Graduate assistants are students, and graduate assistantships provide pedagogic experiences designed to make students better instructors, researchers and scholars.

Thus, it is a general policy to assign graduate assistants largely scholarly tasks that will provide a useful and meaningful experience in their major field. Assistantships may require work in the classroom or the laboratory, in research, or in other areas on campus.

The most common type of financial support in our program is a half-time assistantship. The student normally schedules 9 to 12 credits per semester, receives a stipend plus a grant-in-aid for tuition, and is assigned tasks that, on the average, require approximately 20 hours per week. These assistantships are awarded on a competitive basis.

  • The current annual stipend for the fiscal year 20/21 academic year is $20,790 for M.S. students and $21,780 for Ph.D. students after passing their Qualify Examination.
  • In addition, summer wages may be available to graduate students and Summer Tuition Assistance is available for eligible graduate students.


New appointments are contingent upon the student's admission to the Graduate School as a degree student (Note: While a department may offer a new student admission, the student must be officially be approved by the Graduate School for admission.) All domestic graduate assistants must have received from a regionally accredited institution a baccalaureate degree earned under residence and credit conditions substantially equivalent to those required by The Pennsylvania State University and all international graduate assistants must hold the equivalent of an American four-year baccalaureate degree. Certain IUG students in simultaneous degree programs, approved by the Dean of the Graduate School, are also eligible. Non-degree students are not eligible for assistantship appointments.

Reappointment to an assistantship is based on availability of positions and the quality of the student's performance. In most departments or major programs the number of years an appointment may be renewed is limited. Unsatisfactory academic performance in any semester or summer session is sufficient cause for termination of the appointment at the end of that period. Unsatisfactory performance of assistantship duties is also sufficient cause for termination.

Appointments cover tuition and provide monthly stipend. Appointments are made at one of several grades in consideration of experience and qualification of the individual. Assistantships are of three types:

  • Quarter-Time - The student normally schedules 9 to 14 credits per semester (5 to 7 per six-week summer session*), receives a stipend plus a grant-in-aid of resident education tuition, and performs tasks that on the average occupy approximately ten hours per week.
  • Half-Time - The student normally schedules 9 to 12 credits per semester (4 to 6 per six-week summer session*), receives a stipend plus a grant-in-aid of resident education tuition, and performs tasks that on the average occupy approximately twenty hours per week.
  • Three-Quarter-Time - The student normally schedules 6 to 8 credits per semester (3 to 4 per six-week summer session*), receives a stipend plus a grant-in-aid of resident education tuition, and performs tasks that on the average occupy approximately thirty hours per week.

A graduate assistant may accept concurrent employment outside the University only with permission from the department head and the assistant's graduate academic program chair. Concurrent employment normally may not be held within the University. A student may receive a concurrent fellowship supplement.

Graduate assistants must be enrolled at Penn State as graduate students. More specifically, since assistantships are provided as aids to completion of advanced degrees, assistants are expected to enroll for credit loads each semester that fall within the limits indicated in the table below. Maximum limits on permissible credit loads are indicated in order to assure that the student can give appropriate attention both to academic progress and assistantship responsibilities. These considerations give rise to the table of permissible credit loads below.

Level of Assistantship Minimum Credits Per Semester Maximum Credits Per Semester Minimum* Credits Per 6-Week Summer Session Maximum Credits Per 6-Week Summer Session
Quarter-time 9 14 5 7
Half-time 9 12 4 6
Three-quarter-time 6 8 3 4

*Credits taken over both 6-week summer sessions must total a minimum of 9 (1/4- and ½-time assistants) or 6 (3/4-time assistants) and cannot exceed a maximum of 8 (3/4-time assistants), 12 (1/2-time assistants), or 14 (1/4-time assistants).

To provide for some flexibility, moderate exceptions to the specified limits may be made in particular cases. The credit limits specified above may only be increased or decreased in exceptional cases for a specific semester or summer session by permission of the assistantship supervisor, the student's academic adviser, and the dean of the Graduate School (requests should be submitted for the dean's approval via the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services). The Graduate School expects that an exception made in one semester or summer session will be compensated for by a suitably modified credit load in the subsequent semester or summer session, so that, on the average, normal progress is maintained at a rate falling within the limits above. Failure to do so may jeopardize the student's academic status. Maintenance of the established credit loads and responsibility for consequences of a graduate student's change of course load rest with the student and adviser. The course load is a factor in determining whether a graduate student is classified as a full-time or part-time student; has met residence requirements; and is eligible to hold a fellowship, traineeship, assistantship, or departmental or program appointment.