Skip to main content

Graduate Assistants

For School of Public Policy graduate assistants

Requirements and Benefits

The official title of Graduate Assistant (GA) is used in all university documents, but, in general practice, Graduate Assistants are referred to either as Graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs), Graduate Research Assistants (RAs), or Graduate Administrative Assistants (AAs). Qualified graduate students often move between these kinds of appointments during their graduate education.

Assignments and Start Dates

Graduate assistantships for Master's students are typically awarded without an initial work assignment. Appointment dates are dependent on the appointment type. They are as follows:

Effective Dates 9-mos 9.5-mos
Fall Semester 8/23 - 1/7 8/17 - 1/7
Spring Semester 1/8 - 5/22 1/8 - 5/31
Academic Year 8/23 - 5/22 8/17 - 5/31


The appointment may be full-time (an average of 20 hours per week) or half-time (an average of 10 hours per week).


Three categories (called Steps) are currently used for the classification of graduate assistantships. These steps, based on a student’s experience and progress toward the degree, determine compensation levels. Graduate Assistants fall into one of the three steps: Step I is only for first-year GAs; Step II is for second-year GAs, as well as for those students, new or continuing, holding a master’s degree; and Step III is reserved for doctoral candidates.

The Graduate School sets the minimum stipend level for Step I. Departments and programs determine their own increments for Step II and Step III within guidelines set annually by the Graduate School. All GAs working within a particular step, in a particular unit, should be paid the same assistantship stipend.

View the stipend level for the School of Public Policy during Academic Year 2019-2020.

Health Benefits

Graduate assistants may choose to enroll in the State of Maryland's health benefits program to meet their health insurance needs. Premiums are deducted bi-weekly from your paycheck. 

The health benefits program has several different plans that can be chosen. Details of each plan, including their coverage levels and premium rates, can be found at University Human Resources.  

Tuition Remission

9 and 9.5 month graduate assistants on a full-time appointment are eligible for 10 credits of tuition remission in the Fall and Spring semesters, and 4 credits in Winter term. 12 month graduate assistants on a full-time appointment receive the same tuition remission, plus up to 8 credits during the summer sessions.

9 and 9.5 month graduate assistants on a half-time appointment are eligible for 5 credits of tuition remission in the Fall and Spring semesters, and 2 credits in Winter term. 12 month graduate assistants on a half-time appointment receive the same tuition remission, plus up to 4 credits during the summer sessions. 

Tuition remission is credited at the prevailing standard in-state credit hour rate at the time the class is taken. Some programs, including the MPP, have higher credit hour rates. The tuition remission benefit does not cover this differential. 

View The Graduate School's Policies for Graduate Assistantships

Payroll Forms

After you have signed your appointment letter, the Payroll Coordinator will contact you with instructions.

View payroll forms

School of Public Policy Graduate Assistantship Policies: Summary for Students

Last updated: 07/30/2019

1. Definition and purpose of SPP Graduate Assistantships 

In keeping with UMD’s assistantship policies, the School of Public Policy (SPP) awards graduate assistantships (GAships) to many of its graduate students. In addition to GA awards provided by individual centers and programs (i.e. The Do Good Institute), the School draws funding from various sources to establish a centrally managed GA Fund. This document focuses on GAs awarded through the central GA Fund.  

Most centrally funded GA positions separate the awarding of assistantships from the assignment process.  This separation allows the School to use the centrally funded positions to attract students the admissions committees believe to be academically and/or professionally strong, and on occasion qualified students with very limited financial resources, well before the assignment needs of the School for an academic year are well known.  Then, after the pool of centrally funded GAs has been created, the GAs in the pool are given particular assignments to fulfill other strategic priorities of the School:

  1. Accomplish important School functions, e.g., research, teaching, administration. 
  2. Leverage additional funding for the School by providing GA support for the funded activities.
  3. Recruit and retain high-performing faculty by providing them GA support.

On occasion, however, a prospective student may be promised a certain assignment at the time of the award if doing so will further attract the student to the School.

2. Central GA funding sources and amounts 

At the start of each calendar year, i.e., shortly before admissions decisions are made, the School determines the size of the central GA Fund budget for the following academic year and divides it between the PhD and master’s programs.  The admissions committees for the respective programs then awards the GA funding to incoming students.

A GA award provides students with four financial benefits:

  1. A bi-weekly stipend
  2. In-state tuition status for out-of-state students
  3. Tuition remission for a set number of credits
  4. Access to the same subsidized health plans as the faculty and staff.

3. Types and duration of GA assignments 

GAships are categorized in a number of ways. 

Full-time vs. half-time GA 

Half-time GAs (or “half GA”) are expected to perform 10 hours of work per week on average. Full-time GAs (or “full GA”) work 20 hours a week on average and receive twice the stipend and tuition remission as a half GA.  Both sets of students receive in-state tuition status and subsidized University health benefits.  

