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Graduate Assistantships: The Key to Free Grad Scho...

Graduate Assistantships: The Key to Free Grad School

Considering attending graduate school? Maybe… NOT considering graduate school? What if I told you that most of your grad school tuition could be covered while you gain valuable professional experience working with a department or professor? Maybe you even see yourself teaching a course while you earn your graduate degree? Welcome to the wonderful world of graduate assistantships, your gateway to an awesome experience in our College of Graduate Studies!

So…what is a Graduate Assistantship?

I’m so glad you asked, trusted reader! A graduate assistantship presents a great opportunity to have most of your grad school tuition paid for by working for the university in a variety of ways. The different opportunities depend on where funding is allocated if grant funding is received, and whether or not a department would find a graduate assistant useful. There are 3 different types of assistantships, all of which provide different challenges and different rewards.

Master of Business Education professor, Vince Smith, sitting and talking with his graduate assistants (l to r): Nick Wise, Amanda Goodman, Professor Vince Smith, Stephanie Keys. Photo by Kimi Conro.

Master of Business Education professor, Vince Smith, and his graduate assistants (l to r): Nick Wise, Amanda Goodman, Professor Vince Smith, Stephanie Keys. Photo by Kimi Conro.

Graduate teaching assistantships, or GTA’s, are a perfect way to pay for graduate school if there’s a class that you were so good at… you could have taught it. The College of Graduate Studies allocates a pool of money to departments for students to be hired to work in the classroom assisting a professor,  as leaders of tutorial sessions or as instructors for a full class of undergraduates.

Graduate research assistantships, or GRA’s, are for the research-minded students out there. These usually come about when a faculty member receives grant funding and needs some extra hands for a project. Typically, these are pretty competitive as they are based on skills in their respective fields. If you’re interested in pushing the boundaries and being on the cutting edge of your profession, this is an awesome way to gain experience.

Graduate administrative assistantships, or GAA’s, are slightly different from the other two. These are funded by departments directly, and they aren’t limited to academic departments. Some GA’s work in MT Athletics, some in MTSU’s Information Technology Division, and many more are spread around campus. As the name implies, this type involves a lot of administrative work and may require a more well-rounded skill set to get. Since they are also not restricted to a specific degree, their competitiveness can fluctuate from year to year.

The number one reason that you should consider graduate school is to further your education and earn more money.

If you manage to land a position, you are paid in three ways. First, you get a tuition waiver that covers your tuition, but not all of your fees. As if that wasn’t enough, you also receive a modest stipend to offset other expenses. Finally, the benefit of having a GA on your resume or CV is immense. You’re going to be working around 20 hours per week for a university, doing some super professional work. If you go for a doctoral degree or that first big job, having a GA on your resume suggests that you were one of the top students in your program.

Sounds great… but how do I get one?

Another great question! It’s almost like I’m coming up with the questions myself! Getting accepted into a graduate assistantship can be tough, but there are plenty of ways to better prepare yourself for the challenge.

According to Dr. David Butler, Dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Vice Provost for Research, it’s all about knowing that these opportunities exist, and letting the right people know that you’re interested.

“The earlier you start the process of inquiry, the earlier you put together the most competitive packet, and the earlier you let people know you’re interested allows them to look at you more favorably before they allocate the funding to someone else.”

Environmental portrait of Dr. David Butler, dean of MTSU College of Graduate Studies, standing on the second floor of the Student Union Building. Photo by Eric Sutton.

Environmental portrait of Dr. David Butler, dean of MTSU College of Graduate Studies, standing on the second floor of the Student Union Building. Photo by Eric Sutton.

Even though you may not be finished with your undergraduate degree, it is never too early to get on the radar of the people who make these decisions! As soon as you decide on some possible graduate programs to enter, start contacting some people. Show them your academic resume and talk to them about your level of interest in the program and in potentially being a graduate assistant. If you’re a well-qualified student and reach out early, you’ll be one of the first on their list when the time comes, so go ahead and reach out.

I’m not really sure that graduate school is for me. Convince me.

That question is juuuust slightly above my pay grade. Luckily, by crazy coincidence, I also asked this one to Dr. Butler when I had his attention. Let him fill you on how our College of Graduate Studies is one of the best around and why you should consider it:

“The number one reason that you should consider graduate school is to further your education and earn more money. Both of those work simultaneously. People who go to graduate school, on average, earn more money early on, and the number of jobs available to them opens up more.”

More money early in your career? A wider variety of job opportunities? Once again, MORE MONEY? I can’t think of an easier decision to make! If you can manage to get a Graduate Assistantship, you’ll be working around 20 hours a week, but you’ll be receiving valuable experience and an (almost) free graduate education that will produce a lot more money and opportunities for your future. And it will only take 18-24 months. Make it happen!

MTSU College of Graduate Studies dean placing graduation regalia on graduating students shoulders, with a caption that reads "You Can Do This. Earn A Graduate Degree That Can Change Your Life. Learn More."


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