Academic Programs Catalog

Graduate Education

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate assistant is a generic term referring to a graduate student who is supported on a graduate assistantship. Graduate assistants are in one of three categories as they relate to policy in this section: research assistants, teaching assistants represented by the Graduate Employees Union (GEU), and teaching assistants not represented by the GEU.

Graduate assistantships are available only to graduate students who are actively pursuing graduate degree programs and who are making satisfactory progress toward their degrees, including maintaining at least a 3.00 grade–point average. Colleges, departments, or schools may set higher or additional standards. 

Graduate assistants are appointed on a quarter–time, half–time, or three–quarter time basis. There are two appointment periods during the fall and spring:  August 16—December 31 and January 1—May 15.  During each appointment period a graduate assistant's duties to the university require an average of:

  1. 10 hours per week for a quarter–time stipend. 
  2. 20 hours per week for a half–time stipend. 
  3. 30 hours per week for a three–quarter–time stipend.
Summer appointments cover the period from approximately May 16—August 15.  The appointing unit is responsible for informing the graduate assistant of the distribution of duties that are related to the summer appointment.

To the extent that current policies and procedures contain provisions about wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment, they are for teaching assistants included in the collective bargaining agreement between Michigan State University and the Graduate Employees Union.

Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant Not represented by the MSU Graduate Employees Union Collective Bargaining Agreement (GEU)

Assistantship Levels

GRADUATE ASSISTANTS, LEVEL I. Graduate students with the bachelor's degree and less than one year's experience as graduate assistants or as full-support fellows. They conduct research, perform administrative tasks or other supervised duties such as reading and grading papers.

GRADUATE ASSISTANTS, LEVEL II. Graduate students with a relevant master's degree or equivalent and/or one year's experience as graduate assistants or as full-support fellows in the appointing department or school or in a unit considered relevant by the chairperson of the appointing department or school. They conduct research, grade papers, or perform administrative tasks with moderate supervision. Advancement from Level I to Level II is usually routine.

GRADUATE ASSISTANTS, LEVEL III. Graduate students who have successfully completed doctoral comprehensive exams, as defined by the department in which the student is enrolled, and have experience as a graduate RA/TE at Michigan State University, or equivalent. The minimum number of semesters shall be four (4), five (5) or six (6). The definition of equivalent experience as an RA/TE is left to the discretion of the chairperson of the appointing unit, but it is expected that only experience in research-oriented assignments will count toward the six semesters of experience as an RA. (Consistent with current practice, 1/4 time and 3/4 time appointments count the same as 1/2 time appointments, and summer semesters count the same as fall and spring semesters.)


Stipends and Benefits

Stipend levels are subject to yearly change. 

For the latest information, please consult the Human Resources Web site at

Checks are distributed on a biweekly basis. Graduate assistants at any of the three levels may be appointed on a  quarter–time, half–time,  or three–quarter–time basis with an appropriate adjustment in the stipend. Additional benefits, even though the graduate student does not enroll for 10 credits or more, include the following:

  1. Tuition waiver in the amount of 9 credits for fall semester, 9 credits for spring semester, and 5 credits for summer session.  The tuition waiver will be provided during the period of the assistantship, to a maximum of 23 credits per year. For Ph.D. students past comprehensive exams with a summer (only) research assistantship following a spring assistantship, there is a 1 credit non-fringe research assistantship option available
  2. Exemption from out–of–state resident tuition. This exemption applies to a summer session that precedes or follows consecutive fall and spring appointments, regardless of whether the student was previously enrolled at Michigan State University. If the student does not have a graduate assistantship form completed before registering for summer session, they will pay out–of–state resident course fees and tuition. If an appointment form is submitted prior to the middle of the subsequent fall semester, the Office of the Registrar will refund the full amount of out–of–state tuition that the student paid for the summer session.
  3. Specific college or program fees, applicable to all graduate students enrolled in a specific college or program, may apply and are not waived.
  4. Health Insurance. Graduate assistants (domestic and international) are automatically enrolled in a health insurance plan, the premium of which is paid by the university. The plan provides the following coverage:
    a.    Fall appointment only: coverage from August 16 to February 15 of the following year.
    b.    Fall and Spring appointments—coverage from August 16 to August 15 of the following year.
    c.    Spring appointment only—coverage from January 1 to August 15.
    d.    Summer appointment only—coverage from approximately May 16 to August 15.
    Enrolled students may also insure their eligible spouse and/or dependent children (residing with the insured).
    For questions regarding coverage, enrollment or premium payment, contact BCN partners with Blue Water for enrollment and payment, 1-800-287-4103. For questions concerning waiver processing or general information, contact the Michigan State University Human Resources Office at 1-517-353-4434 or 1-800-353-4434, or by e-mail at: The Human Resources Office is located at 1407 South Harrison, Suite 140A, East Lansing, MI 48823 and on the web at; or visit BCN at
  5. Eligibility for treatment at Olin Health Center.

Early Termination or Resignation of Assistantships

If a graduate assistant resigns an assistantship or the assistantship is terminated early during a semester, such that the appointment does not meet minimum duration standards (53 calendar days in Fall and Spring; 46 calendar days in Summer), the student will be assessed tuition for all credits carried, and those who are not Michigan (in-state) residents will be assessed out-of-state tuition.

Additional Benefits, Other Information

Library privileges, intramural and recreative facilities privileges, and eligibility to join the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union.

Eligibility for student discounts on football, basketball, and/or hockey season tickets for themselves and their spouses.

Eligibility for free admission to other regularly scheduled Michigan State University athletic events when presenting a valid student ID card.

Eligibility for student discounts on series tickets to professional performing arts events at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts and Institute for Arts and Culture, including one guest ticket at the student rate.

Exemption from payment of the Social Security tax on the stipend if the student is enrolled for the minimum number or required credits. Stipends are subject to income taxes with few exceptions. The taxability of stipends is subject to review by the Internal Revenue Service. Please call the Payroll Office for more information 1-517-355-5010. Please note that tax laws are subject to continuing revision and students should verify their tax liability each year.


Registration and Credit Load Requirements

Graduate assistants must be registered each semester in which they hold an assistantship.  Specific information on maximum and minimum credit loads is found under the Maximum and Minimum Credits heading in this section of this catalog.

Academic Achievement Graduate Assistantships

These graduate assistantships provide financial support for students who are accepted into a master’s or a doctoral degree program and whose enrollment will enhance the inclusiveness of the student body of the program into which they are admitted. This recruitment program is designed to assist academic units in attracting a cohort of students who have traditionally not participated in graduate programs in their units.