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Graduate Assistants (formerly PR06)



To provide the definition of and policies for appointing Graduate Assistants.


Academic Goal

To provide a structure for graduate assistantships that allows graduate assistants to give appropriate attention to both academic progress and assistantship responsibilities.



All graduate students appointed to graduate teaching, research, or administrative assistantships; graduate traineeships; or graduate fellowships.

Policy Statement

  1. Graduate assistantships are provided to degree-seeking students enrolled in residence in the Graduate School at The Pennsylvania State University as aids to completion of advanced degrees. Graduate assistants are students, and graduate assistantships provide pedagogic and educational experiences designed to make students better instructors, researchers, and scholars. As such, graduate assistantship appointments should be related to the graduate student's disciplinary field and, wherever possible, tied to the student's program of study so as to contribute in a relevant manner to the student's professional development. To effectively make such a contribution, the supervisor of the assistantship necessarily serves in a mentoring role, which requires regular interaction, close communication, and feedback with the graduate assistant, including clear expectations for satisfactory fulfillment of the assistantship activities. Assistantships may require activities in the classroom, in the laboratory or other research environment, or in other areas on campus, with the opportunity for professional development further benefiting from and enriched by the scholarly environment of the University. Graduate assistantships include a stipend, tuition remission, and a subsidy for the Penn State student health insurance plan (SHIP) premium.

    Graduate assistantship appointments are contingent upon the student’s admission to the Graduate School as a degree-seeking student enrolled in residence. Certain IUG students in simultaneous undergraduate and Graduate School degree programs, approved by the dean of the Graduate School, are also eligible (requests should be submitted for the dean’s approval via memorandum to the Office of Graduate Fellowships and Awards Administration). Eligibility is also contingent upon enrollment in the appropriate number of credits (specified below) in each semester of a graduate assistantship appointment. Non-degree students are not eligible for graduate assistantships.

    The Pennsylvania State University operates on a semester calendar system. The period of instruction each fall and spring semester is 15 weeks. Graduate assistants are appointed for 18 weeks each semester, for, on average, the number of hours per week appropriate to the assistantship appointment type (e.g., quarter-time, half-time or three-quarter-time). All graduate assistantship appointments are made for one or two semesters and/or for the Summer Sessions. Students are expected to be involved in assistantship activities for an approximate total of 18 weeks per fall and/or spring semester during the dates indicated on their Terms of Offer, not including official University holidays, campus closures (including for inclement weather, etc.) and during spring break and the Thanksgiving holiday break. Under particular circumstances, primarily for students whose first semester will be during the summer sessions, students may be appointed to traditional graduate assistantships during the summer session for a period of up to 12 weeks. However, in most cases, students are appointed as Summer Lecturer/Researchers during the summer sessions, see GSAD-905 (previously PR17).

    There may be exceptional circumstances such as with specialized maintenance and/or data collection from research animals, where assistantship activities must be conducted during University holidays/closures and cannot be delegated to other individuals, or when an experimental protocol runs over months and cannot be interrupted or suspended to allow time away. In such circumstances, the graduate student should be made aware prior to the start of the assistantship appointment involving the affected period, and other time away should be arranged in exchange. Students should consult with the following individuals as needed to address any concerns about a request that assistantship activities span University holidays/closures: assistantship provider, adviser (if not the same individual), graduate program chair, college/school administrator for graduate education (typically an assistant/associate/senior associate dean). Finally, if preferred or if necessary, when the previously mentioned individuals cannot assist, the Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs in the Graduate School serves as ombudsperson for Graduate Students and is available to discuss any student’s specific situation.

    Preference in renewals normally is given to those students who have shown superior aptitude in the performance of assistantship activities and in academic progress. A graduate assistantship may be terminated prior to completion of the full term of the appointment if the student fails to meet departmental standards as described above, following due process procedures as described in GCAC-804 Procedures for Termination of Assistantships Due to Inadequate Performance.

    In circumstances when paid leave from the activities of a graduate assistantship is necessary, refer to the Graduate School’s Leave of Absence policy (GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence).

