According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a graduate assistantship is an academic position that carries a stipend and usually involves part-time teaching or research given to a qualified graduate student. Usually the university rewards the student with tuition exoneration and a small stipend that covers room and board. Graduate assistantships have made it possible for many domestic and international students to get through graduate school and earn a master’s or doctorate degree in the United States.
Some universities offer assistantships to students enrolled in master’s programs who possess excellent academic backgrounds and good research or teaching skills. “I get around $1,000 per month for my research assistantship” comments Marcel, an international student working towards his PhD in electrical engineering at a university in Louisiana. Considering living costs are lower in that state, a thousand dollars a month can cover room, board and other expenses for most students. Some universities may choose to reward the student with a monthly income while others may decide to reward them with full time tuition (18 credits per year for graduate students) plus a small salary, for example, The George Washington University offers some assistantships that cover full time tuition plus a salary of $3000 USD per academic year.
Generally graduate students who have been enrolled in their master’s program for at least one semester are eligible for graduate assistantships, although this is not the rule. Some students who are admitted to a PhD program automatically get their education funded since many doctorate programs are financed by companies, institutions or government agencies interested in research and development in specific areas. Most PhD programs admit very few students making it feasible to sponsor each one of their students through assistantships and fellowships.
Many universities grant assistantships to new students who possess excellent academic backgrounds and needed skills. A student with some teaching experience or with research experience could get an assistantship faster than a student without these skills. Most assistantship advisors recommend persistence, respect, commitment and more persistence. They tell their students not to wait until an assistantship falls on their hands. Being proactive and actively seeking assistantships is key – Talk to professors and ask them whether they are interested in a research or teaching assistant, contact different departments in the university. If you speak a foreign language, contact the department that specializes in that language and offer to work as a teaching assistant. Getting an assistantship does not only require good grades and testing scores. Creativity, focus and commitment can be valuable factors that will get you to your goal.