Administrative, research, course, and teaching assistants

The School hires four categories of GAs: Administrative Assistant (AA); Research Assistant (RA); Course Assistant (CA); and Teaching Assistant (TA). Unlike a TA, a CA may not be involved in grading assignments or exams, nor may they have access to non-public student information, such as grades. Only a PhD student who has completed their required 24 credits of coursework may serve as a TA for a graduate course.  

Any graduate student may serve as a TA for an undergraduate course, though the greater the role the TA plays in the course teaching and grading, the more likely a PhD student will be assigned to that role. 

Required training for TAs 

TAs for PLCY courses are required to attend the University’s TA training orientation offered by the University’s ​Teaching and Learning Transformation Center​ (TLTC). Course assistants are encouraged to do so as well. International students who serve as TAs must also attend the International Teaching Assistant Evaluation​. These sessions count as work hours. 

Single semester, 9-month, 9.5-month, and 12-month GAships 

While the School might on occasion hire GAs for a single semester, most GAships last throughout a given academic year (fall and spring semester). However students admitted in the spring may receive a “calendar-year GAship,” which means they begin their GAship in the spring semester, take the summer off, and then finish their GAship the following fall.

Centrally funded AA, RA, and CA positions usually have 9-month terms.  The University though requires that TAs be hired for 9.5 months instead of 9 months due to the likelihood of responsibilities before the first day of classes and after the last day of classes. 

Although the University allows 12-month terms, the School does not generally use the central GA Fund to support 12-month GA positions. However, GA supervisors may use their own funds to transform a centrally-funded 9 or 9.5 month position into a 12-month position.

Centrally funded GAs may be assigned to either a one-year (academic or calendar year) or single-semester GA position. The length of the assignment is specified in the GA appointment letter. The assignment does not exceed one year even if the student has an award for longer than one year. A student with an award longer than the term of the initial assignment may be reappointed to the same position or be assigned to a different position after that term.

The University’s employment dates for various assignments are as follows:

Employment dates of AA, RA and CA GAships
9-month assignment Fall-only assignment Spring-only assignment
August 23 to May 22 August 23 to January 7 January 8 to May 22
Employment dates of TAs:
9.5-month assignment Fall-only assignment Spring-only assignment
August 17 to May 31 August 17 to January 7 January 8 to May 31


4. Centrally funded GAship for master’s students 

Student eligibility 

Master’s students who have received a centrally-funded GA award from the Admission's Director must meet several requirements during their GAship:

  1. Maintain at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA
  2. Take and complete in each semester of their GAship at least 11 credits that count towards their degree.
  3. Faithfully fulfill the requirements of their assigned positions.

Failure to meet these requirements will result in the cancellation of their GA award.

Length of award 

At the time of admission to the Graduate School, MPP and MPM students with a strong application and in need of funding may be awarded anywhere from a one-semester to a four-semester central GA funding promise, always conditioned on meeting the requirements listed in the Student Eligibility section.

The School may also make GA awards to students post-admission in order to fulfill particular needs in the School that cannot be fulfilled by the pool of students awarded GAs upon admission.  Typically such awards will be for a single semester, though might be renewable as long as the need persists. These awardees also must meet the requirements listed in the Student Eligibility section.

Assigning specific students to GA positions  

The number and nature of GA positions centrally funded by the School vary from year to year depending on the School’s priorities and budget. The number and skills of the students supported by the centrally managed GA Fund also vary annually. This section describes the School’s process of matching GA positions with students who have a centrally-funded GA award and the necessary job skills. 

Each May, supervisors of approved centrally-funded GA positions may recruit GAs from the pool of students promised GA awards. The School provides the supervisors with a list of students who are in the GA pool, including their contact information and resumes. Meanwhile, the School provides those in the GA pool with a list of the centrally-funded GA positions (including the positions paid for by a center/institute’s matching funds) along with the job descriptions. The supervisor and student may reach out to each other to discuss mutual interests. When the supervisor and student agree to a GA position, the supervisor notifies the GA Committee in writing to recommend that the student be assigned to the position. When more than one supervisor requests the same student, the GA Committee determines the relative priority of the potential assignments for that student and notifies the supervisors.  The GA Committee then prepares the GA appointment letter for the GA to sign, thus finalizing the GA assignment process. 

In June, students in the GA pool who do not have a confirmed GA position are matched by the GA Committee with the existing GA vacancies, and processed accordingly.

