How far a dollar goes for an Orientation leader

Orientation leaders at FAU get paid higher than at least eight other public universities, but they say you can’t be in it for the money.

Photography+by+photo+editor+Alex+Liscio.

Photography by photo editor Alex Liscio.

Cameren Boatner and Israel Fontoura

Editor’s note: David and Hannah’s names have been changed, as they wished to remain anonymous. We requested the stipends from all 12 Florida public universities, but only nine responded as of publication time.


Some orientation leaders (OLs) at FAU say it’s the best job they’ve ever had, but others say they deserve more money for the work they do.

 

FSU OLs get paid $10 an hour — which seems to be the highest in the state — while FAU OLs get paid $9 an hour. But FAU New Student Orientation Assistant Director Jordan DiPentima says OLs are compensated in other ways as well.

 

“Orientation leaders also receive on-campus housing for the summer months and additional benefits throughout the year, such as one-of-a-kind FAU shirts and gear,” DiPentima said. In the summer, OLs’ housing would cost approximately $1,700 per student, she added.

 

While it’s not a big discrepancy, the cost of living in Boca Raton is a lot higher than in Tallahassee, where FSU is located. The cost of living in Boca is close to 15 percent higher than the national average, while Tallahassee’s is 16.5 percent lower than the national average, according to salary.com.

 

FSU OLs don’t make a stipend, and the rent is only $1,240 on average. FAU OLs get paid a stipend of $3,250 a year, based on the $9 hourly rate. Mentor OLs, or second-year OLs, at FAU see an even higher stipend: $4,100.

 

But Boca apartments alone cost an average $1,998 — a cost you’d have to cover in the fall and spring. You’d be spending more than half your yearly check on a month’s rent during those semesters. 

 

To earn the stipend, you’ll work 10-13 orientations during the summer and won’t be able to have a job or take any classes during that period. Here’s what you can expect when you sign up.

What’s the job description?

 

Hannah, a former OL, said that while she enjoyed her job, you can’t be in it for the money.

 

“You do so much work for very little money. They tell you that from the get-go, ‘It’s not a job you do for money,’ … considering what they have you do,” she said.

 

The hired staff tells prospective OLs this before they apply because you’re required to work long hours, sometimes over 40 hours a week, for that same stipend.

 

When David was an OL in 2018, he said some of his tasks were exactly what you’d expect:

 

  • Giving new students tours around FAU
  • Memorizing skits
  • Patrolling Diversity Way for lost freshmen or transfers

 

But other aspects of his job, he said, were above his pay grade. Part of an OL’s job is to constantly be cheerful, but to also be able to keep students safe if an active shooter invades campus.

 

“How was I supposed to be responsible? How am I, getting paid minimum wage, supposed to protect a group of students during a school shooting?” he asked.

 

David said that he started off as happy as you see OLs around campus. But even the simpler parts of the job — like being cheery for students — became difficult to handle with time.

 

“It’s just kind of a mask you put on. It’s a show, it’s a front. None of us are really that peppy,” he said. “I was super excited when I originally got the job. But as the job went on, I just felt more and more trapped and it felt more and more like I was stuck.”

 

The caveats

 

OLs get free housing during the summer, free FAU merch, and one of the highest stipends in the state. Some OLs declined to speak with us, but added that they love their job.

 

Others, like David, said you need to be prepared to handle a lot.

 

“We definitely put up with way more than we should have and really only have one graduation cord to show up for it,” he said.

 

According to FAU’s orientation website, the role of an OL is to “[serve] as a leader, supporter, facilitator and coach to all new students in an effort to provide a seamless transition to FAU.” 

Orientation looks for these qualities during the interview process, specifically students who represent different on-campus involvement, majors, and years.

“OLs with leadership and facilitation skills who work well in diverse team environments and have a positive attitude while demonstrating their FAU spirit and pride are also noted,” DiPentima said.

However, there are a few disclaimers students should note before jumping in.

 

 

  • You’re required to live in the dorms during the summer.

 

 

OLs are required to stay in Heritage Park Towers or Indian River Towers dorm rooms during the summer, surrounded by all the other OLs.

 

“It was all just over-dramatic and very intense. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we had to see each other consistently, we really didn’t get a break from each other, we were always working,” David said.

 

 

  • You can’t work other jobs during the summer

 

 

The biweekly stipend they receive for a year only covers about two months’ rent in Boca, but you aren’t allowed to work another job in the summer. And during the fall and spring semesters, you’re allowed to work up to 15 hours outside of FAU.

 

 

  • The khakis

 

 

Hannah said that the job’s biggest downside wasn’t the pay, nor the office politics, but the khakis.

 

OLs have to spend all day walking around the Boca campus, wearing long khaki pants and a collared shirt, rain or shine.                                                      

 

After one of her Summer 2017 shifts, Hannah left campus, crying in her car, profusely sweating from heat exhaustion.

 

Some OLs have to stand outside for hours on end on Diversity Way, directing lost students on where to go — a simple task made daunting for some who can’t stand the heat.

 

A week in the life

 

Freshman orientation spans the whole summer, each one lasting about three days, beginning with what they call “day zero”: the day before the incoming students arrive. OLs are assigned to work only one of these days in the summer, making name tags and setting up signs around campus, working from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m., according to David. 

 

Day one is the longest day, which is filled with tours and group activities with students, beginning at 6:30 a.m. and ending at 11 p.m. with a two-hour break. On day two, OLs work from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., checking students out of the dorms and other “grunt work” like setting up tables, signs, and decorations, according to Hannah. 

 

David noted that his paychecks would come out to almost $275 which would equal him working about 15 hours a week. Hannah received more as a mentor OL: she worked the same hours, and said her paycheck was $350.

 

“Everyone looks at that and goes ‘Oh my god, it’s so much money. But no, no, no. For the amount of hours that you work, $3,200 is nothing,” Hannah said.

However, DiPentima mentioned that hours can change each semester depending on availability and the number of incoming students for a given semester.

“In the spring and summer, hours fluctuate based on trainings and sessions as there are several gap times (no sessions hosted). In the fall, there are significantly less hours as we only have a few sessions hosted for spring enrolled students,” she said.