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Assistantships: How to Not Pay for Graduate School

Graduate school is expensive. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are other options to help finance graduate students, including assistantships to help defray the costs of furthering your education.

Oct 16, 2023
  • Student Tips
Assistantships: How to Not Pay for Graduate School

What’s an assistantship?

First things first, let’s talk about what an assistantship actually is. In the United States, an assistantship is a form of paid academic employment in which students get tuition reimbursement for tasks they do for faculty members, departments, or entire colleges. For about 20 hours weekly, graduate assistants typically get a small stipend as well as the costs of tuition, room, and board paid in full. Not only is this a great way to graduate debt-free or with low debt, it helps further your academic endeavors by giving you work experience before graduation. That looks great on a resume, and gives you a leg up over others looking for work and or funding in your field.

Overseas, an assistantship might be set up a bit differently. In the Netherlands, students can apply for programs such as the Bright Minds Assistantships. These assistantships work more like a student assistant program, where students are guaranteed employment for a set number of hours per academic year, and are required to work one to two and a half days per week. To apply, students must complete an application and be enrolled in a master’s program.

How to find an assistantship

While not always widely publicized, assistantships are out there for those who know how to look for one. In order to identify where you might find an assistantship, you’ll need to determine what kind of experience you’re looking for. For example, are you looking for practical experience, or for teaching experience? Perhaps you’re seeking out research opportunities. You should also be accepted and enrolled into a master’s or doctoral program.

Once you’ve decided what you hope to gain from your assistantship, reach out to your program’s graduate coordinator. They will know what opportunities are available, and how to connect you with the right people. You can also try searching on your university’s website, reaching out to their student employment office, and checking in with student associations related to your field of study. Even if there is not an opportunity available in your program, there may still be others across the university.

Types of opportunities

Some of the opportunities available for those considering an assistantship are: research assistantships where you helpwith various research projects; teaching assistantships where you teach or assist in teaching lower-level courses; and administrative fellowships, which are for those working in “academically relevant administrative services”. Some students may also secure course assistantships and doctoral students may qualify for doctoral research fellowships. These titles and types of opportunities may vary by institution.

There are some areas with a higher volume of assistantship opportunities. For example, universities with student affairs departments often have a wider range of assistantships available in a variety of areas. Even if you aren’t in a higher education program, you may still be able to apply for one. Molly Kresl, a graduate student from NSU Florida said of her assistantship experience, “They treat me as a full time professional here. I have had the opportunity to present at conferences on campus, and create new student development initiatives. I know I made the right choice.”

Is it hard to have an assistantship?

Having an assistantship takes time, commitment, and strong organizational skills. You’ll have to balance your academic work, classes, and the requirements of your assistantship. However, if you stay on top of your work, have good communication with your supervisor and professors, it can certainly be accomplished, and can also be a rewarding experience. Understanding there are going to be times you’ll have to sacrifice your free time for the sake of your education or your assistantship is a given. However, the benefits you end up receiving are often worth the occasional inconveniences that may come with an assistantship.

Why you should apply

In addition to helping pay for your master’s degree, there are other great reasons to apply for and work an assistantship. One great reason is networking with experts in your field and academia in general. This is especially true for those with an assistantship in their study area of focus. In addition to networking opportunities, you’ll also gain work experience, reap the financial benefits of graduating debt-free with your masters, and you’ll get to “learn from other students in your field.”

Worries about paying for graduate school aren't something that should keep you from pursuing your dreams of a higher education. While it can be expensive to obtain that next level of education, it can certainly be accomplished for much less than you may think. Remember, assistantships are a great way to gain more experience in your chosen field, make lifelong connections, and graduate with significantly less debt than your peers.

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Chelsea Castonguay


Chelsea is a Student Affairs expatriate, who now works as a freelance writer and editor. She homesteads in a small town in rural Maine, USA. She enjoys hiking, fishing, cooking, reading, all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, spending time with her family, and chasing her black lab puppy, Cash.

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