    Graduate assistantships may be one of three types: quarter-time, half-time, or three-quarter-time. The expected average weekly hours of assigned activities are the same for all graduate assistants within an appointment type. Thus, for all quarter-time graduate assistants, irrespective of stipend grade, an average of 10 hours of regular activities per week are expected; for all half-time assistants, an average of 20 hours per week are expected; and for all three-quarter-time, an average of 30 hours per week are expected. In all cases, additional hours related to a student’s degree requirements may be necessary, such as related to a graduate student’s research, depending upon the student’s thesis/dissertation project.
    1. Minimum Stipend Requirement:

      Grade 12 is the current Required Minimum Stipend Grade for Fall/Spring appointments (see Table of Stipends). For students to be supported on an annual basis, units should seek to provide additional support and/or scholarship funding during the summer that meets or exceeds the equivalent of a grade 12 half-time graduate assistantship for the fall, spring and summer semesters, a 12 month period. Grades below 12 (i.e., 9, 10 and 11), Grade 27, and Quarter-Time and Three-Quarter Time appointments may only be used with prior approval of a Variable Rate Form by the Graduate School, Office of Graduate Fellowships and Awards Administration.

      Units should seek to provide total funding packages for graduate degree-seeking, full-time students that meet or exceed a grade 12 half-time graduate assistantship.
    2. Payment of Stipends and Grade Levels:

      All graduate assistant appointees are paid monthly on the last business day of the month. Direct stipend deposits are mandatory and are a condition of each appointment. For the fall semester, graduate assistants will typically be paid 1/5 of the semester stipend at the end of August, September, October, November, and December, respectively. For the spring semester, graduate assistants will typically receive 1/5 of the semester stipend at the end of January, February, March, April, and May, respectively. Students on assistantship during summer session will be paid half of their stipend at the end of June and half at the end July.

      Appointments are submitted in accordance with stipends grades authorized in the Table of Stipends for Graduate Assistants. See the Schedule of Graduate Assistant Pay Dates for pay dates and the portion of the stipend paid each month of the appointment.

      Payments made in June for Summer Session can be pre-payments against the following year's budget. This option can be entered on the Neocase form when completing the summer appointment request.

      Across the University, beyond meeting or exceeding the minimum stipend requirement specified above, stipend grades may vary based upon a variety of factors, including but not limited to disciplinary differences; efforts to meet or exceed competing offers from other institutions; efforts to increase diversity that reflect the shared values of the University; and recognition of benchmark academic achievements (e.g., passing the Qualifying examination or progression to candidacy). However, after accounting for such factors, within any graduate program/department, or other administrative unit of the University, graduate assistants completing the same activities should receive the same stipend grade/amount.

    The privileges of graduate study are the same for all graduate assistants within the same assistantship appointment type with credit limits that depend on whether the graduate assistant is enrolled in a research degree program (leading to the M.A., M.S., or Ph.D.) or in a professional degree program (e.g., M.B.A., D.N.P. M.P.S., M.Arch. etc.). The table that follows shows the number of credits that normally may be scheduled for each semester or session for a given degree type and within an appointment type:
    For graduate assistants enrolled in a research degree program (M.A., M.S., or Ph.D.)
      Fall/Spring Summer
    Graduate Assistant - Quarter-Time 9-14 5-7
    Graduate Assistant - Half-Time 9-12 4-6
    Graduate Assistant - Three-Quarter-Time 6-8 3-4
    For graduate assistants enrolled in a professional degree program (e.g., M.B.A., D.N.P. M.P.S., M.Arch. etc.)
      Fall/Spring Summer
    Graduate Assistant - Quarter-Time 9-18 5-15
    Graduate Assistant - Half-Time 9-15 4-12
    Graduate Assistant - Three-Quarter-Time 6-12 3-9

    The credit 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, or assistantship, or departmental or program appointment. Maintenance of the established credit loads and responsibility for consequences of a graduate student's change of credit load rest with the student and adviser. Failure to maintain appropriate credit loads may jeopardize the student's academic status.

