- The surrounding area: Your program’s location could influence your cost of living. The price of consumer goods like food and clothing may be significantly more in an urban area than in a rural one.
- Transportation: Can you make do without the added expense of a car?
- Funding: Read the fine print and you’ll discover that stipends generally are not guaranteed year to year. Ask about the funding situation at your prospective grad school. If possible, try to arrange a private (and frank) conversation with a current TA in the program.
- Limited number of hours: The number of hours TAs are allowed to work is generally capped at 20-25 hours per week. If you plan on working longer hours for additional cash, check whether that’s allowed.
Stipends are not intended to allow grad students to live in luxury and the low wage is often seen as a tradeoff for the money saved on tuition, however, there is currently debate in some circles about whether the stipend is enough to live on. Make sure you’re aware of the stipend amount and any restrictions before you commit to a particular program. Living the TA Life Find out what your responsibilities will be before or during the application process:
- How many hours will you be required to work? You could work anywhere from 15 to 30 hours per week, though 20 hours per week is about average.
- Will you be asked to teach a class? You might be asked to do something as mundane as setting up lab equipment or as complex as lecturing an entire course. You might teach a freshman intro course or teach another grad program. How do you feel about public speaking?
- What day-to-day duties will be expected? Some standard TA duties include grading papers and giving quizzes and exams, but you may be expected to keep office hours, create the syllabus, or assist the professor in research.
- Will work hours be consistent week to week? The TA work you have will be in addition to the work you’ll be expected to complete in your regular graduate program.
While a teaching assistantship and the stipend considerations can significantly affect what you get out of graduate school, remember they are only a portion of the total experience. When you weigh whether to take an assistantship, keep your perspective and do so against the backdrop of the overall quality of the grad program itself when you make your final decision.