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Pre-Fall RA Training, What Can New RA’s Expect?

By Cara Entwisle, Resident Assistant, Eastern New Mexico University

The end of summer for a college student usually means wrapping up visits or finishing summer jobs, but for the RA, it means heading back to school for pre-session training. Returning RA’s typically know what’s in store for them, but new RA’s are usually blind to what they will be facing for the next two weeks. This article hopes to answer the infamous question that most new RA’s have on their minds, “what can I expect from training?” Basically, training can be summed up in a few words, long hours and a lot of information. Training is designed to help RA’s prepare for any difficulty that they come in contact with. While pre-session training is a lot of work, it is also a fun time for RA’s to bond and grow as a staff.

Getting to Know You: Icebreakers and Trust Building Activities

On your first day of training, you will meet your residence hall staff, and the staff for the other residence halls. Most likely, a member of the housing staff will lead the RAs through some basic getting to know you activities. These include name games, information treasure hunts (to discover what you have in common with the new people you’re meeting), and other related activities. Your housing staff wants you to feel comfortable with the people you'll be working with for the next year.

At some point in training, you may participate in any number of trust building activities. Trust activities are incorporated to build bonds and to get people acquainted with one another. It’s also a chance for you to have some fun. These trust activities can range from the human knot, to falling backwards and relying on your peers to catch you, and even following obstacle courses blindfolded. Regardless of what activities are planned, each is set up to prepare you for the group interaction that lies ahead.

Basics: Rules and Regulations, Policies and Procedures

A major aspect of RA training is going over the basics of rules and regulations, as specified by the policies that govern your residential program. Your professional housing staff will want you to understand their expectations of you in regards to following policies and procedures. This lets you know what to expect, and it informs you of the expectations that you will need to have for your residents.

In training, you will review policies and procedures that may include: drug and alcohol policies, pets, guests and visitors, quiet hours, emergency evacuation procedures, and things of that nature. More than likely, your housing staff will spend great amounts of time on each subject, based on its importance.


As an RA you will fill out innumerable amounts of paperwork. Typically a small portion of training is spent on reviewing the paperwork process. You’ll go over which forms are used for what, and how each one needs to be filled out. In all cases, it is vitally important that you fill out your paperwork properly. This includes room inspection forms, housing contracts, program reports, and even incident reports.

Crisis Training

Every RA needs to know what to do in the event of an emergency. Your housing staff wants you to be prepared for anything that comes along, and depending on your program that could include CPR and even first aid basics. More than likely, you will be advised to leave serious medical emergencies to trained medical technicians. Remember that your job as an RA is to help, do what you can but leave the rest to people who are trained to take on serious problems.

Another area that you will be trained in is basic helping skills in counseling. Just like first aid, you're there to help your residents with minor problems, not to solve their psychiatric problems. As an RA you will encounter all sorts of problems; roommate conflicts, boyfriend or girlfriend issues, depression, homesickness, and maybe even suicide. Whatever your residents have in store for you, this section of training is aimed to prepare you for whatever fate has planned. One thing that cannot be stressed enough is to let the professional counseling staff handle serious problems. You can listen to your resident's problems, but in the end, you should refer them to see a trained counselor if their problems are really serious and beyond what you are trained to handle.

Building Business: Door Decs, Bulletin Boards, and Programs

A good chunk of your training time will be spent on individual building tasks. Before your residents move in, you will need to make door decorations, or door decs. Door decs are nametags that are posted outside your resident's room; this is your chance to do something fun and creative for your residents. Use your imagination, if you need some help, ask your fellow RA's for their advice… that's what they're there for!

You will also probably need to prepare your floor bulletin boards, to convey vital information to your residents, or as a means to educate and enlighten them. Once you meet your residents, you can tailor your boards to their needs and concerns. Your training session will probably spend time talking about bulletin boards, as well as the resources that are available on campus (that can become future bulletin board ideas).

To finish up “building business”, let's go over programming. Programming (planned activities designed to provide opportunities for residents to gather for socialization, learning, recreation, etc) is a vital aspect of the RA job; a great community can be built on your floor through successful programming. In training, your staff will go over programming ideas and ways to successfully market and advertise for your program. You may hear horror stories about program failures, but if you're excited about your programs and can get your residents just as excited, then all of your programs have the potential for great success.

Behind Closed Doors

Behind closed doors is an exercise used by most housing staffs to expose you to the potential situations that you may face as an RA. Your hall directors and fellow RA’s will act out common scenarios that an RA might face, such as alcohol busts, domestic disputes, noise violations, crisis situations, or even parent confrontations. This process is played out to get you ready for what could happen, and while they may seem funny at the time, it gives a much-needed insight to what may happen. A word to the wise, most resident situations do not play out like the scenes from behind closed doors, use your best judgment and ask for help if you need it.

Community Building

Finally, one of the most important things that will be gone over in pre-fall training is community building. Your housing staff will stress the importance of community building throughout the course of your RA career. By building a strong community you can count on having a great year. Not only will your residents benefit from the experience, but also you’ll enjoy the thrill of seeing your floor turn into a friendly, open and respectful environment.

While pre-fall training is filled with a plethora of information, don’t feel bad if you don’t retain everything. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for “on the job training” as the year moves forward. Additionally, your staff will always be willing to help. The most important thing to remember about training is to embark on it with high spirits and a willingness to learn and grow. Training not only teaches RA’s about the RA job, but it teaches you about yourself and your strengths. Ask questions and participate, that’s the best way to become a great RA. Overall, enjoy the process and the time you get to spend with your staff. You’ll be amazed at how fast training goes, but it’ll be worth it once your RA job begins. Oh, and by the way…it can be exhausting.

Take it from me; if you can survive training, you can survive anything! Good luck and enjoy it all! Have tons of fun!

About the Author

Cara Entwisle is a second year RA at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico. She is a junior majoring in sociology and minoring in human resource management. She is originally from Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Cara enjoys spending time with her friends and family and is looking forward to life after graduation. She would like to thank all of the RA’s that have helped her over the past two years, and also her family for always supporting her.