Written By - Erika Lasrado

Edited By Gabriel D.

Review & Contribution By Jake Wilson

A Graduate Assistantship is an excellent option for students who want to line their pockets while studying and gain invaluable insights into their chosen subject or program. Coupled with a wealth of experience that one can amass during an assistantship and building a network of people and information, the prospect of becoming a Graduate Assistant becomes more alluring. There are advantages and disadvantages to being a Graduate Assistant. Still, it is up to the student to decide what they want and whether it makes sense to consider such an ’employment’ option. Be warned that a Graduate Assistantship is serious business and comes with various roles, responsibilities, and accountability. Time and effort are of the essence, and diligence to duty, along with exacting discipline, is called for. This article exemplifies what a Graduate Assistantship entails, whom it suits, and why it is a compelling alternative to seeking part-time employment outside campus.

Graduate Assistantship

Table Of Contents

Featured Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online Masters Degrees

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the GetEducated.com Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

What is a Graduate Assistant

So, what is a Graduate Assistant? A Graduate Assistant is a graduate student appointed by the university to assist the Institution, a Program, a Department, or a Faculty Member in carrying out specific duties. Graduate Assistantships are obtained by applying to the university and are granted based on academic merit and faculty referrals or recommendations. Based on the graduate assistant’s roles and responsibilities, they receive a tuition waiver, a stipend, or both that can ultimately fund their studies.

A Graduate Assistantship is invaluable to students who wish to pursue their Ph.D. due to the practical field experience, broader and deeper understanding of the subjects they acquire, and the connections they build with faculty, students, and industry experts.

Types of Graduate Assistantships

Universities across the country broadly offer three types of Graduate Assistantships. These are:

Graduate (Student) Assistants

The roles and responsibilities of a Graduate Assistant are largely generic and seem administrative. Graduate Assistant Students are expected to assist with program assessments, accreditation, and other academic activities. They plan and organize special events, participate in marketing and recruitment, assist with program development, guide undergraduate organizations, and help with public relations.

Graduate Teaching Assistants

Graduate Teaching Assistantships are typically awarded at the Master’s or Doctoral level. These assistants are required to work under the mentorship of a faculty member. A graduate teaching assistant’s roles and responsibilities vary depending on the program, the department, and the university. However, assistants are generally expected to grade class assignments, assist the professor with teaching materials and learning resources, sometimes run an undergraduate laboratory, lead recitation, help or tutor undergraduate students, and make presentations as part of a regular class. These are only some of the duties of a Graduate Teaching Assistant. Additional, specific, or other duties could be part of the assistantship.

Graduate Research Assistants

A Graduate Research Assistantship is usually tied up with a research or scholarly project of the faculty mentor. Such a project need not necessarily relate to the student’s project, dissertation, or thesis and may be qualitative or quantitative. The roles and responsibilities of a Graduate Research Assistant largely depend on the nature of the research project. They could include examining supporting documents, assisting with literary reviews and project design, collecting and organizing research data, and assisting with the actual research.

Difference between Assistantships and Fellowships

The term ‘Fellowship’ is respected for the student fraternity, and its exact meaning can vary depending on its scope, offering, and specifics. Fellowships are generally given through monetary benefits in the form of Scholarships at the graduate or postgraduate level. Graduates or pursuing students typically receive additional training in their field and are funded for research, often through stipends. A Fellowship allows students to devote themselves entirely to research or an internship without worrying about external employment to raise additional funds for their education. A Fellowship’s scope is unlimited because it allows the student to indulge in active, actual, and practical fieldwork, research, experimentation, and study. There is seldom routine work done through documentation, assessment, or administration related to the program and/or the university, and it demands no real assistance to be offered to faculty members.

An Assistantship, or a Graduate Assistantship, similarly brings tuition waivers and a stipend, but the work done is largely related to discharging the department or university’s duties. Assisting the faculty members, the department, undergraduate students, or the university as a whole is what assistantship is all about. Limited in scope, assistantships generally revolve around routine tasks and duties that ensure a program or department’s smooth functioning.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Graduate Assistantships

Depending on the Program, University, financial requirements, and availability of time, Graduate Assistantships can either be an advantage or a disadvantage. The table below lists some of the advantages and disadvantages Graduate Assistantships carry with them:

Gain Practical Experience
Hands-on and practical field experience provides a fillip to coursework and study.
Commitment of Time
Committing to a work schedule while simultaneously studying could be a challenging balancing act. Holidays and breaks may have to be sacrificed at times.
Connect & Network with Field Experts
Connecting and networking with seniors, industry experts, and faculty members brings invaluable exposure.
Lack of Autonomy
Working beyond the specific area of interest may be called for, which may sometimes prove counterproductive.
Learn from other Students
Learning from peers – young and old deepens understanding of the subject and opens the mind to ideas, theories, and possibilities.
Rote Work
It can get boring with routine and rote work such as computing grades, preparing labs, and documentation.
Fund Education
Tuition waivers and monetary compensations help cover the whole/part of the program fee, cover living expenses, and even reduce debt (from student loans).
Modest Pay
Compared to (part-time) employment, the stipend may not be enticing enough and may not suffice to cover debts, fees, or living expenses entirely.
Working at the university is far more convenient than working outside campus, providing almost instant and direct access to the vast resources a University offers.
Reputation & Status
The various roles and responsibilities and actual knowledge and experience gained will always look impressive on a Resume.

