For being an RA at my small private college I was paid $300 or so every two weeks (taxable of course) and got a room to myself for no extra cost. I still had to pay for room and board but my scholarship covered most of it so being an RA gave me spending money. Being a RD got me a free one bedroom apartment and also a free meal plan. It was a good gig to have though I had my share of issues.
    One girl got pregnant and came crying to me about quitting school which she ended up doing
    one had a “cutting” issue (self mutilation),
    one was storing weed in her room,
    one tried to commit suicide and the cops showed up,
    one day I found a girl passed out in the bathroom and she didn’t live in my dorm. Fun times…
    Kasey recently posted..Budget up in dustMy Profile

    • We had a few issues, but our dorm was really good about cultivating an atmosphere of support and respect, which I think made a big difference compared to stories I’ve heard elsewhere.

  • I was an RA and the residents I still keep in touch with still introduce me as their RA from college. haha I agree that it saved a lot, though at our school we had to bust on-campus parties and were often not allowed to go to the big campus events since we were all on duty (we were a dry campus). For the most part, though, I loved it and it helped my interpersonal skills.
    anna recently posted..Seal Pupping Season at La Jolla Cove and February-ish Debt UpdateMy Profile

    • Haha, I hear you on getting introduced as the RA. We’ve even been to weddings where the parents remember me from move-in day so many years ago!

      We were a dry campus, too – but our building was great. I’m not saying that no student ever drank underage or that they were all 100% rule followers – that’d be a fairy tale. It was college!
      But our team of RAs was big on communicating reasonable and respectful behavior and people weren’t idiots. We told resident what type of actions (disrespect for others or the building) would compel us to act as authority figures, and that generally stuck with a few reminders. We didn’t want to be disciplinarians, so tried to prevent it as much as possible.

  • At my college only seniors could be proctors (our version of RAs) and there were only about 15 of them so it was a very competitive application process. Based on the duties and hours you listed I would have loved to be an RA, but my impression was that the proctors had to put in a lot of hours counseling and spending time with the people in their dorms. Personally I never really interacted with the proctors, though – I didn’t do many dorm-based activities.

    It’s tough to find cushy well-paying jobs for students, though – my workstudy only paid like $8/hr (though most could be spent doing homework). I actually know 1 current PhD student who is an RA at my university, which I’m surprised is permitted as we are not supposed to have outside jobs – I’ll have to ask him about it.
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Contributing to Last Year’s Roth IRAMy Profile

    • Sounds like a very small college if there were only 15 RAs. We had 1 RA for every 30-50 residents depending on the layout of the building.
      It is a cushy job, but you’d be surprised how uncompetitive it was to get. Most people i know that completed the training course and interview required for the application got positions. Maybe not in their #1 choice building, but they still got a position and a better chance for a different building the next year.

      • Yes, our college had about 700 students while we attended – incredibly small. But about 99% lived on campus all four years and the proctor position is highly respected so there was a stiff application process.

        I’ll definitely keep the RA option in mind for my children or high school students I advise. It is a great deal in terms of the benefits and you gain a lot of interpersonal skills for the hard work.
        Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Contributing to Last Year’s Roth IRAMy Profile

  • Sounds like such a cool job, for an amazing rate! I lived on campus for a year but it looked like they had only old employees, not students. Students could supervise the local high school at lunch or PE class which was a very good paying gig.
    Pauline recently posted..Little house in Guatemala, week 16-17My Profile

  • I commuted to college, so I never really had an opportunity to become an RA. A friend of my wife and I was an RA and she loved it, but said it was a lot of work.
    I think that serving tables, tending bar or delivering pizza can be great ways to earn extra income in college. The pay can be very good and hours are usually in line with the schedule of a college student.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Online Funerals: Stream Your GoodbyesMy Profile

    • I’m curious what your friend had to do that it was so much work. In our dorm we always marveled at how little we had to do in the grand scheme of things. Mostly just be on site to call people if something went wrong – call the cops, call the fire department, or (more commonly) call custodial services… And there were plenty of us living there that it wasn’t a big deal for at least a couple of us to be around most of the time.

