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Everything You Need to Know About Graduate Assistantships

By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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and Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: September 18th, 2023
Everything You Need to Know About Graduate Assistantships

Graduate assistantships are exciting opportunities to earn money in college while making connections and obtaining skills in your field. Students with graduate assistantships form close relationships with professors and meet other professionals in their line of study. You may even graduate as a published author in your field. 

Here is everything you need to know about graduate assistantships. We’ll start by comparing the different types of assistantships. Then we’ll go over all of their benefits and drawbacks. Finally, we’ll guide you in the right direction to get hired.

Related: How to find online jobs for college students

Types of graduate assistantships

Graduate assistantships can take several different forms. Depending on your intended profession, some positions will be a better fit than others. Here, we’ll contrast the responsibilities and benefits of each position.

Teaching assistant

Teaching assistants help professors with the day-to-day operation of an undergraduate course. This can include:

  • Giving lectures to supplement the main course lectures
  • Grading papers
  • Assisting with curriculum design 
  • Holding office hours where students in a course can ask questions

Teaching assistantships are a great fit for students who are considering continuing in academia. Students who graduate with teaching experience under their belt will have a huge advantage in pursuing a teaching position. But teaching assistantships also have further-reaching applications. Teaching a course requires a diverse skill set, and students can apply their experience to a wide variety of professions.

If you are considering a teaching assistantship, it’s a good idea to look into the responsibilities of the specific position. 

Related: Top scholarships for teachers

Research assistant

Research assistants help professors with research projects they are undertaking. Professors have limited time to pursue their own research, which makes research assistants so crucial. As a research assistant, you won’t have any facetime with your professor’s students. You’ll only be in contact with your professor and anyone else they are working on the research with. Research assistantships vary in their duties based on the field of study; general duties may include:

  • Combing and summarizing relevant articles and firsthand studies 
  • May help write the actual paper that the professor will publish
  • May assist in field studies or experiments

Research assistantships can be a huge asset on your resume after graduation. Research assistants demonstrate exceptional writing, research, and collaboration skills. In collaborative studies, they also have the opportunity to network with people in their field. This can include other professors, researchers, publishers, and more.

Former research graduate assistant perspective

Working as a research assistant was one of the highlights of my graduate school experience. After earning a scholarship for my very first graduate class, the rest of my degree was completely covered by multiple graduate assistantships (including a stipend). My first graduate degree bill totaled a whopping $11.00! If you know that you want to go to graduate school, plan ahead and develop a stellar resume during undergrad. Some humanities fields are hard to justify taking exorbitant loans out for, but graduate assistantships can help you realize your educational goals at little to no cost!
Maria Geiger

Director of Content at Scholarships360

Monmouth University

Other assistantships

Some schools offer other graduate assistantships that serve a more general function. Other graduate assistants may help coordinate campus life or help with clerical work. These assistantships vary more widely than teaching and research assistantships. However, they often still help form close relationships with school officials. 

Students interested in logistical, planning, or office work may pursue other graduate assistantships. They can be a great opportunity to accrue work experience at a respected institution. Students who are interested in working for their college after graduation should definitely look into a graduate assistantship.

Don’t miss: How to pay off student loans

Benefits of graduate assistantships

Graduate assistantships come with a host of benefits. They are a great opportunity to:

  • Establish relationships with professors and network with other professionals in your desired field
  • Earn money while also being in school to help keep the cost of grad school down and avoid taking out loans
  • Deepen your understanding of your field and gain valuable experience that you can use in future jobs

There are more benefits than just the ones listed above, but these are just a few that we wanted to highlight. If a graduate assistantship sounds like something you might be interested in, you should look into them and assess what other benefits they may offer you! No matter what type of assistantship you take, graduate assistantships look great on resumes and will tell a lot about who you are! 

Read more: How to complete the FAFSA for graduate school

Drawbacks of graduate assistantships

Although graduate assistantships are a great opportunity for many students, they are not always the right fit. Graduate assistantships can vary widely based on the professor and school that offer them. 

A potential drawback is the possibility of working for an unhelpful professor. If your professor is unavailable to their graduate assistants, you’ll lose one of the biggest benefits of the position. In addition to making it difficult to perform your duties, you won’t be able to consult your professor. This could render some of the networking benefits of the position ineffective. So before you decide to work for a professor, try speaking to some of their previous assistants. Try to find out if they are a helpful professor to work for.

Additionally, some schools pay lower wages than others for graduate assistantships. In these cases, a student could make more money by working another job while they take classes. So, you’ll need to decide for yourself what is most worthwhile. 

Related: Top scholarships for graduate students

How to get hired

Now that you’ve heard all about graduate assistantships, you may be wondering how to pursue one yourself. The best way to start the process is to identify a professor you would like to work for. Whether it’s because of their helpful personality, their field of study, or both, you’ll want to find the right match. 

Once you’ve found someone you’d like to work for, try to build a relationship with them. If they hold office hours or appear at any public events, show up and strike up conversation. When the time comes to apply, make sure to tailor your resume to the position. Brush up on your interview skills, and prepare to discuss the subject matter that you’d be working with. 

And if it doesn’t work out with the first professor you apply to, don’t worry! You can ask around about positions with other professors. You can also maintain the relationship with your first choice professor in case they offer more positions in the future. Good luck in pursuing your graduate assistantship!

Learn more: Graduate school financial aid options

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Graduate assistantships exist in several capacities, some may include helping a professor teach, aiding in research, working with campus life, and more
  • Depending on where you go to school and what professor you are working with, graduate assistantships can vary quite widely
  • Be sure to do your research before agreeing to an assistantship, as pay, your responsibilities and other benefits should impact your decision about whether an assistantship is right for you
  • Whether you’re working for a professor or are simply a student, it’s always a good idea to network and foster strong professional relationships with professors, as they may be very helpful in helping you secure a job or a graduate assistantship with themselves or someone they know 
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about graduate assistantships

What is the difference between graduate fellowships and graduate assistantships?

The biggest difference between an assistantship and a fellowship is the work that is required of you. You can think of a fellowship as more of a grant that you use to fund your graduate studies. Each school may have different requirements, but for the most part, you will not be required to work a certain number of hours, but may be required to contribute something to your field at the end of studies. 

An assistantship will require you to serve a certain number of hours and will be paid out much like a job. Be sure you know the difference between the two before agreeing to either. Check out Oregon State University’s requirements as an example, or check out some examples of graduate fellowships on our website, such as the Graduate Fellowship in the History of Science.

How do I ask for a graduate assistantship?

If you plan on asking a professor directly for an assistantship, you should have some sort of relationship with them before asking. A professor wants to know that they are going to be working with someone who they can rely on, which means they want to know who you are. One of the best things you can do is take a class from a professor and establish that relationship with them through that. Asking a professor whom you have never met for an assistantship may not yield the results you would like.

How competitive are graduate assistantships?

Graduate assistantships are not like regular campus jobs. They will be much more competitive to receive and will likely expect a lot more from you. Knowing a professor before applying for an assistantship can go a long way. This professor will be entrusting you with a lot, so when possible, get to know your professors and let them get to know you!

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