Increase Your Chances of Getting a Graduate Assistantship
03/27/2017 by HIGHERGRAD
Graduate assistantships are meant to be not only a way to finance graduate school, but they offer additional experiences through teaching and research to further your overall educational experience. These opportunities allow graduate students to hone their skills in teaching and research while also gaining some real-world experience in their field. Assistantships are highly competitive and landing a graduate assistantship is difficult. Those who wish to apply for one should present themselves in the best possible way to have a fighting chance at landing one.
Graduate assistantship positions are not available in every graduate program and at every college. Most positions come up in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs because these fields are heavily focused on research. With research comes the need to have graduate assistants who work to solve specific problems through research in order to meet the needs of specific projects and train future investigators and experts of new technologies. The graduate assistantship salary by no means reflective of the amount of effort that is required, but it is an opportunity to get some (or all) of your tuition paid for and have some money for living expenses to continue your education and hopefully a more prosperous future.
3 Tips for Landing a Graduate Assistantship
Once you find graduate assistantships you may be interested in, actually landing one can be highly competitive and difficult depending on your field of choice. Start with a solid graduate assistantship application then consider these three tips to help secure the position.
Know the College or Department of the Graduate Assistantship Position
Most graduate assistantships are advertised and filled locally, meaning that individual college departments and professors handle the hiring process. It is important to know the college and more importantly the college department where you are trying to get an assistantship and ultimately enroll in graduate school. Use the department’s website to find out what majors they offer and what research professors are actively involved in. Being educated about the opportunity will put you a step above your competition in earning one of these competitive graduate assistantship positions.
Showcase Your Value
With a crowded field of graduate school students seeking a limited number of positions, it is critical to showcase the value you will provide to the college. Make sure all your social media accounts are up to date (and for the most part "PG") because in today’s world employers are checking these. Create a LinkedIn profile or update your existing one to show any past employment, skills, and education leading up to graduate school. Add any volunteer work, undergraduate research, or special projects you have accomplished in order to show your future employer your skills and abilities. More is always better when it comes to your LinkedIn profile, but it is important to make any additions relevant to getting into graduate school or obtaining a graduate assistantship if those are your goals.
Depending on your field, it may be appropriate to create a website to showcase your skills for a particular graduate assistantship position. For instance, creating a website to display your computer programming or web development skills is a great way to stand out among the competition for graduate assistantships. The age of the one-page resume is slowing ending. Employers, and especially professors, are looking for how you can help advance their research, department, or university. Showcasing your value around this premise is the best way to get noticed for these limited number of available graduate assistantship positions.
Cultivate Professional Relationships
Most graduate assistantships will ask for professional references. For most undergrads, that will be challenging since you probably have little work experience in general and even less (if any) work experience in the actual field you are seeking a graduate assistantship in. Solution? Return to those professors and professionals you have had a relationship with during your undergraduate program. Cultivate those relationships into great professional letters of recommendation. They can comment on your work ethic, education habits, and ability to succeed. Ideally, two references from professors/professionals in the field is powerful and the third could be from a past employer or volunteer coordinator.
It is hard enough to find graduate assistantships, but once you do it can be even harder to actually get the job. Graduate school itself is competitive but securing an assistantship is even more competitive. Take time to understand your future graduate school college/department and showcase the value you will be bringing to it by answering the question: "How can I help the research or department?" Finally, look to past professors and professionals you have built relationships with to get stellar recommendations that will push you to the top of any graduate assistantship search.