How you can subsidise the cost of a grad degree while gaining career-ready skills

what are graduate assistantships
What are graduate assistantships? They allow you to build the skills and knowledge that employers are looking for. Source: Ethan Miller/AFP

Are you thinking about pursuing a postgraduate degree in the US? Many American universities provide students with world-class facilities and seasoned academics to bolster their learning and career opportunities post-graduation. If you’ve been doing your research, you might have come across the term “graduate assistantships”, but what are graduate assistantships, and how do they benefit you?

What are graduate assistantships?

In its simplest terms, a graduate assistantship is a type of employment for graduate students that are offered through the university. It allows you to gain practical field experience while receiving financial support for your degree. A particular department or college usually awards them.

There are several types of graduate assistantships. These include teaching assistantships, where a graduate student might teach courses at the undergraduate level or run an undergraduate laboratory; research assistantships, where a student works under the supervision of a faculty mentor to assist with tasks such as literature reviews and the design of the research or scholarly project; and graduate assistants, who may manage special projects or work in a clerical capacity within a variety of university departments. 

What are the benefits?

Many. West Virginia University (WVU) notes that graduate assistantships allow PhD and master’s degree students to gain practical field experience, deepen academic understanding, and network with thought leaders and students in their field. This could open up opportunities for grad students in the future, be it for references to building their knowledge and skills in students’ areas of interest. 

what are graduate assistantships

Students should contact their respective departments or colleges about these opportunities as they often conduct individual hiring processes. Source: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Where can I apply for a graduate assistantship?

Many universities in the US offer graduate assistantships; there may not be a separate application for it. Be sure to clarify with the respective departments or graduate coordinator for details. Below are some universities in the US that offer graduate assistantships:

Cornell University

Cornell notes that full-time PhD and research master’s students may be awarded assistantships, which fall into four general categories: teaching assistant (TA), research assistant (RA), graduate assistant (GA) and graduate research assistant (GRA). Students on full assistantships receive a stipend, a full tuition credit and Cornell individual student health insurance.

Penn State University

Are you an aspiring master’s or PhD candidate at Penn State University Department of Architectural Engineering? The university notes that all applicants are considered for research or teaching assistantships and applicable fellowships. “Applicants will be notified by the Department of any assistantship offers or fellowships at the time of admission,” it said. 

Graduate assistantships

Curious about what are graduate assistantships? They are offered in academic and administrative roles. Source: Jean Philippe Ksiazek/AFP

University of Washington

The University of Washington notes that there are three types of graduate student assistantships: teaching assistant (work with students in a classroom, lab or quiz section setting), research assistant (work on research projects; does not involve teaching) and staff assistant (other types of duties such as, advising or administration). 

They note: “Some, but not all, assistantships provide a tuition waiver and health insurance through the Graduate Appointee Insurance Program (GAIP). Your offer letter from the hiring department will confirm the length of employment, salary and benefits eligibility.”

 International students are eligible to serve in assistantship positions. 

University of South Florida

The university notes that to receive an assistantship, graduate students must meet eligibility requirements, which include being accepted into a graduate degree programme and meeting the qualifications as specified by the graduate programme; meeting the academic qualifications as specified by the GA job code; and meeting the necessary English language requirements if English is not their primary language.