What is an Assistantship?

Discounted Education, But At What Cost?

If you are preparing to go to graduate school, you may want to consider becoming a teaching assistant, or TA. An assistantship is a form of financial assistance provided to graduate students. They provide part-time academic employment and the school provides a stipend to the student.

Teaching assistants receive a paid stipend and/or receive tuition remission (free tuition) in exchange for tasks they perform for a faculty member, the department, or the college.

This defrays the cost of their graduate education, but also means they are working for the college or university -- and have responsibilities as both a teacher and student.

What Does a TA Get?

The duties that a TA performs can vary according to school's, departments or what an individual professor needs. Teaching assistantships provide aid in exchange for teaching activities, such as assisting a professor by conducting lab or study groups, preparing lectures, and grading. Some TAs may teach an entire class. Others simply assist the teacher. Most TAs put in about 20 hours per week. 

While the discount or coverage of tuition is nice, a TA is a student at the same time. This means that he or she will have to maintain their own coursework load while providing TA duties. It can be a tough challenge to balance being both a teacher and a student! It can be hard for many TAs to do this, and to remain professional among students that are probably close in age, but the rewards of being a TA can be valued long after graduation.

In addition to the financial perks, a TA receives the ability to interact with professors (and students) extensively. Being involved in the academic circuit provides extensive networking opportunities -- especially if the TA wants to eventually become an academic professional. The TA will have a valuable "in" for job prospects as they network with other professors.

How to Become a Teaching Assistant

Because of the steep tuition discount, or complete tuition reimbursement, TA positions are coveted. Competition can be fierce in order to secure a spot as a teaching assistant. Applicants likely have to go through an extensive selection and interview process. After getting accepted as a teaching assistant, they typically undergo TA training. 

If you are hoping to snag a spot as a TA, make sure you know about the application process early. This will help you develop a strong platform and application bid, and meet deadlines necessary to apply on time. 

Other Ways to Defray Grad School Costs

Being a TA isn't the only that grad students can also earn a tuition stipend. If you are more interested in conducting research as opposed to teaching, your university or college may offer the opportunity to become a research assistant. Research assistantships pay students to assist a professor with his or her research, similar to the way that TAs help professors with classwork.