The Teaching Assistantship: Pay for Grad School and Learn to Teach

How to Be a TA

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No doubt about it...graduate school is expensive. The prospect of incurring more debt is never appealing. Many students instead seek opportunities to work for at least a portion of their tuition. A teaching assistantship, also known as being a TA, offers students opportunities to learn how to teach in exchange for tuition remission and/or a stipend.

What to Expect

As a graduate teaching assistant, you can typically expect to receive a stipend and/or tuition remission.

The details vary by graduate program and school, but many students earn a stipend between roughly $6,000 and $20,000 annually and/or free tuition. At some larger universities, you may be eligible for additional benefits, such as insurance. In essence, you are paid to pursue your degree as a teaching assistant.

Training Opportunity

The financial rewards of the position are only part of the story. It is only through teaching a subject that you really come to understand it. You'll explain complicated concepts in your field and develop a more sophisticated understanding of them. You also will gain valuable experience in and out of the classroom, and have the opportunity to interact closely with faculty members in your department. The relationships you develop with your professors are crucial to your future success, so you'll be able to interact with them closely. Many TAs become more well known by faculty and develop a few close relationships that can lead to important opportunities in the future including helpful recommendation letters.

What You'll Do

Teaching assistants' duties will vary depending on the school and discipline, but you can expect to be responsible for one or more of the following:

  • Teaching or assisting with one or more sections of a course
  • Running laboratory sessions
  • Grading undergraduate student papers and exams
  • Holding regular office hours and meeting with students
  • Conducting study and review sessions

On average, a teaching assistant is required to work about 20 hours per week; a commitment that is certainly manageable, especially as the work helps to prepare you for your future career. Just remember, it's very easy to find yourself working well beyond the planned 20 hours each week. Class prep takes time...student questions absorb more time. During busy times of the semester, like midterms and finals, you might find yourself putting in many much so that teaching can threaten to interfere with your own education. Balancing your needs with those of your students is a challenge.

If you plan to pursue an academic career, testing the waters as a teaching assistant can prove to be an invaluable learning experience where you can gain some practical on-the-job skills. Even if your career path will take you beyond the ivory tower, the position can still be excellent way to pay your way through grad school, develop leadership skills and get some great experience