    Full-Time Academic Status--Students holding fellowships, traineeships, or assistantships are required to carry 9 or more credits each semester (fall and spring). For appointments that require full-time summer registration, students should register for a minimum cumulative total of 9 credits (over all summer sessions), or SUBJ 601 (in the case of post-comprehensive doctoral candidates). A graduate assistant whose semester or summer session credit load meets or exceeds the minima in the above credit table and whose assistantship duties are directly related to his or her degree objectives is considered by the Graduate School to be engaged in full-time academic work for that semester or summer. A post-comprehensive doctoral candidate who is registered for SUBJ 601 also is so considered.

    Part-Time Academic Status--A student who in any semester or summer session is registered for study but who does not meet the criteria for full-time status is considered to be engaged in part-time academic work for that semester. This includes students registered for SUBJ 611.

    The credits specified are the minimum and maximum number which the appointee is ordinarily expected to carry within an appointment type. To provide for some flexibility, moderate exceptions to the specified limits may be made in special circumstances. The credit limits specified above may only be increased or decreased in special circumstances 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). It is expected that:
    1. The credit load and the average weekly hours of assistantship activities are properly balanced in each semester, and the total credit load over a period of the appointment (i.e., fall/spring or summer) conforms within the specified limits.
    2. The total number of credits scheduled during the period of appointment is consistent with the type of degree program and appointment.
    3. Students should always be given an appointment level (¼-, ½-, or ¾-time assistantship) that does not compromise their ability to meet the degree requirements of their program and assigned no more than the normal average weekly hours of assistantship activities for that appointment level, not including activities related to their degree requirements.
    4. 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. 

    Graduate Assistant tuition will be charged at a reduced graduate assistantship tuition rate. Flat rate dissertation fees will be charged for graduate assistants registered for 601/611. Graduate assistant tuition and flat rate dissertation fees are paid for by the appointing unit. Learn more about graduate assistant tuition rates.

    If a graduate assistant is appointed for both the fall and spring semesters of an academic year, the student is eligible to apply for the Summer Tuition Assistance Program (STAP), administered by the Graduate School, for tuition coverage of up to nine (9) credits of summer coursework towards their graduate degree. Students participating in STAP who are also continuing their assistantship over the summer months should be appointed to a Summer Graduate Assistantship (Summer Lecturer/Researcher) appointment (see policy GSAD-905). STAP applications must be submitted and approved by the student’s program.  

    Every Graduate Assistant shall be offered his or her appointment each year in writing, using a standard form, the Terms of Offer and General Conditions of a Graduate Assistantship Appointment.

    A graduate assistant may perform classroom or laboratory instruction, research, or other activities. The tasks assigned to a graduate assistant often are identical in nature to those required of all candidates for the advanced degree sought. If all of the assistantship activities assigned to the graduate assistant are required of every degree candidate in the applicable graduate degree program as a condition of receiving the degree, it must be noted in the Terms of Offer and on the Neocase appointment form. If all of the activities assigned to the graduate assistant are required of every degree candidate in the applicable graduate program as a condition of receiving the degree, state and local taxes will not be withheld.

    Graduate assistants should not be expected or required to complete additional hours of assigned assistantship activities beyond the average weekly hours for their appointment type (and not including those required for their degree, as indicated above); in the exceptional circumstance that this does occur, other time away from the assistantship should be arranged to allow the average weekly hours to match the respective appointment type (quarter-time, half-time, or three-quarter-time) over the duration of the appointment.

    Additional compensation may be paid to a graduate assistant by the University for additional hours of activities only with special, advance approval of the administrative head of the unit in which the assistantship is held and the head of the student’s graduate program, with the primary considerations being that the additional hours of activities not compromise the student’s academic progress, or their assistantship responsibilities. If the additional hours are not related to the assigned assistantship activities, a wage appointment should be used, whereas if they are related to the assigned assistantship activities, the appointment type should more appropriately be changed (e.g., from a half-time to a three-quarter-time appointment), rather than adding the additional hours as wage payroll.

    EXAMPLE: A graduate student is appointed to a half-time Research Assistantship conducting research for their dissertation and may, with prior approval, perform 10 additional hours of duties a week as a ticket clerk at the Bryce Jordan Center on a wage payroll appointment.

