The inside scoop: RA’s advice on how to ace student life

While they might not scale tall buildings or catch villains, there are super heroes walking among us. These heroes use their superpowers to support and guide students, parents and families to successfully navigate the college years. This #HigherEdHero brings a unique perspective as he is a seasoned RA (Resident Advisor) and also currently a college senior. He knows what he’s talking about!

Meet Alex Tomczik, a Finance major at the University of St. Thomas.

KR: Thank you for making the time to talk with us, Alex. After working as an RA for the past two years, I know you have lots of experience with helping first-year students get settled into college life. What are some of the biggest challenges you see first-year college students facing today? How are they overcoming these challenges?

AT: One of the biggest challenges I see as an RA are when freshmen come in with the expectation that their roommate will automatically be their best friend. While it occasionally happens, it is not always the case and doesn’t have to be that way. You can be roommates—successful roommates—and not be best friends. You can be friendly and respectful, but not attached 24/7.

We see lots of problems later down the road if one roommate wants space, but the other is clinging. Their whole world crumbles if their roommate is their only lifeline.

My advice is to challenge students to branch out right away. Don’t be your roommates shadow. This is not high school. You’re not with your hometown friends. This is your time to be independent and meet new people. It is your time to try new and different activities. The people I’ve seen who are most successful find their own friend groups and do not rely solely on their roommate for friendship. They are intentional about seeking out new friendships.

KR: One of the questions I hear students ask frequently is “How will I make friends?” In your opinion, what are the best ways for first-year students to connect with each another and form friendships?

AT: This is THE million dollar question! Students need to take the initiative to seek out activities and clubs outside of their classes. You may meet a few people in your classes, but extracurriculars are game-changers in finding friends.

Get active as soon as possible! Attend a club fair and sign up for an activity or club that interests you. There are many options for all interests. It could be frisbee in the quad, attending a free movie, cooking club, or volunteering. Or you could sign up for rock climbing club like I did. You can’t just go sit in your room and expect people to come to you. You have to put the effort in. Again, this is not high school. Go introduce yourself, even if it is uncomfortable. Trust me, you have to put yourself into uncomfortable situations in order to become comfortable. And you will make friends.

KR: Any advice on how to handle roommate conflicts?

AT: I found it interesting that right away at the first sign of conflict, both parents and kids want to immediately get a new roommate. That is not a realistic solution for a couple of reasons. One, we don’t have excess roommates just sitting around on standby. And it is not as easy as it sounds to “just move rooms.” Think of the logistics and administrative challenges that go along with it.

But most importantly, it takes time to work things out. Conflict resolution is a life skill that first-year students need to develop. So is learning to cohabitate with another person.

Often roommate conflict is about something being assumed or not being said—or something not being communicated properly. Again, life skills that take time and practice to develop.

My advice is to first give each other space. A little breathing room to cool down. Do your own thing for a bit until you are both ready to work through it. Having a good relationship with your RA is also helpful. You can bounce ideas off your RA—they are neutral and have training to mitigate this kind of thing.

KR: How can parents/guardians help their students have the best possible first-year experience?

AT: Be patient. This is new territory for your kid. Let your student take the lead. And please remember your kid’s college experience is not YOUR college experience. I assure you that college today is very different from when you were a student yourself.

As a parent, share your expectations (attend classes, study, phone home once in a while, etc.) but encourage them to figure out their own college experience.

Another topic I think is important for parents is to have an honest conversation about alcohol, and perhaps expose them to it. Your student will see it. And likely try it. As an RA, I’m scooping them off the floor because they have never had any exposure to alcohol before and take it too far. They have no idea how it will affect them. Instead of treating alcohol like a taboo topic, please be realistic and talk about it!

KR: What words of wisdom would you give to a current high school senior as they prepare for their college years?

AT: Develop good habits when it comes to studying and schoolwork. Be consistent—it helps to have good structure, time management and study habits when you get to college.

Find ways in high school to put yourself out there, to open up to new people. Broaden your social circle. Practice meeting new people. You’ll use this skill once you’re on a college campus.

KR: What’s are some tips you could give to make move-in day go smoother?

AT: Just know it will be chaotic. There’s no way around it. Go in expecting road bumps. Arrive early and be patient. Elevators will be packed.

I encourage students to coordinate logistics and timing ahead of time with your roommate. Plan to arrive and move in at two different times. Otherwise the hallways get jammed and your room is a mess. It flows much better when roommates arrive and unload at different times.

Do introduce yourself to your RA right away. Use your RA as a resource. They know inside tips like where the back stairways and extra moving carts are located. Please utilize your RA to get answers for your questions on move-in day and throughout the entire year.

For more information on setting your student up for a successful first-year college experience, get yourself a copy of Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage today! It is THE go-to guide for parents as they navigate the high school-to-college transition.

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