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Funding types in US Schools: TA, GA, and RA? Paid Money? Tuition Fee? How to get?

As an international student studying in the US, getting some sort of funding or scholarship is the most desired thing for many. There are various kinds of funding options that exist in US schools, the most popular types of funding on campus are Teaching Assistantship (TA), Research Assistantship(RA), and Graduate Assistantship(GA). Depending on the research and enrolment in the University, these position descriptions or duties vary. We will explain some fundamentals of these and cover how much they pay, how they support tuition fees, and other common FAQs.

What is Teaching Assistantship (TA)?  Tasks involved for TA?

Teaching Assistants (TAs) usually help out the instructor/professor with anything related to the course anywhere from grading the home works to teaching a particular topic in a class.  Depending on the professor and the level, of course, TAs can have little to full work. The funding that someone gets after becoming a Teaching Assistant is called Teaching Assistantship or shortly TA.

TAs usually does tasks like grading homework, projects, and quizzes. Based on the school, TAs are available for Undergraduate level courses and graduate level courses. If you are an undergraduate TA, there can be quite a bit of work. TAs are supposed to help out the students in the class for any questions regarding homework and other course-related material. 

The expectations from TA vary based on the professor. Typically, you can apply for TA for a position if you took the class in the previous semester Or if you have done a similar higher level course.  It is up to the instructor to decide whom to pick. If you have taken a class and got an ‘A’ grade in the class, then you have high chance.  You can talk to the instructor too that you applied and in fact, sometimes you have to get the signature of a Professor before you apply.

Students typically apply for TAs in the second semester as they would have done some classes. Students can also apply for TA in the first semester in some other departments to get funding. The applications are due at the end of the semester or sometimes 10 days before classes start.  TAs usually work 20 hours a week during regular semesters like Fall and Spring.

Teaching Assistant (TA) Funding: How does it work? How much money do TAs make?

Most of the Teaching Assistants usually get at least in-state tuition ( Instate tuition Vs Out of state tuition ), which is reduced tuition like a resident in that state. If you are an international student, it will mean a lot for you as you will a lot of money on tuition fees.  In some universities TAs get full tuition waiver, which means no need to pay any tuition fee.

Besides the tuition-related benefits, TA also cann get paid anywhere from $550  to $1200 per month depending on the University, the state in which the university is located, and other specifics tied to the school. TA’s pay and working hours depend on what TA is offered in the TA contract.

If the Teaching Assistantship says 0.5 FTE(Full-time employment), it means you need to work 20 hours per week. Sometimes it will be 0.25 FTE, which means it will be only be 10 hrs per week. So, it all depends on the funding and how it is described, and when you get it. If you are offered 0.25 FTE you may or may not get full tuition waiver too.

What is Research Assistantship (RA)? What tasks does RA perform?

A research assistant(RA) is someone who helps the professor with the research of a topic. Research Assistants are very common in research-oriented Universities, especially that have Ph.D. programs. If you get funding to work as an RA, then you are said to have Research Assistantship or RA.

The funds for RA positions come from the research projects under a professor. Professors usually get grants to do research and they seek students to help them with the research. If the University has Ph.D. or more graduate (MS) programs, then you have high chance of having more RAs. Also, on the flip side, if you are an MS student, you may be out of luck sometimes as Ph.D. students take some or most of the RA positions.

The Research Assistant job typically consist of doing experiments, simulations, programming, writing research papers, setup or management of labs, etc. Anything that is related to the professor’s research is typically done by RAs. It is mostly awarded to students who take the Thesis option in their Master’s program.  Read What is Thesis vs. Non-Thesis option in MS/ MBA

Professors usually look for your research experience and academic background, when they offer you an RA position.  It can be a very hectic job with long hours of sleepless nights too if your professor expects a lot from you. You should like the area of research, otherwise, it could be a nightmare.  Be careful! I used to be an RA and used to do research work all night in a lab and take a nap in the lab sometimes from 4 AM until 6 AM and then return home…so, can be very demanding at times.

Research Assistant Funding: What is it? How much money does RA get?

Research Assistants’ funding is very similar to TA’s funding. RA would usually get at least in-state tuition in most of the schools. In some popular universities with lot of research funding, RAs can get a full tuition waiver and also a stipend.

A Research Assistant stipend varies based on the grant. The money they make can be anywhere between $500 to $1500 or more.  Also, the funding depends on 0.5 FTE or 0.25 FTE just like above and work hours vary from 20 to 10 hours. The reality is, that RAs work load is lot more!

