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When applying to grad school, there are many questions you will have to consider. 

“What opportunities will I be getting?”

“Is this worth it?” 

“Will I be living in a High School Musical spinoff where they all go to college? And Zac Efron will take my hand and bring me to all his basketball games?” 

Okay, maybe not that last one. But, for now, let’s throw all these questions aside and talk about the most prominent deciding factor for college;

M o n e y. 

University is already expensive, and grad school makes sure you understand that it does not get any easier. However, hope is not lost! Most universities will give you student employment options to not only get more experience in the field you’re after, but they will pay you for the work! The two most common and beneficial opportunities you can get while in graduate school are as a graduate assistant or a teaching assistant.

“Okay, cool, whatever, I’m just here for the money.”

Okay, cool, whatever. Let’s take a deeper look at these two. Being a GA or a TA can be an amazing experience and opportunity for your future! But, as always, there are pros and cons. So, let’s take a gander at your options. 

The Tah within the Gah

Being a TA means you will become a Teaching Assistant. Wow, lucky you.

You’re probably familiar with TAs, but let’s talk specifics. Most TAs do the professor’s dirty work. A TA will grade papers, assist the professor and sometimes even teach the students themselves.  

Depending on your major, being a TA can allow you to be up close and personal with your potential future working environment. 

However, one of the significant downsides will be your workload. Depending on the professor and the course, if you’re a TA of an undergraduate class with 300 students, that might mean you’ve got 300 tests to grade. Of course, this won’t be the only thing that you’re doing, but it will take up a lot of your time.

The Gah without the Tah

Being a GA means your new title shall be a Graduate Assistant. Now, being a graduate student, this may sound counterintuitive. But, being a GA is like a broader version of being a TA. 

Being a GA means you’ll be working for the department as a whole rather than for a single class. As you’d expect, this means the work you’ll do will vary widely from department to department, but the general layout and expectations will be the same.

For example, if the department you’re wanting to be in is very lab-heavy, like engineering or medicine, then you’ll basically be the upkeep of the lab. You will manage the equipment, and if someone is having problems with one of the instruments, you will be there to help! You will also maintain a healthy and safe status for the lab and even research ways to improve the lab further. 

Now, if you’re into something completely different, like coaching or sports broadcasting, you can just change the words “lab” and “equipment” with people and the items they will be handling.

So, if you’re a GA of a basketball team, then you’ll be their assistant coach. You will maintain the work ethic of the team, help any athletes who are struggling and do research on how to make the team better. 

See? Sounds just like being a GA in a science lab! Just like a TA, being a GA is another opportunity to learn what a true working environment will be like.

Okay, cool, whatever, but which one is better for me?

Well, of course, it depends! Some positions will look better depending on your major, and some majors may have more options for being a TA than a GA, and vice versa. 

It never hurts to apply! 

There are usually qualifications you will have to meet to apply for a GA or TA, but once you find a spot you qualify in, then it can be a great opportunity!


While it never hurts to apply, it also doesn’t hurt to look at any other options you have. Again, let us not forget the most significant factor of university.

M o n e y. 

College departments will offer jobs that are very similar to the work GAs and TAs perform but with even higher pay. The qualifications might be more strict, but if you meet their expectations, then do not hesitate to accept! 

In Conclusion, Your Honor

Either way, you will still have to make the commitment. Being a GA or a TA is similar in this regard. But when it comes to specifics, and counting the benefits of your major, that is when differences start to appear. 

You may teach students, you may work with administrators, you may do a lot of independent research for your department, you may make bank or you might be stressed, depressed and with your hair being a mess. But if it looks hot and sexy on your resumé, it will be worth it!

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