Posted February 12, 2014 by Benjamin Williams 

Assistantship 101: Tips for a Successful Search and Experience

Recently, I made calls to prospective students on behalf of the student affairs in higher education program at Miami University. As I talked to students, left voicemails, and listened to their questions, I remembered how the process of searching for an assistantship and a graduate program caused some stress in my life. So why not provide some tips and tricks to the prospective students on how to make your best case as you look for the perfect program and assistantship?

Defining what an assistantship is might be a great place to start. Graduate assistantships are how you are able to fund your graduate degree. These positions are typically 15–25 hours a week commitments that provide funds to cover tuition, a monthly stipend, and sometimes housing, depending on your position. The other benefits are that you get to work as part of a staff, which can mean running a residence hall, advising a program board, or doing assessment work. The opportunities are endless and no assistantships are alike. During my search, I interviewed for academic programs and a total of 11 different assistantships. Two of my positions had the same title, but drastically different requirements. After talking with graduate students in a variety of programs and assistantships, I have come up with a list of five things to remember.

  1. Professionalism: From the first contact to the last, you want to make sure you show your best self. If you plan to communicate with potential employers via phone, please make sure your voicemail, social media, and any communication with the school show that you are the type of employee they want as part of their team.Interview2
  2. Research: Looking up information on the history, programs, and staff of any office you are interviewing with will show that you are thorough and that you are interested enough in the position to put work in prior to interviewing.
  3. Attire: I personally think that you are better to be overdressed then underdressed. Take the time to look professional, iron your clothes, and possibly integrate a subtle accessory that reflects the school colors.
  4. Bring Your "A Game": You are always on during interview weekends. Interaction with current students, staff, and faculty all can be part of the decision-making process. If you go out to dinner with current students, don’t get a drink or forget that you are still interviewing even in a more informal setting.
  5. Thank You: Make sure to say thank you and to send thank you notes. Some students take thank you cards with them so they can write during downtime, some students send emails, and some do nothing. I personally think handwritten notes or emails are both great ways to show that you appreciate the opportunity to interview and the time they took out of their schedule. No matter what, send a note in some way to follow up afterwards.

My final bit of advice is that when you receive an offer, don't dismiss any opportunity just because it’s not in the area in which you think you want to work. My bills are paid by my work with residence life at Miami, which provides me a different experience, and there is value in being a well-rounded candidate. I have a graduate internship with our student center and student activities that give me incredible opportunities. The impossible is nothing in our field as long as you remember that each opportunity can push you to the next level of your career.

Benjamin Williams

Benjamin Williams is the Associate Program Director, Student Center at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Ben manages a facility inside the Student Center; advises the Homecoming, Ramblin Nights, and Music committees for the Student Center Programs Council; and supervises six student staff in Under the Couch, a music listening space where students can perform, record music, or just study. He holds a bachelor’s in sociology from Georgia State University and a master’s from Miami University. His ACUI involvement includes serving on Regional Leadership Teams, the Education and Research Fund Program Team, and currently as one of the program leads for I-LEAD®.

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