Financial Support At Michigan State University

Graduate assistantship (GA) is a generic term referring to financial support of graduate students that results in a stipend and compensation and for which performance of defined duties is expected. Specific graduate assistant appointments are made in one of three categories: research assistants, teaching assistants represented by the Graduate Employees Union, and teaching assistants not represented by the MSU – Graduate Employees Union Collective Bargaining Agreement.

More than 3,000 assistantships are available to qualified graduate students at Michigan State University. The University is concerned with the quality of educational experience that graduate assistants receive, and, for teaching assistants, also the quality of the instruction that they provide to undergraduates.

Graduate assistants are enrolled students whose primary association with MSU is directed toward advance degree completion. Satisfactory progress toward earning a degree is a condition of maintaining the assistantship. Departments may limit the number of years that a graduate student may hold an assistantship.

Graduate assistants are responsible for knowing the specific policies and procedures that govern their particular assistantship and academic program. One good place to look for these is Academic Programs which includes the Illness, Injury, and Pregnancy Leave Policy.

Graduate assistants are covered under other MSU policies, including those regarding laboratory and campus safety, Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace, policy on Religious Observance, Procedures for Handling Allegations of Misconduct in Scholarship, MSU Anti-discrimination Policy, and the policies on Sexual Harassment and Conflict of Interest in Educational Responsibilities Resulting from Consensual Amorous or Sexual Relationships.

Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs or TAs) are subject to the collective bargaining agreement with the Graduate Employees Union/American Federation of Teachers. to view the contract, see Graduate Employees Union (GEU) Contract 2019-23.

If a student has completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, then the student should be aware that receipt of a fellowship, scholarship or assistantship may reduce the student’s eligibility for federal student loans.  Please contact the Office of Financial Aid at if you have questions.

For graduate programs looking to recruit and retain graduate students who have been accepted into a master’s or a doctoral degree program and whose enrollment will contribute to our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion while enhancing their program’s academic excellence and diversity please see the Academic Achievement Graduate Assistantships page.


Graduate assistant appointments are related to the academic semester of enrollment (Fall: August 16- December 31, Spring: January 1-May 15, Summer: May 16 – August 15). The appointing department/unit defines the conditions of the assistantship (e.g. quarter- or half-time, Fall, Spring, and/or Summer Semesters).

Based on student experience a graduate assistant is assigned to the appropriate level. Level details are found on Academic Programs.

The hiring unit must complete an offer letter that the student will sign. There are offer letter templates for each of the various types of appointments. These templates may not be modified. The offer letter signed by the student will be attached to the hiring form in EBS.

Prior to the appointment, a criminal background check is required. An electronic disclosure and authorization form will be provided to students via email. The form must be signed and submitted to initiate the background check. Appointments will be contingent upon satisfactory results.

An INS I-9 form (Employment Eligibility Verification) must be completed and attached to the GA Appointment Recommendation form. A department representative must see the documents used to verify eligibility and identity. Acceptable documents can be found at The I-9 form must be completed within three business days of the appointment start date. If I-9 forms are not filed within 3 days the appointment will be cancelled.

All student employees will have their I-9s processed by the hiring department. Human Resources offers training to those department administrators who need assistance completing an I-9 for a foreign national with valid visa status. Departments needing support can email for I-9 assistance.

Graduate assistants are paid on a bi-weekly basis. Departments appointing graduate assistants must meet deadlines set by Human Resources ( for the filing of appointment forms. If they are unable to meet deadlines, delays may occur in the issuance of the first payroll payment and enrollment in the health insurance plan.

Graduate Assistants are encouraged to complete a withholding tax authorization (Form W-4) and payroll direct deposit form. Graduate Assistants can access the website to complete Form W-4 and enroll in the direct deposit program at under the Employee Self-Service Portal.

A completed appointment form is the key to receiving the stipend and benefits. It also indicates intent by the department and the student to comply with the regulations pertaining to graduate assistantships as published in this brochure, the Graduate Students Rights and Responsibilities document, and the Academic Programs catalog.