    A graduate assistant may accept concurrent employment outside the University only with prior permission from the head of the unit providing the assistantship and the head of the student’s graduate program, with the primary considerations being that the additional hours not compromise the student’s academic progress, or their assistantship responsibilities.

    The University provides a health insurance benefit as part of the graduate assistantship appointment. The University will pay a percentage of the annual premium for the Penn State Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), dental, and vision insurance. The remaining percentage will be automatically deducted from the student's assistantship stipend.

    Complete the Graduate Assistant/Fellow/Trainee Request form in Neocase, found under Manager Tools on the Worklion website, for all new graduate assistantship appointment requests, changes to existing appointments or reappointments. All appointments must be processed by HR Shared Services (HRSS) in Workday. Background checks are required of all new graduate assistant appointments, as well as those that were previously appointed and had a break in service. They will be initiated in Workday and managed by HRSS and the student. Onboarding will be managed by HRSS or the College or Campus’ designated Onboarding Partner.

    All graduate assistant stipend and tuition must be distributed to the appropriate accounts in the IBIS financial system via Pay and Effort.

    Each graduate assistant shall be supervised and assisted in assigned activities until the graduate assistant gains experience and skill enabling them to take responsibility. In addition to ongoing feedback as necessary, each graduate assistant shall be formally evaluated at least once each year, and the supervisor shall discuss with the graduate assistant the individual’s performance during the appointment period, with the goal of continued professional development for the graduate student.
    1. For those students appointed through the University as graduate assistants, the responsibility for submission of graduate assistantship appointments rests with their graduate programs. Graduate program staff should ensure all applicable eligibility requirements for the proposed appointments are met.
      1. In instances when graduate assistantship funding is managed outside the home graduate program, the funding unit may process the appointment at their discretion, but the graduate program must confirm recipients’ academic requirements for holding the graduate assistantship appointment are met. Graduate programs, Financial Offices of the colleges/units, and funding units should work together to facilitate the appointments. This is particularly important for correct posting of pay and effort/labor distribution, and to avoid duplicate appointment entry.
    2. The unit that enters a graduate student’s graduate assistantship appointment must terminate it in compliance with HR Shared Services’ procedures and processes.


P1 - Ending a Graduate Assistantship

P2 - Graduate Assistantships with IUGs, Internships, or Outside Employment

Further Information

For questions, additional detail, or to request changes to this policy, please contact the Graduate School Office of Graduate Education Financial Administration.

GUIDELINES: Resources about Graduate Assistant, Fellow, and Trainee Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), Dental, and Vision Insurance Plans

GUIDELINES: Guidance for Graduate Assistantships with IUGs, Internships, or Outside Employment

Revision History

Approved by the Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of The Graduate School, Feb. 3, 2021. Effective immediately.