Duration of Graduate Assistantships

The length or duration of a Graduate Assistantship depends mainly on the university being applied to. The contract term for a Graduate Assistantship can be valid anywhere from 10 weeks to 36 weeks or more and may be full-time or part-time.

Full-time Graduate Assistants have to put in 20 hours per week typically. This 20-hour Graduate Assistantship, coupled with class attendance and study, is considered a full-time contract. As such, a tight schedule can be hard to cope with; many Universities require the Graduate Assistant to satisfactorily fulfill their responsibilities to the Institution without conflict by outside employment.

Half-time Graduate Assistants are typically required to put in 10 hours per week. The half-time Graduate Assistantship generally caters to the unique needs of departments and working students. Here, too, a Graduate Assistant is expected to fulfill their responsibilities to the university without any conflict from outside employment, but this can be ignored under normal circumstances.

At the end of each contractual term, a student may reapply for Graduate Assistantship, but it must be noted that renewal is usually neither automatic nor guaranteed. Always check the university’s guidelines for schedules, benefits, application requirements, terms, renewals, and exact information eligibility.

Top 5 Tips When Applying for Graduate Assistantships

Although the application for a Graduate Assistantship is straightforward, some tips could enhance one’s chances of being engaged for the post. Here are a few:

1. Understand the Program and its Requirements

Before considering a Graduate Assistantship, students must continually assess what the program they will take up entails. If the course is demanding and takes up a substantial amount of time to study, it is perhaps prudent not to apply for a Graduate Assistantship. After all, balancing studies and work is by no means an easy task.

2. Learn About the Assistantship

Explore the various Graduate Assistantships offered by the university and go through the listed duties, responsibilities, and other important information, such as the department in question and its faculty members. See what benefits are on offer – stipend, waivers, perks, etc., and discern if being a Graduate Assistant is a good idea or not.

3. Speak with Peers

Speaking with past or present Graduate Assistants is an excellent way to understand an assistantship’s nuances and practical difficulties. This information will not present itself in a document or website. A real insight into a graduate assistant’s duties will establish a better understanding of the job and its ‘hidden’ occupational hazards, if they can be termed so.

4. Build Up on Professional Relationships

Most Universities will ask for professional references when applying for a Graduate Assistantship. Since there is a fair chance that the undergraduate program may not be a shining example of field knowledge or hands-on experience, it is always a good idea to build a strong relationship with faculty members and mentors. References are decisive in any application for an assistantship because professors who refer the candidate often emphasize their study habits, work ethics, ability to succeed, preparedness, and more. All of this adds substantial weight and credibility to the candidature.

5. Evince Value

Many students seek a Graduate Assistantship, and this unavoidable competition to bag the prestigious post can be challenging. Aside from the usual transcripts that may be required, showcasing one’s past employment, skills, and education leading up to graduate school is recommended. Adding volunteer work, internships, special projects worked on, and even any undergraduate research will add heft to the application and provide an edge over other candidates. All in all, professors should see how the applicant can bring in or add value and help advance their research, department, or the university, making them the ‘natural choice’ over other applicants.

Frequently Asked Questions About Graduate Assistantships

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How to get a graduate assistantship?

A Graduate Assistantship may be applied at a University where the student is enrolling. Typically, the application process begins at least a semester before the start of the assistantship. The Application procedure varies by university, but its requirements are essentially the same.

Q. Do graduate assistantships cover tuition?

Q. How to ask for a graduate assistantship?

Q. How much do graduate assistants make?

Q. Why do you want to be a graduate assistant?

Q. Where are assistantships available?

Q. What are the responsibilities of a Graduate Assistant?

Q. How many hours must a Graduate Assistant work each week?

Additional Resources for Graduate Assistantships

It is always safer and better for a Student to consider a Graduate Assistantship at least a few months before applying for one and use this time for research and preparation. There are few Graduate Assistantships resources, so seeking help from professors and mentors is always a good idea. However, here are a few resources one could use to gain further insight into Graduate Assistantships:

  • Colorado State University (CSU) CSU provides many assistantship resources and policies. Students can get an understanding of policy for graduate assistantships and see these work in universities. It is important to note that these resources and policies are CSU-specific.
  • Best Practices There are many best practices that students can follow to land graduate assistantships. And the Chronicle of Higher Education has provided them here.
  • Resume for Graduate School This is a resource from Online Masters Colleges (OMC) that helps students land a graduate assistantship.
  • Other forms of financial aid This resource shows how students can fund their graduate school.
Find Your Master’s Program

Start Your Next Step Today

Let’s help you find the right online master’s degree. You can browse through thousands of schools and their online programs. Start exploring the top 20 best online master’s programs now.