What is the Difference Between a Fellowship and an Assistantship?

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Graduate school can easily cost $30,000 or more every year, and the longer that you take to finish your program, the more money you spend on your education. While you can apply for assistance from the federal government, you can also earn money from the school to pay for your classes and living expenses. Many graduate schools offer fellowships and assistantships, but you need to be aware of some differences between the two programs.

What is a Fellowship?

A fellowship is like a scholarship that you can use for any costs you incur as a student. A fellowship functions as a grant, and you can apply for a smaller or a larger amount based on your field of study. These programs are often available from professional organizations relating to your major. Once you receive the funds, you can use the money to pay for textbooks, housing, tuition or any other costs relating to your education.

What is an Assistantship?

An assistantship is different from a fellowship. While you still receive money for school, you agree to work on campus. Assistantships work in the same way as work-study programs, but instead of working in the cafeteria or for housekeeping, you usually do work relating to your major. Most schools offer research jobs and teaching jobs. Research jobs typically involve working with a tenured professor on an upcoming study, while teaching jobs let you serve as an assistant or professor at the school.

How do I Apply for Funding?

You can either apply for funding directly through the school or through individual organizations, but you should start by contacting the school for help. Your graduate school will give you information relating to deadlines and requirements for assistantships, but you'll also learn which organizations offer fellowships and if the campus has fellowships available. Competition for these positions is often fierce, and you must apply as early as possible to beat the rush. You typically need to provide proof of your undergraduate degree, a copy of your resume and an essay. The school or organization will compare your application to the other applications they receive before making a decision.

Which One to Choose

Choosing between an assistantship and a fellowship involves looking at the time commitments. An assistantship can involve long hours, and teaching assistantships usually involve teaching at least one course each semester. The more classes that the school requires you teach, the less time you have to work on your own studies and coursework. A fellowship gives you more freedom, but you need to carefully consider the amount of money you receive. If you only receive a few thousand dollars to attend classes in a big city, you might find that you cannot afford to live and attend classes in that city.

Accepting a fellowship or an assistantship can help you pay for school without worrying about paying back student loans or looking for scholarships. Both programs give you free money that you can use for school, but when you accept an assistantship, you must work for the school. Look at the money you receive and the terms before deciding which one is best for you.

Further Reading:

100 Great Scholarships for Master's Degree Study
How to Win a Graduate Fellowship