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What is a Graduate Assistantship?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A graduate assistantship is a way for a graduate student to work for a university in his or her chosen field, generally while being paid a small stipend in combination with the bonus of free tuition. Graduate assistantships are quite competitive and will vary by university. For those students who excel in their field of study, however, they can be an excellent way to gain experience while continuing their education.

Work Requirements and Benefits

In a graduate assistantship program, most assistants are required to work about 20 hours per week. In return, they receive a small stipend that generally equates to the pay of an average part-time job, although this can vary from one universities to another or from one region to another. The graduate assistant's tuition, room and board generally will be paid in full as long as he or she maintains a specific grade point average (GPA).

Duties of a Graduate Assistant

When working as a graduate assistant, there are various duties that a person is expected to perform, depending on the type of graduate assistantship that he or she has received. As a teaching assistant (TA), he or she would be required to teach some low-level classes, grade assignments and work directly with students and professors. As a research assistant (RA), he or she would be required to perform and analyze research in a lab under the supervision of a professor.

In general, however, a graduate assistant can expect to work with various faculty members within a specific department, grade assignments, fill in as a class teacher when needed, run study groups or lab groups for students and maintain office hours in which to meet with and assist students. Although becoming a graduate assistant is a great deal of work on top of what is likely an already busy schedule, a graduate assistantship does provide a great deal of valuable experience. Many graduate assistants might go on to work as professors in their chosen department after they complete graduate school.

Entry Process

Becoming a graduate assistant typically requires undergoing an application process, maintaining at least a certain GPA and being interviewed face-to-face at least one time. Although most graduate assistants work in their own department — a math major usually will work in the math department, for example — this is not always the case. Sometimes, one department will require the skills of a student from another department, which can be a great way for the graduate assistant to get varying types of experience.

A good candidates for a graduate assistantship is someone who is motivated and who manages his or her time well. The workload will vary throughout the duration of the graduate assistantship, so it is important that he or she doesn't allow either his or her studies or his or her assistantship duties to suffer. Anyone who is interested in a graduate assistantship should research opportunities ahead of time and meet with people who have been graduate assistants to get a realistic expectation of the role.

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Discussion Comments

By anon990874 — On May 13, 2015

I was a grad assistant while working on my masters in Computer science at a major university. GAs were paid as much or more than many hourly jobs with free tuition. The only things I had to pay for were my books.

By anon126598 — On Nov 13, 2010

I am an accounting masters student and a graduate assistant. I handle the accounting for one of the University's departments. It's like getting paid to get a masters degree.

Many Graduate Assistants do research or teach, others, like myself, use our unique skills to serve the University in non-academic areas. It is a wonderful experience!

By anon125277 — On Nov 08, 2010

I worked as a graduate assistant for the maximum three years at my college. I was fortunate to work within my home department. Initially, the job was challenging and intimidating, although over time I got a hang of completing my duties.

When all was said and done, I was amazed by the trust and faith the professor had in me. Also, many students viewed me as an authority on the academic discipline. Both of these accolades were humbling.

By banana1985 — On Jul 09, 2010

@fluffy4 - While some graduate assistants do get reassigned to a different department, it's never too far away from the original field of study.

For example, someone with an English degree might get assigned to the sociology, anthropology or psychology department. Those are also fields that require a lot of writing and the undergrad students could benefit from someone with a strong writing background.

Someone with a degree in history might get assigned to the political science department because that graduate student would know a lot of the history that went into creating the U.S. government and its laws.

There will always be a connection between the grad student's field and their assigned department.

By fluffy4 — On Jul 09, 2010

If I were a graduate assistant, what other departments could the school assign me to, besides my field of study?

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