By Bo Breuklander, Associate, Marketing Communications, AACSB International
Who Can Benefit from an Assistantship?
Two common concerns students may have related to attending graduate school are the cost of tuition and job opportunities following graduation. According to CNN Money, the average tuition at public universities during 2011 increased 8.3%, and that only included undergraduates. An option to avoid excess debt can be to pursue a graduate teaching assistantship or TA position. If cost or debt is not a concern for you, an assistantship is still something worth exploring, as it can increase your attractiveness to potential employers. Either way, a teaching assistantship is a great employment option for full-time graduate students.
What does a Graduate Teaching Assistant (TA) Do?
A TA is usually required to work 10 to 20 hours per week. These hours include more than just teaching in a classroom. A TA spends several hours each week grading papers and assignments. An interesting aspect of being a TA is having an opportunity to create a syllabus and set achievement standards for students. In addition to creating materials for class each week, a TA often also will assist a professor with proctoring and grading exams. Even further, students many times look to their TA for guidance and answers to questions that they may not feel comfortable asking their professor.
What are the Benefits? (Compensation + Experience)
It is difficult to list all of the benefits a person may receive from being a TA. The best way to list the perks may be to break them up into two groups: compensation and experience.
A TA's compensation may include a stipend or hourly pay. The stipend or hourly wage may not be a large amount, however it surely helps. Any monetary compensation is always more financially helpful than an unpaid internship. The largest contribution stemming from an assistantship is tuition reimbursement or coverage. Not many perks stack up to having your degree program paid for. This automatically solves the debt problem after graduation. On a smaller note, a TA can take advantage of faculty/staff parking privileges. As any student knows, parking on campus is often difficult.
Experience gained from an assistantship is immeasurable. The more a TA puts into the job, the more he or she gets out of it. The opportunity to network with your professors, guest speakers or anyone else for that matter is immense. The practice speaking in front of large groups is a vital skill for today’s workplace. A TA also gains experience in a management role, something that many young professionals wait years to learn. There also are many practical benefits of becoming a TA outside of teaching. Assistants may see an improvement in their organizational skills, presenting styles, and planning capabilities. Depending on the course taught, a TA also will have opportunities to expand his or her knowledge of course topics through research and working directly with faculty experts.
How Does a TA Position Work?
It is important to understand that every university, department, and school operates differently. Required qualifications and tuition reimbursement policies among programs may not be the same, however; it is important to keep those items in mind when looking for the right opening. In addition to initial qualifications for a TA position, maintenance of certain qualifications throughout the assistantship is required. For example, your number of enrolled hours is important. A TA has to be enrolled in a minimum number of graduate courses to continue as an assistant. As always, a solid GPA is vital as well. Without acceptable grades, the professor or adviser may not see the TA as an adequate representative of the university. The TA’s academic standing also may determine what opportunities he or she may qualify for. The assistant must be available on certain days for the obvious reason of teaching the course. Professors usually meet with their TA’s during the week to discuss lesson plans, assignments, and grading. Lastly, international students’ reimbursement and qualifications may differ from domestic students.
How to Apply?
It is recommended to apply after acceptance into the program, but it is not necessary. Many universities post assistantships similar to other university job opportunity. Some schools have separate listings within each college or department. Speaking with a student adviser to explore the different openings and departmental needs also can be a great place to begin. Once you identify an assistantship, you may likely will be required to complete an application and provide recommendation letters.
- Getting on the TA Track – The New York Times
- Georgia Tech's Graduate Assistantship Program - A great resource from Georgia Tech's Scheller School of Business.
- Virginia Tech (USA) Graduate Assistantship Information - Virginia Tech's resource for prospective TAs.