  1. Graduate assistantships are available only to graduate students who are in good standing and actively pursuing graduate degree programs.
  2. International graduate assistants must check in online with the Office for International Students and Scholars. Check-in instructions will be sent to their MSU email account.
  3. Graduate assistants must be registered each semester in which they hold assistantships as follows:
    1. Doctoral students with quarter-time or half-time assistantships must carry at least 3 credits (exceptions stated in chart). They may carry a maximum of 16 course credits (for a quarter-time appointment) or 12 course credits (for a half -time appointment), excluding 899/999 credits. Doctoral students who have passed comprehensive exams may enroll for 1 credit the semester after the student’s unit administrator submits the completed exam form to the appropriate college Associate Dean and the college sends the approval to the Office of the Registrar . Note: There is a maximum of 36, 999 credits for all doctoral students.
    2. Master’s students with quarter-time assistantships or half-time assistantships must carry at least 6 credits. They may carry a maximum of 16 course credits (for a quarter-time appointment) or 12 course credits (for a half -time appointment), excluding 899/999 credits.
    3. Doctoral and master’s students with three-quarter-time assistantships must carry at least 3 credits. They may carry a maximum of 8 course credits, excluding 899/999 credits.
    4. During the summer session, graduate assistants must carry a minimum of 3 credits.*
    5. Visitor credits may count as part of a student’s credit load if approved in writing by the student’s department chair or unit director, college and the Dean of the Graduate School.
    6. Deviations from the minimum enrollment requirements listed above, except as noted for doctoral students, are permitted only during the semester in which the degree is granted, when students must enroll for at least the number of credits required to complete the degree or meet the University minimum registration requirement of one credit.
  4. Any deviation from the maximum credit requirements must have the written approval of the dean of the student’s college before registration.
  5. Graduate enrollment must be in courses recognized as being of graduate level unless the student’s department, school or program has granted written permission for course work constituting an exception to this policy.
  6. Graduate assistants must achieve and maintain satisfactory academic records. This means a 3.00 or higher grade point average. Appointing units or colleges may establish additional or higher required standards.
  7. Recommendation for appointment as a graduate assistant must be made by the department chairperson or school/program director.
  8. Lifelong Education students and College of Law students (except if dually enrolled in an MSU graduate program) are not eligible for graduate assistantships. Dually enrolled bachelor’s/master’s degree students are not eligible for graduate assistantships until the minimum number of credits required for a first bachelor’s degree is completed.

Graduate assistants are appointed on a quarter-time, half-time, or three-quarter-time basis for 18 -19 weeks each (depending on number of University holidays) for Fall and Spring Semesters and 12-13 weeks (depending on number of University holidays) for Summer Semester. The approximate expectation of normal workload, averaged over the entire period of the appointment, is:

  1. 10 hours per week for a quarter-time stipend;
  2. 20 hours per week for a half-time stipend; or
  3. 30 hours per week for a three-quarter-time stipend.

Graduate assistants are responsible for understanding the weekly workload expectations during the entire period of their appointments. This includes work assigned and the time frame within which the work must be completed, essential duties and responsibilities, work conditions and vacation opportunities, if any. Graduate assistants are appointed at one of three levels.  See ASSISTANTSHIP LEVELS below.


MSU annually sets stipend ranges based on level and appointment type.

An assistantship includes tuition waiver and health insurance. Academic Programs gives additional information. The non fringe research assistant job is for post-comps (DD status) Ph.D. students during the summer semester with no tuition benefit. For additional information about this assistantship see the related HR page.

Graduate assistants are eligible to purchase a parking permit. For information about Graduate Assistant parking permits go to Parking Services, click on the Student “Learn More” button, and scroll down to the Other Permits section.

Additional benefits including spousal benefits are listed in Academic Programs.


Graduate Assistantship stipends may not be subject to Social Security (FICA/Medicare) taxes as long as they meet both federal guidelines and requirements for enrollment. Please check with payroll if you have a ¾ time appointment.  These are often subject to FICA.

Stipends are subject to income taxes with few exceptions. The taxability of stipends is subject to review by the Internal Revenue Service. For more information, call the Payroll Office at 517-355-5010. Please note that tax laws are subject to continuing revision and students should verify their tax liability yearly.

The Controller’s Office has a list of tax forms and department contact at