NOTE: The following discussion refers to practices in the United States. Please be aware that the details in your location may be quite different.
You can find a wide array of on-campus jobs to help you fund your education. Some types of work (research and teaching assistantships, for example) commonly come with a lot of responsibility, reduced or waived tuition and fees, health insurance, and/or a stipend. Others (regular wage jobs) will garner you an hourly wage and possibly useful experience, time to study, or other perks.
This article outlines some of the most common types of campus and departmental employment available to graduate students, including graduate assistantships, work-study, regular wage jobs, and staff positions. Some limitations of each are also included. It's up to you to find out if your target schools have such options for you, what the associated benefits include at your school, and what the right decision is for you.
Professors, academic departments, and other campus offices may offer graduate students temporary employment, often under contract, that provides benefits such as tuition and/or fee waivers, a stipend, child care assistance, and health/vision/dental insurance. The work is usually considered half-time or less (10-20 hours per week).
Graduate Research Assistants (R.A.s) are graduate assistants who work on academic research projects under the guidance of a professor who has received funding for the project. Ph.D. candidates who assist in research projects are sometimes called pre-doctoral associates rather than R.A.s. On many campuses you may be able to apply for a research assistantship in a department other than your home department if you hold the appropriate skill sets for working in that department. For example if you are a native speaker of German, but you are studying public administration, you may be able to assist a professor of German language or history in their research.
Graduate Teaching Assistants (T.A.s) are graduate assistants who support the teaching of undergraduates. Duties often include holding office hours for tutoring a course's students (preparing them for exams and term papers, for example), grading exams and papers, teaching recitations of a large lecture course, or teaching their own smaller classes. On many campuses you may be able to apply for a teaching assistantship in a department other than your home department. For example if you were a writing major as an undergraduate or have experience teaching writing as a professional, but you are studying social work, you may be able to tutor undergraduates in the English department or campus writing center as part of a teaching assistantship.
Graduate Resident Assistants (confusingly, also called R.A.s, or G.R.A.s) are graduate assistants who are responsible for the general supervision and management of their residence halls. They may supervise undergraduate resident assistants, build a sense of community in the hall, help resident students (undergraduate and/or graduate) live together and resolve conflicts, and connect resident students to resources they need on campus. Resident assistants can also be first responders in case of emergency on the floor, and may be responsible for opening and closing their residence halls at the start and end of the school year. In addition to other benefits, a residence life position may include room and board.
The graduate assistantships outlined above come with obvious perks, but keep in mind the possible limitations:
The benefits—especially the tuition waiver and health insurance—may be great enough to far outweigh the limitations. It's up to you to find out if an assistantship is an option at your target school, and what the associated benefits and limitations are. Graduate assistantships that are protected by a union tend to have the strongest benefits. Find out about your options through the academic department in which you hope to study.
In addition to graduate assistantships, other types of campus employment include work study, regular wage student jobs, and staff positions. Work-study jobs and regular wage student jobs are similar in that they do not typically come with benefits like tuition waivers or health insurance.
In addition to assistantships mentioned above, another type of financial aid that is awarded in exchange for work is called "work study." Graduate students in financial need may be awarded a work-study grant that allows them to earn up to a specified dollar amount per year. The department or office where they work pays them a percentage of their hourly wage, and the government pays the rest. Jobs designated as work-study are not open to students who have not been awarded a federal work-study grant, so work-study jobs may be less competitive than other regular wage student jobs.
Examples of work-study jobs may include anything from clerical help in an academic departmental office to program assistance in a student life office. (Note that work-study jobs may be available off campus as well, which would allow you to work in an organization in the community.) Apply for work-study grants through the office of financial aid at your target school.
A variety of campus jobs are reserved for students carrying a minimum number of credit hours, including positions such as staffing the front desk of a residence hall, helping in the dining halls, editing a section of the student newspaper, and staffing the tech support desk in a computer lab. Student jobs tend to pay better than minimum wage, and your employers will work with (and around) your course schedule. If you are already on campus for much of the day, working in an on-campus student job may be more convenient than working a part-time job off campus. Look for student jobs on your campus through your school's website, bulletin boards, and student center.
Working on campus may afford you the opportunity to earn money while you are in school. Like graduate assistantships, these other types of student jobs may have their own limitations:
Staff positions on a college or university campus include office and clerical support, maintenance and trades positions, and administrative, research, and instructional roles. In addition to a salary or wage, staff positions often come with benefits related to tuition reduction or remission (for staff and for partners/children), health insurance, use of campus facilities, and more. Because you are on campus, your boss might be more willing than the average boss to work around your class schedule, if you take daytime courses occasionally. Find staff jobs on your campus through your school's website and/or human resources office.
If you hope to land a staff position on campus to fund your graduate education, be sure to read the fine print. Limitations of working on the staff of a university or college may include:
Grad school will tax your time, energy, and resources. That said, you may be better off in the long run by taking a campus or departmental job instead of taking on more student loan debt, or in order to reduce the dollar amount of loans you take out. Campus jobs also carry the convenience of being located where you study and the likelihood that your managers will be familiar with the demands of working and studying simultaneously. Off-campus jobs may offer other advantages (for example you may be more likely to find a job in your field, or a nonprofit that works on your target issues) but are unlikely to offer these two perks.
Graduate assistantships, work-study, regular wage student jobs, and staff positions on campus are designed to let you take advantage of the educational environment either by offering you a tuition benefit and/or scheduling your work hours around classes. They usually pay better than minimum wage, and if you are already on campus for school, campus jobs are hard to beat for convenience.