If approved GA vacancies still exist in July, the GA Committee will advertise the remaining GA vacancies to the incoming and returning graduate students, encouraging them to contact the supervisors of the remaining GA vacancies. In this phase, the supervisors of the GA vacancies are free to select whomever they like from the responding applicants as long as they:

  1. Are SPP graduate students in a degree program
  2. Maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA
  3. Are making satisfactory progress towards their degree, and
  4. Can faithfully fulfill the requirements of their assigned positions

During the fall semester, the School admits a small number of master’s students for the spring, and some of them are awarded a centrally-funded GAship. Given the short timeframe of spring admission, there is a need to expedite the GA assignment process. Therefore, the GA Committee may create GA positions and directly assign the spring-admitted students to these positions to support the School’s priorities without inviting all faculty and staff to submit job descriptions and recruit these GAs.  

External Fellowship GA requirements 

A number of MPP students each year are selected for external fellowships, such as the Robertson and Coverdell Fellowships, which sometimes carry special fellowship arrangements requiring the fellows to conduct GA work in specified areas.  The GA Committee may select centrally funded GA positions that are aligned with the intent of the fellow’s programs and invite the fellows to apply. The supervisors of these positions may only offer their positions to qualifying fellows. 

GA appointment letter 

To create a GA appointment in the University’s payroll system, the School must have on file a GA appointment letter signed by the student and the Graduate Director. The letter specifies the length of the assignment, job duties, and benefits. It specifies the official employment dates, but the actual work dates may be negotiated between the GA and the supervisor. A template of the letter can be found on the Graduate School’s website.

5. Centrally funded GAships for PhD students 

The School of Public Policy awards GA funding and other types of financial aid to select PhD students. When they are admitted to the PhD program, students who need funding will receive an offer letter detailing the amount and timeline of the funding and associated requirements. Offer letters will be written to anticipate an individual student’s ambitions and needs, but students should keep their advisors aware of changes during their doctoral studies so that adjustments, if feasible, can be made. 

The reasons to award School-funded GAship to doctoral students include: 

In years 1 and 2 of their doctoral studies- 

  • To qualify for supplemental Dean’s Fellowship support from the Graduate School. 
  • To guarantee that tuition will be charged at in-state rates. 
  • To guarantee that health insurance will be available at a subsidized group rate.
  • To encourage early research productivity in collaboration with a student’s Advisor.
  • To allow a two-course semester to meet the Graduate School’s full-time enrollment requirement for a student being supported in collaborative research. 

In years 3 and 4 of their doctoral studies- 

  • To enhance an original recruiting offer. 
  • To offer a Teaching Assistantship (unless an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow assignment is earned).  
  • To guarantee that health insurance will be available at a subsidized group rate.  
  • To support research productivity. 
  • To meet needs otherwise not met and to speed completion of the program on a case-by-case basis. 

In year 5- 

  • To speed completion of the program on a case-by-case basis. 

6. GA performance and termination

As required by the Graduate School, the supervisor must meet with the GA to identify mutual expectations prior to the start of the assistantship. SPP requires this discussion be held before the end of the first week of the semester, and the results documented using the Mutual Expectations Statement template for ​TA​,AA​, and R​A​. The supervisor and GA are required to discuss, at the end of the semester, whether the mutual expectations have been met. The supervisor and GA are responsible for keeping the Mutual Expectations Statement; SPP does not collect or keep the statements.

In addition to the Mutual Expectations Statement, the supervisor may develop other tools for timekeeping and performance management, such as timesheet and performance review form. These tools and any performance evaluation metrics, if used, must be identified in the Mutual Expectations Statement at the start of the semester.

Performance issues and termination

If a GA performs poorly, the supervisor should provide clear and timely feedback to the GA and discuss ways to improve. The supervisor should issue a warning to the GA and give the GA an opportunity to demonstrate improvements before initiating the process of terminating the GA.

Under the Graduate School’s assistantship policy, a GA appointment may be terminated before the expiration of its designated term for loss of funding, for cause, for academic delinquency, by written notice, and by voluntary mutual agreement.

If the supervisor of a centrally-funded GA believes the GA appointment should be terminated for cause, the supervisor should send the recommendation to the School’s GA Committee. The supervisor should present documentation of the GA’s performance and failure to improve even after a warning was issued. Before approving the recommendation, the GA Committee will consider the evidence, seek additional documentation from the supervisor and/or GA if needed, and explore options other than termination to resolve the performance issue. If the GA appointment is to be terminated, the GA will be notified in writing.

Terminating a GA appointment after the semester has started will lead to several financial impacts on the student. The student will stop receiving GA stipend. The tuition remission that has been applied to the student’s account for the semester will be retracted. The health benefit will end. Out-of-state student will lose in-state tuition status.

7. GA grievance

If a GA at SPP has concerns about their workload or working condition, they should attempt to resolve these matters informally with the supervisor. If the concern cannot be resolved this way, the GA should report it to the SPP GA Coordinator, who will identify the appropriate procedures to follow depending on the nature of the issue. Such procedures may include the grievance procedures stated in the Graduate School’s assistantship policy.