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Your Guide to Understanding Graduate Assistantships in Graduate School

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Understanding Graduate
Assistantship Positions

If you’re a prospective or current graduate student, you’ve probably heard a little bit about graduate assistantships.

But what exactly are they? Why are they valuable? Are they really beneficial to your academic and professional career? How will one supplement the cost of my graduate degree? How can you apply for one?

The Admissions team at West Virginia University is here to educate you on the value of a graduate assistantship — like how securing one can help you in financing graduate school while augmenting your professional resume with practical, hands-on work and networking experience.

Let us help you sharpen your future competitive edge by telling you what you need to know about pursuing, securing, and making the most of a graduate assistantship. Let’s get started!



What is a Graduate Assistantship?

A graduate assistant is a graduate student who has secured a specific form of academic employment for which students must apply and be accepted based on academic excellence and faculty referral. Graduate assistants receive a tuition waiver based on the tasks they perform for faculty members or departments.

In addition to payment, graduate assistantships are a strategic way for PhD and master’s degree students to gain practical field experience, deepen academic understanding, and network with thought leaders and students in their field.

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Are you interested in learning more about the graduate programs at West Virginia University? You can request more information by filling out the short form below!

 Female graduate teaching assistant, Tabitha Lowery, stands in the WVU classroom with fellow graduate assistant.

In my graduate teaching assistantship, I've learned better ways to enhance students’ experiences in the classroom and to make the writing process more enjoyable. If I could give any prospective graduate assistant a piece of advice, it would be that self-discipline is the key to success!

Tabitha Lowery
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Ph.D. in English at WVU

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Graduate Assistantships
v.s. Fellowships

While many universities and colleges offer graduate assistantships and fellowships, it’s important to understand the differences between the two.

Fellowships

are a form of financial aid similar to scholarships in that they are granted to cover a variety of student costs. Fellowships are typically sponsored by associations and generally provide money in exchange for short-term professional development opportunities.

Graduate Assistantships

are institution specific and offer a tuition waiver for work completed on campus; assistantships are considered a salary as opposed to financial aid.

 

 

EXPLORE WVU'S DIGITAL RESOURCE PAGE — MAKE THE CHANGE:
A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO GRADUATE PROGRAMS FOR CAREER CHANGERS

Computer monitor displaying a preview of WVU's digital resource for those making a career change.

 

The Admissions professionals at WVU are dedicated to helping you figure what you want professionally and academically. That's why we crafted a digital resource — a resource designed to encourage and educate you on how to change academic fields and ultimately, your career — Make the Change: A Comprehensive Guide to Graduate Programs for Career Changers.

 

Explore the Digital Resource
Graduate research assistant and Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cullen Boyle, smiles in front of wooden door.

Make sure you find a project you are genuinely interested in. Graduate assistantships are valuable! Don't choose something just to fulfill your graduation checklist. In turn, you will have a higher understanding at a faster rate … which can be used as a foundation to help shape you into the person you hope to become.

Cullen Boyle
Graduate Research Assistant
Ph.D. in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at WVU

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WHAT IS THE VALUE OF A
GRADUATE ASSISTANTSHIP?

Here are a few reasons graduate assistantships are worth thinking about, applying to, and working towards - no matter your field of study.

 

A female graduate student chatting with a male graduate student.

A graduate assistantship will deepen and enrich your education experience.

Graduate assistantships provide students with the opportunity to augment their educational experience by giving them the opportunity to reach a deeper level of subject comprehension. Students can then apply the skills they enhance and the knowledge they gain in — and beyond — the classroom.

When advancing your knowledge as a professional, perspective is important. That said, you can use your graduate assistantship to see your area of study from a range of new perspectives, gain deeper insight into your field, and choose where you want to focus on a particular area of study.

A female research graduate student studies the contents of a beaker.

A graduate assistantship will give you quality, practical work experience.

Your education shouldn’t be reduced solely to classroom time. In order to advance your knowledge and skill set, you need focused, applicable experience in your field. A graduate assistantship can offer you this experience because you’ll have the opportunity to work with and learn from professors and other professionals in your field.

Not to mention, by working in a graduate assistantship, you'll experience juggling multiple tasks with multiple deadlines. You'll learn to move forward with your own goals and responsibilities while helping others progress as well.

Female graduate student shares a laugh with another graduate student in a WVU common area.

A graduate assistantship will help you to grow your professional network.

From an educational standpoint, the benefits are fairly clear, but graduate assistantships can also provide you with a valuable network of contacts to look to for references and advice post-graduation.

A graduate assistant often works alongside professors or staff members. Mentorship is an important part of learning, whether you’re in school or in your career — and it’s a built-in part of becoming a graduate assistant. Not only does working with experts in their fields provide a great learning environment, but it also comes in handy after school when you’re looking for references for job applications.

Male college graduate in a cap and gown smiling in front of West Virginia University’s campus.

A graduate assistantship will help you finance your education.

A graduate assistantship position is largely invaluable due to the academic/practical work experience and the networking benefits you'll gain. That said, many graduate assistantships offer a tuition waiver plus a monetary stipend. Thus, a graduate assistantship postition can actually help you to fund your graduate degree in addition to providing you with important real-world knowledge and skills.

Female WVU graduate research assistant and Ph.D. in Public Health, Sara Warfield, poses in front of a brick wall.

I know that many of the leaders at WVU that I have met and work with will make a difference in this world, in particular with the opioid crisis. I am confident that the skills I have gained in my graduate research assistantship at WVU will help me continue to make a difference.

