Pile up Money Working as a University Head Resident

Kate Carleton talks about her job as head resident of a university dorm and how living free on campus allows her to save money towards moving to the country.
By Kate Carleton
September/October 1971
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If you're looking for a pleasant way to pile up money for that big move to the country, you might try heading for a university. Seriously. Don't enroll, don't join the staff . . . just live there. My husband and I are doing exactly that right now and saving more money than seems possible. The trick is simple . . . we're head residents in a dorm.

Don't shudder. The old lady housemother who locks doors and plays parent is fast disappearing. At today's up-to-date schools, head residents are generally young people in their twenties, either married or single. Some are otherwise unconnected with the university, some work there, some are former students back to complete their undergraduate work and some are graduate students.

Jon and I are in our late twenties and our only connection with the university where we live is our position there as head residents. During the nine-month school year, our responsibilities are relatively few and we have plenty of time to hold down other jobs. The rest of the time—summer and shorter vacations—we're free to stay in university housing or to take off . . . as we choose.

We live in a fully furnished modern apartment with an entrance hall, dining room-living room, kitchenette, hallway, large bedroom, full bath and plenty of closet space. Our windows look out on a large tree-shaded yard, and we have a beautiful view down the back to the river. In the suburbs, this apartment would probably rent for at least $110 a month and—in the city—it would easily go (with the parking space) for $150. Instead of paying any rent, however, we are BEING PAID $400 a year by the university to live here. Nor do we pay for any utilities except our private phone (which is a luxury since we already have a free college phone in the apartment). Throughout the school year, we also get food in the dining commons and once-a-week maid service . . . all free, of course!

Last year—our first—we figured we saved at least $1500 on rent, $400 on heat and utilities and over $700 on food. So, by living here on campus for two years, we'll save an easy $5000 on living expenses . . . and that $5000 will go directly into our back-to-the-land bank account over and above what we regularly save from our salaries. 

In many other ways, living on campus costs less, too. Students periodically have their own sales—especially at the end of the term or school year—where clothes, records, used books, bikes and furniture can all be bought cheaply.

Film festivals, concerts and lectures are often free or close to it and—when they do cost more than we want to pay—we just amble over around intermission time and still catch the last half free. Last year we took in a complete series of Ingmar Bergman films—in chronological order and with a short discussion following each one—for 25¢ apiece. A whole cinema course, worth more to us than many lecture courses we've taken, for almost nothing! Auditing actual lectures can be interesting and inexpensive also and, right now, we're taking a film course designed and taught by the students themselves.

Other activities? At vacation time, the ride board is filled with names of people needing rides and riders and it's easy to travel to almost any part of the country for practically nothing. We can use the university swimming pool for free, its sailboats for $1 an afternoon and its tenting and camping equipment for $2 a night during the week and $3 on weekends. By joining the camera club, we have access to cameras and developing equipment and—by simply showing an interest—we can use campus craft equipment such as woodworking tools and hand looms.

Virtually all these resources are within walking distance of our apartment and, since we both walk to work, we use our car very little. So—not only do we save on rent, food and utilities—but on entertainment and transportation, too!

The advantages of being a head resident are not merely economic, however. By living here, we've also discovered a world of intriguing ideas, new concepts and interesting conversation. We've learned so much without having to go through any academic hassles and pressures and—when we do get the money to make our big move (probably at the end of this school year)—some of the ideas and friends that we've found here will be invaluable to us.

OK, but what do we DO as head residents?

First, we live in a dorm of 175 upperclassmen (the easiest type of dorm to handle since it's the freshmen who tend to have the adjustment problems and need the most guidance) and we relate to our independent guys almost entirely on an equal friend-to-friend basis.

Second, our head resident "job" lasts only nine months a year. During the summer (and shorter vacations too!) we're free to live here on our own or take off, as we choose.

Third, during the nine months that the students are here, we actually "work" very little except at the beginning of each term. Then, we have to hand out room keys on the day the students arrive and we meet with the students on scholarship to decide who will work at what job and at what hours.

Finally, we meet with the house council five or six times a year to see how things are going and to solve any problems that come up. Jon has lunch once a week with the dean and other head residents and—if we're going away for a weekend—we ask one of the students to stay in our apartment to take any emergency calls.

That's it. Period. No "hours" . . . no "police work" . . . very little bureaucratic red tape. We both have plenty of time to carry on our regular full time jobs.

How do you go about becoming a head resident? Go to the college or university where you'd like to live and talk with the Dean of Students. (A liberal co-ed school or big university is best. Conservative universities and all-girls' schools sometimes require their head residents to take a too-active parent role toward students).

The Dean of Students may or may not be responsible for hiring you, but it's important that you meet him and check him out. He'll be the administrator you'll be closest to and, if you don't like him or his philosophy, you don't want the job.

There are really very few requirements for being a head resident. A college degree is desirable, and it helps immeasurably if you get along easily .with college students. Any sort of leadership experience will also be to your credit . . . work on social action projects, teaching, even camp counseling. These and an easy-going-but-responsible manner during the interview are about all you need to qualify . . . it doesn't much matter how you look.

So for free living, a small extra income and the chance to save a huge percentage of your regular salary while planning that Big Move to the country . . . check out a head residency at your nearest university. Moving back to Mother Earth by way of the college campus may seem like nonsense at first . . . but it works. It really works.


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