What is Graduate Assistantship (GA)? Tasks for a Graduate Assistant?

Graduate Assistantship(GA) is considered similar to RA, but the duties would be a bit different. Usually, Graduate Assitant roles exist in schools that offer Graduate programs like MS, and MBA. If someone gets funding by getting a Graduate Assistant role, then they are said to have got Graduate Assistantship or GA.

Graduate Assistants may or may not have clearly defined tasks and they are usually a combination of tasks of TA and RA. GAs are expected to do some research and work on the graduate program offerings like labs, and research work on the graduate program level. It always depends on University and school on how the GA duties are defined. 

For example, if you are a GA in a school of computer sciences, then you are typically involved with tasks like maintaining the Department’s Websites, Web Servers, UNIX, other Servers, etc. They work with network setups, accounts creation, deletion, etc. The duties vary based on the department. The GA is a departmental position and they are available in various departments. In some universities, there is no difference between GA and RA.

What does Graduate Assistantship Funding include? How much money do they get?

The funding for a graduate assistant or GA is more or less like the above for an RA position. As a graduate assistant you would get in-state tuition or sometimes a full tuition waiver. Sometimes, GA can have more funding than other positions.

Graduate Assistants can be paid similar to TA or RA and sometimes a little more than TA or RA. This totally depends on the University and can vary from $500 to $1500. In general, there is more work involved for GA than a Teaching Assistant. GAs usually do more critical work as it is on the department level.

How to get a TA, RA or GA? Tips ?

It can be very competitive to get a Teaching Assistantship(TA), Research Assistantship(RA) or a Graduate Assistantship(GA) in US schools. The simple reason is there are many students looking for funding and there can be far fewer positions matching them.

Some key things that can help you get an RA, TA, or GA are below

  • Having good grades in your courses
  • Ability to communicate well with students, professors
  • Your previous work experience
  • The coursework that you have done in Bachelors in your masters
  • Your passion for research or teaching
  • Your ability to solve problems related to the professor’s area of interest

You need to really plan ahead of time and reach out to professors individually outlining your interests and ask for funding. It is important to highlight your skills, experience and passion during your meetings to make an impression. Very few students get funding before going to the US, most of them speak to professors and get funding after landing in the US. Below are articles that can outline more details

Other types of Funding in Universities: Scholarships, Fellowships, Tech Jobs

There are other types of funding like Scholarships, Fellowships, and other Tech jobs that may give you full tuition waiver or at least an in-state tuition waiver. It all varies on the University. A good place to go is to ask the financial aid office and ask them what kind of position gets you what kind of funding.

You can check the same at the Department offices too.  You may have to write a good essay and show the need for financial support to get funding for scholarships. In some cases, you will have to prove your technical ability to do some technical work to get funding. It depends. Read How to find Scholarships in US schools for MS or MBA 

Overall, the goal of a student is to get funding in any way possible. It could be hard in the first semester because you are trying to understand the system in University. But, in second semester you know where to go and when to apply. Also, you would have some classes taken and if you have good GPA you can get funding, provided you apply at the right time and the competition is not too bad.

Did you had any funding like TA, RA or GA ? Share your thoughts on funding options.

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38 Comments

  1. I’m a graduate of mechanical engineering from a Nigerian university and i want to apply for MS at PVAMU university for next year, specifically in Computer information systems, i want to write to some Professors in the school seeking for an RA or GA in the university and i need guidelines on how to draft a good email for that.

    Reply
  2. Hi,
    I am studying on H4 visa. Can I get a TA position and ask for waiver in terms of tuition? I will ask the college not to pay me since I do not have H4 EAD, instead, waive off my tuition fee completely. Would that work?

    Reply
  3. Hi,
    I am a PhD student in English discourse studies and applied linguistics in Algeria, I would like to apply for assistant research or fellowship on the same field of study.
    Regards.

    Reply
  4. Hello,

    I am applying for Master’s course in Computer Science. I was checking TA-RA requirement on website and other department i.e college of liberal arts and science require TA who has undergraduate degree in computer science.

    Can I apply for outer discipline TA ?

    Waiting for your reply?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • HI
      its really nice getting practical advises.
      Sir I am in USA with Immigrant visa(PR). I recently completed Master’s in Pharmacy (Clinical Research &Clinical Pharmacology with cGPA 8.62 out of 10 and I have 6 months industrial training in Clinical Research (CRO).now i want purse higher degree,can i get scholarship?is there any extra of getting funding as i have green card. i will treated as a international students or what? plz can you guide me.

