Top 7 university assistantships in the US, UK and Canada

university assistantships
Assistantships are a form of paid academic employment in which students receive tuition reimbursement for the tasks they perform for faculty members, departments, or colleges. Source: AFP

University assistantships are a great way for you to get a master’s degree or PhD and get paid at the same time.

An assistantship basically involves you working closely with a professor or department in various capacities, such as conducting research, grading assignments or helping out with administrative tasks.

In return, you get a stipend or salary and may even have your tuition partially or fully covered.

Based on a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools, around 63% of graduate students in the US held university assistantship positions.

Given the astronomical student loan debt figure, this isn’t surprising.

And it’s reassuring to know that there are ways to lighten the financial burden of higher education.

Beyond the financial benefits, university assistantships are great for building relationships with professors and gaining insights into the academic world.

With these in hand, you have a better chance of securing a job post-graduation.

Part-time jobs vs university assistantships

Choosing a part-time job during university can be a tricky decision, and there are some positions notorious for being less than ideal for students.

Take the fast-food industry, for example. Demanding hours, low wages between US$12 to US$15, and hot, stressful work environment — nobody wants to do this for eight hours and spend the rest of their waking hours completing assignments, research and fieldwork.

This type of job not only drains your time and energy but might not provide the financial support you need.

Retail positions are another area that university students might want to avoid. The irregular and often unpredictable working hours can disrupt your class schedule and study routine.

An undergraduate may get away with a retail job, but not a PhD student, as you’ll be holding much more responsibilities.

Plus, the National Retail Federation reported in 2021 that the turnover rate in the retail sector was around 60%, indicating the transient nature of these jobs.

Dealing with demanding customers and standing for long hours can contribute to a stressful work environment — none of these are conducive to your academic success.

Instead of having to deal with these challenges, consider the alternative of university assistantships.

Apart from getting steady pay, you get a more intellectually stimulating and flexible work environment, work that aligns with your field of study, and relevant experiences that enhance your academic and professional profile.

It’s a win-win-win situation — and that’s not including all the other transferable soft skills you stand to hone, such as collaboration and time management.

At the end of the day, by opting for an assistantship, you’re putting your master’s or PhD degree first while still earning a stipend or having your tuition covered.

7 best university assistantships in the US, UK and Canada


university assistantship

Assistantships are an arrangement in which financial support is given to a graduate student who teach or complete research at the university. Source: AFP

Cornell University 

Cornell University offers a range of assistantships catering to the diverse needs of international students pursuing full-time PhD and research master’s programmes. 

These university assistantships, from teaching assistantships (TAs) to research assistantships (RAs), graduate assistantships (GAs) and graduate research assistantships (GRAs), are awarded by departments are the university’s way of supporting graduate students in their academic pursuits. 

At Cornell, TAs are crucial in supporting course instruction, leading discussions and overseeing laboratory sections. They contribute no more than 15 hours per week for the base stipend. 

The GRAs focus on degree-related research, supporting a student’s thesis or dissertation. 

RAs involve academic appointments for non-thesis-related research, typically 15 to 20 hours per week, while Graduate Assistantships (GAs) are general academic roles, such as assisting faculty in coordinating academic conferences, requiring a commitment of 15 to 20 hours per week. 

Assistantship packages here include a stipend, full tuition credit and individual student health insurance, with potential additional supplements in certain fields or summer appointments.

Penn State University 

At Penn State University, graduate students can apply for competitive Graduate Assistantships.

These university assistantships are typically half-time commitments requiring 20 hours per week, though some may be quarter-time (10 hours), spanning two semesters (Fall and Spring). 

To be eligible, you must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 and be registered for no less than nine and no more than 12 credits per semester.

Successful applicants receive a monthly stipend and a grant-in-aid for tuition.

university assistantship

It is important to find a balance between work and studies to ensure your academics are not compromised while you work to earn extra cash. Source: AFP

Kent State University 

Kent State University students have the opportunity to engage in three main types of graduate assistantships: administrative, teaching or research. 

Typically awarded to doctoral students, various programmes across the university offer these assistantships. 

While some programmes fund 100% of their graduate students, others may offer different amounts. 

These awards include many benefits, including a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend for 10 to 20 weekly work hours. 

To be eligible for these university-funded assistantships, students must apply for an appointment and meet academic criteria.

Full-time enrollment, equivalent to at least eight credit hours per semester in a specific degree programme, is a prerequisite. 


university assistantship

Many students take on assistantships to help with the financial burden that comes with studying abroad. Source: AFP

University of Kent 

International students at the University of Kent can benefit from the Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) programme.

As a GTA, you take on the dual role of a university employee and a research student — a commitment of 240 hours in 12 months with 40 hours of paid annual leave.

This is approximately seven hours per week where you have to perform duties such as teaching, demonstrating, preparing, marking, and work-related training. 

In return, the university covers your tuition fees and pays you a monthly salary and stipend. 

This financial support remains constant throughout the academic year, adjusting annually to the Research Council UK Doctoral rate.

university assistantships

Graduate assistantships are highly prized and are often difficult to secure as you have to compete against quite several other graduate students. Source: AFP

The University of Liverpool

The University of Liverpool’s Graduate Teaching Assistantship Scheme are ideal for those with a strong commitment to research and a commendable first degree. 

In exchange for contributing teaching services, the school covers your fees and provides a stipend to support living costs. 

Perhaps what’s more valuable is the support you’ll get form supervisors and a designated teaching mentor.

Vacancies for GTAs are regularly posted under the “Studentships” section on the university’s job vacancies pages.


University of Waterloo

As a Graduate Teaching Assistant (TA), you’ll help a faculty member with instructional responsibilities. Effective May 1, 2024, the monthly rates are 1,918.62 Canadian dollars.

As a Graduate Research Assistant, you’ll perform a designated list of research duties under the supervision of one or more faculty members.

At the master’s level, this will earn you CA$1,829.59 monthly. Doctoral candidates get CA$2,176.94.

university assistantships

Landing a graduate assistantship typically means you receive a tuition waiver, healthcare coverage, and a stipend of some kind. Source: AFP

University of Ottawa

While priority is given to scholarship holders, some departments may allocate assistantships to other students based on the availability of funds. 

And what sets the university apart from others is that it provides formal training to teaching assistants, other graduate students and/or postdoctoral fellows intending to engage in university teaching.

The formal training takes place in the form of a course and a practicum:

  • Theory and Practice of Undergraduate Teaching: You’ll get to understand theory and develop skills — credits, however, are not transferable to your programme.
  • Practicum in University Teaching: These include workshops in university teaching practice, mentored practice teaching, and teaching dossier preparation.