I was 18 when I moved into my freshman residence hall, and had you told me at the time that I wouldn’t be moving out of a residence hall until I was 26, I wouldn’t have been able to fathom what that meant. However, by my first year of grad school, my live-on status felt like a significant part of my identity. Whether you call yourself an HD, RD, CD, RHD, or RLC, living among 18-year-olds through your mid-twenties provides a unique set of experiences.
I will forever value my time held in the live-on roles, but by the time I started my first AD job about a year ago, I knew it was time to move off. I had a laundry list of things I was ready to say goodbye to: the afterhours commitments, running into student issues when coming home on an evening of weekend, fighting for parking during major events, shared laundry rooms, nights on-call confining me to campus, and explaining to new friends or first dates that I live in a residence hall but in a “real apartment” not a “dorm room.” With such a focus on the demands of living on, I didn’t consider all the challenges that moving off campus would present. While I can’t complain much about my transition, I realized that there were some things I did and many more I could have done to make that transition smoother. Whether you’re just entering your first on-campus professional role or are currently looking to transition out, it’s never too soon to start preparing for what comes next.
Planning for your next role:
I was fortunate that my first department as a professional made it a priority to prepare their Community Directors for next steps. One of the best pieces of advice I got early on was that the entry-level role is a generalist position and that advancing into an assistant director role would likely mean narrowing my focus. With that in mind, it’s important to consider what parts of the job you love and which you wouldn’t mind leaving behind. Perhaps you love supervision but hate student conduct. Maybe you thrive with housing operations but would be okay never advising another hall council. Your next job can be the opportunity to focus on what you love while leaving the other stuff.
Regardless of what drives you and what stresses you, consider how you can curate professional development opportunities that build skills in the areas you’ll need in your ideal next career step. If you know that you’ll need to supervise professional staff, see if there’s an opportunity for you to supervise a grad. If you love advising, see if you can get involved with RHA or NRHH. Explore any departmental or university committees that align with your interests and future goals. However, remember that first and foremost, it’s your role to manage your community well as a Hall Director, so don’t jump into these opportunities at the expense of supporting your residents and student staff or try to prematurely shirk the responsibilities you aren’t so fond of as you take on new professional development.
Planning for life skills:
I lived on a college campus for the first eight years of my adult life, and “Put in a work order” was one of my mantras. In that time, I never signed a lease, set up a wireless internet connection, installed a shower head, or even changed a light bulb. This became very apparent as I “helped” my new roommate mount shelving and change the locks at my first off-campus home. While it’s likely you can’t do any major renovations to your on-campus apartment, take some time to learn some of these skills however you’re able. Maybe it’s an adventure down a YouTube rabbit hole or keeping track of what you can expect from off-campus living in terms of price, amenities, and commute on Zillow. Maybe it’s helping friends or family when they’re doing housework or joining them as they tour apartments. Just remember, you’ll need to search for an apartment and buy a toolbox eventually, so get ready.
Entry-level salaries may appear less than impressive (and that’s an understatement – right?). However, it’s important to consider the financial benefit of living on-campus; rent and utilities aren’t cheap. Housing costs vary significantly based on location, but the average American renter pays around $1300 monthly, and moving off-campus comes with other expenses like utilities, internet service, cable, and costs associated with commuting. Hence, living on-campus might be around a $1500 monthly value or $18,000 yearly value that is not subject to tax. Factoring in federal and state taxes, the increase in gross income to equal that benefit is roughly $23,000 to $26,000 depending on your state income tax rate.
Here’s the formula you can use to roughly estimate how much your gross salary will have to increase to offset the cost of rent and utilities:
While your next job will come with a pay bump, it’s likely the pay bump won’t be that large and will feel like a net loss. Hence, your time in your live-in role is a great time to start paying down debts, saving for future expenses like a down payment on a house or retirement, and learning about investing. It may be wise to get into the habit of “paying yourself rent” each month to contribute toward whatever financial goal you wish to prioritize, including one-time expenses that come with moving off campus like furniture and a security deposit. Even if you don’t need a budget now, getting in the habit of tracking your monthly expenses may be helpful for when the expenses of living off-campus start hitting your bank account.
I remember that I found my lasting friend group in college when I became an RA. I met a few people entering the new and challenging role at the same time; we learned together, spent a lot of time together, suffered together, were in the same stage of life, and lived in the same building. For similar reasons, I made quick friends with my fellow housing grads in grad school and newly hired Community Directors in my first professional role. When I joined a new team as an Assistant Director, I was the only new hire on the leadership team, no one had the same job title as I did, and folks on the team were in many different stages of life, many with well-established social circles. While I felt engaged as a member of the team and made “work friends,” if work were my sole source of social interaction, it would have been a lonely transition.
As you enter a new role, you’ll want to consider how you’ll make new friends, particularly if the new job entails a geographic shift. This may involve finding colleagues to befriend, but it will likely involve finding other communities to connect with. Joining a club, volunteering, finding a religious or spiritual community, taking a class, playing recreational sports, or using websites like meetup.com can help you find a friend group. It may be worthwhile to try out some of these things– and maybe bring your work friends along – before you must do so in an entirely new place.
Planning a new work/life balance:
Living where you work makes striking a balance between work and life unique, and often this blurred line can mean work crossing into life more than you’d like. As I transitioned off campus, I was eager to find more separation with a workday that more rigidly ended at 5 PM. However, the same new boundary that prevents my work from bleeding over into personal time also eliminates flexibility I had taken for granted before. With my commute changing from 30 seconds to 30 minutes, I had to be more planful of how I spent my mornings and evenings. While there are still meaningful uses for my lunch break, there are far fewer options, and some of my old favorite ways to flex a lunch break – like actually cooking lunch or running 3 miles, showering, and inhaling a prepped meal – simply aren’t possible. While afterhours commitments are much less frequent, the impact of not being home for 12 or even 16 hours is more taxing, and similarly duty calls are less frequent and often don’t require an in-person response, but I spend far more time on duty.
This is not to say the change has been negative; the ten-mile stretch of highway that separates me from work has done a lot of good. However, the change in flexibility necessitated a reexamination of how to prioritize my time and a renewed sense of discipline. It’s only possible to limit my work to business hours by making sure I can remain productive for those consecutive hours. Prioritizing my goals outside of work also takes more planning and commitment to effectively utilize earlier mornings or later evenings. While it can be difficult to plan for this transition exactly, taking an inventory of your habits that utilize the flexibility of living on campus and mapping out how your schedule would change when factoring in a commute is a great starting place.