  • This is so funny, I was just trying to convince a friend today that he should be a ta. My argument was that he’s probably making $40/hr since tuition was waived. Of course, that was just a guess…
    Ross recently posted..What can your money metrics tell you?My Profile

    • TAs get waived tuition? We got that in grad school, but not in undergrad. But the big money in grad school was getting on the list of department-approved tutors. $40-$60/hr to tutor undergrads. Cash! I knew a guy who paid for his fiance’s engagement ring with 2 weeks of pre-finals tutoring gigs.

  • She attended Michigan State, a big party school. Lots of drinking, drugs ect…
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Online Funerals: Stream Your GoodbyesMy Profile

  • There is a bit of a stigma with being an RA so you definitely aren’t popular on your hall. We did have one awesome RA though that everyone was friends with. Unfortunately though that isn’t the norm it seems. Maybe it just depends on the person.
    Lance @ Money Life and More recently posted..What to Do If You Are A Victim of Identity TheftMy Profile

    • I think that depends a lot on the building and the tone of how it’s run – which is largely set by the RD (resident director). Our RDs were always very clear that residents are adults and should be treated that way until the residents prove otherwise. That made for a great rapport of mutual respect between residents and the RAs (not to mention for the building and everyone else living in it). The only RAs that I knew that weren’t always on the best terms with residents were El Ed majors who treated residents like the third graders in their student teaching classrooms. Shockingly, residents weren’t too fond of being treated like idiots/children.

  • Legal…hmm. One of my really good friends was an RA in college (I didn’t know her until after college) but she always has a best stories to tell about being an RA (all the debauchery that happened, all the good secrets about who partied where and what wild things they were doing when the cops showed up). It was also really good training for her current job as a social worker where she’s often left in charge of 43 clients diagnosed with mental illnesses. Calm under pressure and ability to deal effectively with crisis are skills that are priceless in that environment, and she learned them for “free” being an RA. Not to mention the free housing and food. Those were just added bonuses.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Sex & The City on a BudgetMy Profile

    • Sounds like your friend had a crazy building! Our campus was dry, so pretty much all the debauchery happened off campus. And you’re definitely right about being calm under pressure and having the ability to deal with a crisis. I bet your friend uses those skills all the time in her current gig!

  • Very good idea; sure beats working in the cafeteria.

    I worked in the computer lab which was a coveted and sweet gig. However, it only paid minimum wage. Whoop dee doo.

    Dunno why I never considered the RA route. However, I have filed it in the back of my brain for when my children go to school. Thanks!
    Mr. 1500 recently posted..The Magical Doubling PennyMy Profile

  • Being an RA seems like a really good gig for college students. I used to deliver pizzas in college, which was good but it didn’t pay my total housing cost.
    Deacon @ Well Kept Wallet recently posted..How to Create a BudgetMy Profile

  • Being an RA was competitive at my small, liberal-arts school too. Everyone knew it was a good deal, and a lot of students interviewed. I’m not sure why I didn’t make it for my sophomore year; I strongly suspect it’s because my RA interview was with some really Christian students on campus, and I had a bad falling out with some of them because I was a liberal Christian and not willing to judge others.

    I instead got involved in hall stuff. The next year, res life asked me to be an RA, but I opted to study abroad instead. In retrospect, I should have been an RA my junior year and then studied abroad for a semester of my senior year. Oh, well. At least studying abroad got me out of a bad relationship, which probably saved more money than being an RA would have.

    Still, I agree, it’s a path I would recommend.
    Leah recently posted..New happeningsMy Profile

  • I had a friend who was an RA and had a great time. It definitely is a great job for college students that’s for sure.
    Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses recently posted..13 Ways to Save Money in 2013My Profile

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  • Wow, you make a very compelling and well reasoned argument for this type of job. I am surprised you can even get one as there must be some competition for such a job. Very nicely reasoned post!
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    • Thanks. I think the job doesn’t get much publicity so students don’t even think about applying. Especially if mommy and daddy are footing the bill for living expenses already.

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