      Reply
  5. Hello Sir/Mam,
    I did my B.Tech & M.Tech in ECE from India and have 6 years of experience as Assistance Professor .Now i want to apply for job in US. Please tell me how can i get a job in teaching field. Help me out with the procedure.

    Thanking You
    Supriya

    Reply
  6. Hi, I’m currently in my third year of Engineering in Electronics & Telecommunications. Which would be the best technical/non-technical field to do MS in USA. Can I switch to Computers for MS? Also for how many years can I work after doing MS to repay the loan? My plan is to stay for at least 5-10 years or maybe more in USA.

    Reply
    • Surud,
      It depends on what you want to do in the long run. Someone like me should not be advising either technical or non-technical, you need to decide on where you see yourself in the next 10 years and then plan for the same. You will need to be clear on the goal and lottery situation in US after MS .

      Reply
  7. Hey,
    I am Sam and I’ve applied to many universities for Fall 2016 intake.Currently Ive received admits to four universities including- UIC, SUNY buffalo, Colorado state and Texas Arlington. Im a little dissapointed that I havent received any financial aid/scholarship yet, even though I have a descent profile.
    Kindly guide me on how to convince the department and the university to consider me for an in-state tuition fee/ fee waiver.

    thanks for the help

    Reply
    • Sam,
      You cannot really convince anyone from back home for such things, the whole idea is that they do not want to award you anything and keep it blocked, because there is no guarantee that a student will be there as one need to still get the Visa stamping done. All I can suggest is that, try to find scholarships, if any left in these schools and try to apply to them. Also, in-state is typically given if you get funding like TA, RA or GA. Getting these can be tricky…You can speak to seniors at these schools and get advice on the funding scenario after 1 semester or two semesters. Most of the big schools have options for TA, once you complete one semester…The whole idea is that if you do a particular course and get A grade in that, you can apply for TA for that course…thats when you can tell the professor that you can handle the TA position….it may sound like a lot of information, just trying to give you the reality picture….

      Reply
  8. hello sir, Am swapna, I did my btech and Mtech in cse,and working as assistant professor since 10 years in a jnuth affliated college, will my teaching experience be counted to apply for PHD in US university,and please tell me what is the process for applying.

    Reply
    • D. Swapna,
      It may help you for sure. You can articulate your passion for teaching and research over the years and strengthen your application for PhD. The process for PhD is pretty straight forward, you need to take standardized tests like GRE, TOEFL and then apply to schools as per their process. It varies by school, you need to check with particular university for this information.

      Reply
  9. Dear sir,
    I’hv completed my undergraduate degree on Urban and Regional planning and now i am doing MSc on Disaster and Environmental Engineering.
    Would you please tell me, how can get RA in any university of USA?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  10. I’m a BE E&Tc student but wish to go for MS in CS because of change of interest from electronics to software. Currently I plan on taking a job at MNC for experience and due to financial issues. I cannot afford MS and will be dependent on funding and loan. Will change in stream affect the chances of obtaining funding at US universities?

    Reply
  11. Dear Sir,
    I have an experience of 6 years as a project co-ordinator in a massive engineering firm which typically does business in energy sector. I have dream about pursuing mba in US basically for two reasons; better job and a career shift. I have seen many articles about MBA and everywhere it is clearly specified that MBA is not worth doing unless you do in ELITE schools and the tuition fees in such schools are a bomb which i really cannot afford. I do not have any savings either. I just wanted to know whether to go for mba in a mediocre school or pursue MS in Engineering Management.
    Please advise.

    Thanks,
    Dilip

    Reply
    • Dilip,
      In my view, doing MBA from a mediocre school is not the best idea…You should take your time and do it in a right school. You may do it at a later stage of your career as well, but having the MBA from elite school can give you the big break. Why dont you join an MNC and see, if there is an opportunity for you to move to US for work on L1 visa or H1B, that will help you save money and study MBA at later stage. Dont just compromise on your goals. If you cannot do it an elite school in US, you can pick a top school in India and do it there as well. Think about options.

      Reply
  12. Is there any easy way, other than asking from the professor himself, to know about whether he has any research assistantship or not???