  • July 13, 2023 - Incorporated remaining element of GSAD 501 into this policy, GSAD-501 was retired.
  • Feb. 3, 2021 – Minor editorial change to Policy Statement #6 to modify the list of degree examples.
  • May 15, 2020
    • Removal of MIT Living Wage Calculator; transition to a standard grade 12 half-time minimum requirement. Addition of “Responsibilities for Student Appointments.”
  • May 17, 2019
    • Added credit limits for graduate assistants enrolled in a professional degree programs
    • Updated Minimum Stipend Requirement information
    • Updated health insurance information
  • December 7, 2018 – Significant organizational and editorial changes and additions throughout entire policy, to remove IBIS references for appointments and incorporate University move to WorkDay, including move from “PR” or Payroll Policy to “GSAD” or Graduate School Administrative Policy.
  • August 20, 2014 – Editorial changes. Clarifications in SUBMISSION OF FORMS FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF GRADUATE ASSISTANTS and PAYMENT OF STIPENDS sections to reflect current operations. Addition of policy steward information, in the event that there are questions or requests for changes to the policy.
  • March 29, 2012 – Revisions have been made to the ELIGIBILITY and CREDITS THAT MAY BE SCHEDULED sections, clarifying details that pertain to these categories.
  • September 19, 2011 – Editorial changes made to HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFITS, clarifying contact information, if further information is needed.
  • March 24, 2005
    • In RESPONSIBILITIES section, added verbiage for proper completion when the tasks assigned to a graduate assistant are identical in nature to those required for the advanced degree sought.
    • In the HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFIT section, added verbiage that distinguished benefits of international Graduate Assistants and domestic Graduate Assistants.
    • Changed fall/spring credits for half-time Graduate Assistants from 8-11 to 9-12.
    • Editorial changes made throughout the policy, where applicable, to remove references to the General Forms Usage Guide.
  • March 6, 2003
    • Provisions moved from Policy BT03 to this policy:
    • Payments made in June for Summer Session are pre-payments against the following year's budget.
    • Appointments are to be submitted in accordance with stipends authorized in the Table of Stipends (Appendix 5 of the General Forms Usage Guide).
    • Credits that may be scheduled by half-time graduate assistants increased from 8-11 to 9-12.
  • May 22, 2001
    • Under the RESPONSIBILITIES section, changed the advance approval requirements from "dean of the college where the student holds the assistantship" to "administrative head of the academic unit in which the assistantship is held, and of the chair of the student's graduate academic program."
  • January 24, 2000
    • Mandatory direct deposit of pay.
    • Added link to Penn State Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin.
    • Changed term 'earned tuition grant-in-aid' to 'Tuition Assistance Program'.
    • Revised RESPONSIBILITIES section.
    • Changed 1/4 time fall/spring credits from 11-14 to 9-14.
  • December 3, 1996 – Removed references to several defunct forms (Loyalty Oath and Affirmation, and Alien Information Request); changed title "Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School" to "Dean of the Graduate School."
  • April 4, 1994 – IBIS ASST form reference replaced by NAPP, GFSA, GRAD,TRMN, and GFST.
  • November 22, 1993
    • HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFIT section added.
    • Alien Information Request Form and Salary Deposit Request added as required forms to submit.
    • Effective November 1, 1993, direct salary deposits shall be mandatory and a condition of hire for anyone beginning employment on or after that date.
    • Provision added for salary advance for first monthly payroll.
  • October 1, 1993 – Added Intellectual Property Agreement as a required form to be completed by a graduate assistant.
  • May 22, 1991 – The Assistantship and Fellowship Stipend Form replaced by the IBIS ASST form: Under ELIGIBILITY, added provisions for candidates to have health insurance.
  • April 12, 1988
    • Added Employment Eligibility Verification Form (INS Form I-9) to FORMS TO BE COMPLETED section.
    • At locations other than UP, references to the "Bursar" should be read as Financial (or Business) Office.
  • March 27, 1987 – "Employee's Withholding Exemption Certificate" change to "Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate"; added lengthy section TUITION REMISSIONS EDUCATION ASSISTANCE PLAN.
  • April 18, 1985
    • Under section TYPES AND SALARY RANGES, "summer session 10 weeks (or extended session 12 weeks)" changed to "extended summer session 12 weeks."
    • "Dean of the Graduate School" changed to "Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School."
    • Credits for 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 time graduate assistants now identified for fall or spring semester.
    • Credits for summer added as follows: 1/4 time = 5-7; 1/2 time = 4-6; 3/4 time = 3-5.
  • July 25, 1983
    • Removed section PRIVILEGES FOR GRADUATE STUDY GRANT-IN-AID and replaced with section RATES TO CHARGE FUNDING
    • Provisions of new section include: tuition will be charged to sponsored agreements at an average in-state rate, effective summer session 1984; flat rate dissertation fees will be charge to sponsored agreements for assistantships effective fall semester 1983; earned tuition grant-in-aid will not be available after summer term, 1983.
    • "Business Manager" changed to "Director of Business Services."
  • April 15, 1983
    • "Term" changed to "Semester".
    • Budget Executive signs Assistant and Fellowship Stipend Form instead of dean or administrative officer.
    • 1/4 time Graduate Assistant changed from 7-9 credits to 11-14 credits.
    • 1/2 time graduate Assistant changed from 5-7 credits to 8-11 credits.
    • 3/4 Time Graduate Assistant changed from 4-5 credits to 6-8 credits.
    • All graduate assistant appointees are paid monthly instead of 6 equal installments per term.
    • The total credit load over a period of time must conform with the specified limits.</
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