Sara Warfield
Graduate Research Assistant
Ph.D. in Public Health at WVU

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Tips for Applying to a
Graduate Assistantship

Graduate assistantship positions are competitive to secure. Not only do you have to demonstrate academic excellence in your program, you will be competing for the position among many other qualified and dynamic applicants.

So, how can you set yourself apart and give yourself a competitive edge? Following a list of recommended tips might help you to do just that.

Cover Your Bases

1

Before starting the application process, start by checking your institution’s website for available graduate assistantship positions and figure out if you meet the requirements for application.

Focus On Your Studies

2

The higher your GPA, the more attractive you’ll be to a hiring department. Also, students in other fields of study should establish strong relationships with professors in the department in which they’d like to be employed.

Collaborate with Other Graduate Assistants

3

Chat with other graduate assistants and ask them for their insight. Ask for advice, add them to your professional network, and who knows, they may be able to refer you to a department that you’re interested in!

Know the Requirements

4

Before applying to a GA position, make a list of necessary application requirements, which might include course load, GPA, available working hours, immigration authorization (if applicable), letters of recommendation, etc.

Customize Your Application(s)

5

If you’re applying to more than one GA position (and even if you’re not), make sure your GA application and resume contain up-to-date information and position-appropriate information.

Spell Check

6

Do yourself a favor. Don’t turn in an application without conducting a thorough editing process. If your application contains errors of any kind, the likelihood of you landing the GA position is, well, unlikely.

Provide References

7

Don’t list your friends or family as references. Have 3-4 references ready to list on your application: These can be previous employers, current or past professors, or an Admissions professional with whom you have a good relationship.

Prepare for an Interview

8

If you are invited for an interview, this is a good sign. Make sure to dress the part, BE ON TIME, and conduct yourself in a way that is professional, friendly, socially aware, and intelligent.

Understand the Expectations

9

Speaking of the interview, once you’re in the door, make sure to inquire about the expectations for the position and the working hours. Be sure you can meet those hours and expectations! If you can’t, don’t waste the interviewee’s time.

Decide Accordingly

10

What if you’re offered several graduate assistantship positions at the same time? First of all, that’s great because now you have choices! But be sure to decide in an appropriate amount of time and inform the campus departments in a timely manner. (Note: It doesn’t look good to accept an offer from one unit and then decline it because another unit gives you a better offer. Choose wisely!)

Follow Up Respectfully

11

After completing your graduate assistantship application, follow up and be sure to let the department know that you’re interested, invested, and excited about the position!

Graduate Assistantships at
West Virginia University

What Graduate Assistantship Opportunities are Available at West Virginia University?

West Virginia University awards approximately 1,700 graduate assistantships annually to incoming and continuing graduate students. All graduate assistants must be accepted into a graduate degree program and are required to be enrolled full-time while employed during the fall and spring terms (9 credits or more).

Here are the types of graduate assistantships offered at WVU:

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Graduate Teaching Assistants:

teach courses, laboratory sections, and recitation sections, or provide other forms of instructional assistance.

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Graduate Research Assistants:

help faculty members with their research activities.

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Graduate Service Assistants:

typically work in one of the administrative or service offices of WVU in positions related to their program of study and that contribute to their educational experience.

Regular graduate assistants work an average of 20 hours per week and partial graduate assistants work an average of 10 hours per week as teaching, research, or service assistants.

For additional information on Graduate Assistantships visit the Graduate Education and Life website.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT
WVU'S GRADUATE ASSISTANTSHIP
OPPORTUNITIES?

A Guide to Graduate Assistantships at West Virginia University is designed to showcase the various graduate assistantships that students at West Virginia University can apply for while enrolled in an advanced academic program along with the benefits of being a part of a graduate assistantship.

 

An e-book cover with the title, “A Guide to Graduate Assistantships at West Virginia University.”

How to Apply for a Graduate
Assistantship at WVU

At WVU, each program has a limited number of Graduate Teaching Assistantships and Graduate Research Assistantships, so the process for securing one can be competitive. Talk to your program representative to learn what might be available and to see if you are a good fit for available positions.

Graduate Service Assistantships are housed across the university, assisting a number of different departments and programs. These positions are posted and students must apply to be considered. For information on these assistantships, please visit the WVU Office of Student Employment.

 

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SUBSCRIBE TO THE SUMMIT AHEAD

With The Summit Ahead, we hope to make the journey from considering graduate school to enrolling in a graduate program easier by publishing content that will be helpful to you as you discern if, when, to pursue your next degree!

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My Experience as a PhD Student in a WVU Graduate Research Assistantship

Thinking About Graduate School
at WVU?

Here at West Virginia University, we know that a graduate assistantship is truly a rewarding experience.

Serving as support to some of the best in your field, getting a glimpse of what it is like to be a working professional, and building a network with those who are thought leaders in your area of study are just a few reasons a graduate assistantship is a strategic and excellent way to augment your graduate education.

We hope that this guide has been helpful to you as you make a decision regarding this very exciting phase of your academic journey. The Admissions Team at WVU is here to help you in whatever capacity you need — don’t hesitate to reach out!

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SPEAK TO AN ADMISSIONS PROFESSIONAL TODAY!

WVU Contact Information

Office of Graduate Admissions
and Recruitment
West Virginia University
Phone: 304-293-5980
Fax: 304-293-1147
GraduateAdmissions@mail.wvu.edu

WVU Online
150 Clay Street
Morgantown, WV 26506
1-800-253-2762
wvuonline@mail.wvu.edu

More Resources

How to Apply
The Online Graduate School Toolkit
The GRE Cheat Sheet