    Reply
  13. Hi, I just completed my B.Sc. degree in Biochemistry from a reputable University in Nigeria with a good grade. I took the graduate regiatration examination(G.R.e) and had a high score of 315. Could you advice me on the best University in the U.s to apply to for M.Sc. in Biotechnology where I would also be offered a G.A or T.A position ??. Thank you

    Reply
  14. Hi there,
    I’m still confused as to whether should I go for MBA or MS.
    Can you please brief me on MSIS.Is it a combination of Management and Technology?Does it have any weightage??

    Reply
  15. i did my undergraduate studies in Mathematics, can i apply for TA / RA in aerospace? note, i would be undertaking my masters in aeraospace

    Reply
  16. i thank u for the information.. it was vry useful for me.. i got to knw more abt MBA and MS.. i m in final year of engineering.. my branch is only concerned abt telecommunication.. and i m planning for MS in states or MBA in India.. cn u help me that hw i shud prepare for MS in states.. and i m intrested in Non Technical.. PL help me

    Reply
  17. Hello Sir/Mam

    I have done MBA(finance) from IBS (Hyderabad, India) and have been working for 3 years in my family owned real estate business as a project manager. Now i am planning to do specialisation(MS / MBA) in International business mgmt in US/canada and after that want to work there for 3-5 years before starting my own import export business in india. Pls throw some light on following:

    -> Is it fine to do specialisation after already holding an MBA degree?

    -> Career prospects in International business mgmt?

    -> I shall do MS or MBA?

    Looking to hear from you soon.

    Thank You

    Reply
  18. Hi Kumar,

    I’m planning to do MS in statistics and I have cleared 4 papers of acturial sciences from institute of acturies of india. Can i do part time job in acturial sciences in USA?
    Kindly provide me information about part time jobs in acturial sciences and also the salary of acturies in US.
    Thank you

    Regards
    akshay

    Reply
    • Dear Friend,

      In United States, for first six months officially you cannot work, but 100% people do work au-authorized & earning some 2500-4000 US $’s per month.

      After six months you are entitled to do on campus jobs for three hour per day, where in you can apply for SSN number.

      Hope this information will help you,

      Reply
  19. Hi Saurabh,
    I am looking forward for my MS in CS . I am clear about TA & RA but when and how should I apply for TA & RA for my fundings.
    Waiting for ur reply
    Thank You

    Reply
  20. if my uncle wants to sponsor me for H1B visa and i m currently on F1 visa, what needs t be done to transfe my F1 to H1 , please note its been 4 monts so far i am on F1 visa since.

    Reply
    • Nida,
      The employer needs to have a specialized position for which you qualify. They can then file the LCA followed by I-129 and select the option of change of status in that form. Once approved, your status will be H-1 (earliest start date being Oct 1).

      Reply
    • For you getting admitted in US is really not an easy job, best for you is to have a experience of 2-3 years & than apply for immigration in Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

      Your profession is highly in demand every where,

      Good Luck!!!

      Reply
  21. Hi Kumar

    Professionally I have got an experience of 7 Years and is currently working with one of the top 5 fortune companies as a Project Manager-IT Infrastructure. I have gone through formal project management program earning 40 PDUs and am also ITIL and NCFM Certified.
    Academically though I have been an above average student but my Engineering Degree was not quite decent and I scored 56% in B.Tech Electrical from NIT, Kurukshetra but otherwise have been exceptionally bright being NTSE, AITSE Scholar and in HSC scored 83% and in SSC scored 67%.
    I have been quite instrumental in extra-curricular activities and was the Chairman for ISTE (Indian Society for Technical Education) Students Chapter, Secretary – Photography Club, Convener – National Cultural & Technical Fest in NIT, Kurukshetra. I have also participated in various Technical Paper Presentations. I have been adjudged as one of the best speakers in National Level Debate Competition.
    Despite being physically handicapped I have been socially active as a Volunteer with GreenPeace and NEEV and contribute towards society in whatever little way I can.
    I was also selected for IIM Lucknow, Kozhikode, Indore and IMT Ghaziabad for the PGP program in 2008 but opted out due to personal financial reasons.
    The reason for briefing about myself was to understand that what chances I do stand for getting the financial aids to fund my MS/MBA.
    I am planning to write my GRE/GMAT exam this year.
    Regards
    Saurabh

    Reply
  22. Hy kumar…I want to ask one thing.If a student doing Ms in CS..then can he or she apply for TA in other department as well if he has already done similar thing (related to that subject) in previous higher level education..

    Reply

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