Attending college is not cheap. Tuition fees are rising year after year, making it more important than ever to save, spend wisely and earn as much as you can before, during and after you finish your post-secondary studies.
For those of you embarking in post-secondary school, you should seriously consider applying to become an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant while in school. As a business student during my 3rd and 4th year of my undergrad, I was a TA for 1st and 2nd year classes.
Here are the in’s and out’s that you need to know to determine if becoming a teaching assistant while in school is right for you. Keep in mind that I only speak from my own experience, though I hope you gain insight from it.
How You Can Become a Teaching Assistant
- Have good grades. Most TA gigs will require a minimum of a 3.0 GPA out of 4.0 before they will consider you for the position. You usually aren’t able to apply for this position until your senior years, which for a 4-year degree would be your 3rd and 4th year of school.
- Talk to your Professors. Most profs in larger colleges and universities are provided with an allotted amount of money they can use to hire a T.A. The way I got my first T.A gig was through conversations with my management professor. Getting the first gig is the hardest, but after that it gets easier. Once I got the first gig, the other 3 rolled in.
- Don’t discount seasonal/ part time professors for TA work. Since seasonal profs are only teaching for a time, I found that they are more likely to consider new students for their TA position because it might be another semester or two before they teach there again. Contrast this to tenured profs who may keep the same student for the entire duration that the student is there. My first T.A gig was from a part time professor. I TA’d for her for two semesters, then she left, but she referred me to another professor which was tenured and I completed my TA position with him until I graduated.
- Apply within your faculty. Even if a professor has agreed to have you as a TA, you still need to fill out the paperwork through your faculty. For example: the faculty of business, engineering, mathematics, science etc. Teaching Assistant positions are normally sought out informally through conversation first, but there is no harm in trying to apply for a teaching position where you may not know the professor well. Talk to the receptionist in your faculty office and they will direct you accordingly.
- Make sure you’ve taken the course yourself. I know this might seem obvious, but make sure that you have actually taken the course you are requesting to be a T.A for, and make sure it’s within your faculty of studies (i.e. faculty of business).
I feel that I should mention that before you apply for a teaching assistant position with a professor that it’s important that you at least like the professor’s teaching methods and generally enjoy him/her as a teacher. TA gigs are very specific. You get contracted out for X number of hours which you earn during X number of months for being a TA in a specific course, with a specific professor.
What You Need to Succeed as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant
Okay, so if you are still interested in a TA gig, here is what you will need in order to succeed once you get the gig:
Good time management. Most TA’s are also full-time students (including myself when I TA’d,) which means you need to be able to manage your time well between your own courses and the materials for the course you are a T.A for. Your time may be allocated between T.A office hours, marking, updating class websites and answering students’ questions via email, in class, etc.
Commitment. Once you commit to a TA gig, you pretty much have to follow through and complete the gig, even if you end up hating it. Teachers talk and even though you can technically drop the contract mid-way through that will: A) make you look super unserious and probably all the other profs will know within the department so there goes any future TA gigs at that school and B) make it kind of awkward to bump into the prof all the time because she/he works in your faculty of studies or worse yet, you have him/her again for a future course. This is why it’s so important to have a mutual respect and also enjoy the prof’s teaching style and personality.
Patience. When you get a TA gig, you normally also get assigned office hours and a room to see students. These hours are mandatory, and you are normally required to attend all of them. During these hours students can come and see you for questions they may have on the course material. Everyone learns differently and at different rates, so if you are the type who gets frustrated explaining yourself ten different times in different ways, you may find this position challenging. Even still, I think it’s a great opportunity to pursue as it will help teach patience if you need more of it.
Good relationship with your assigned professor. Even though technically the faculty hires you, your assigned professor is your boss, so if you don’t like your boss, you may not like your gig. It’s their class, their rules. You’re just there to help.
Benefits of Being an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant
- Pays way more than minimum wage. I can’t speak for all schools, but when I was a TA I received about $5-$7/hour more than minimum wage.
- Most TA gigs you are contract based where you are allotted a certain amount of hours. For example 100 hours @ $20/hour = $2,000. Because a lot of the work is done outside of the classroom, there is a lot of flexibility in terms of deciding when you want to do things like mark papers. Other things are not flexible like TA office hours. This flexibility allows you to earn around your already busy school schedule.
- You solidify the course material you have already learned by teaching and helping others. There is no better way to learn something than to teach someone else how to do it.
- Looks good on a resume. Depending on the flexibility that is provided with your gig, you can obtain great skills like presentation skills, training and leadership skills.
- Great way to gain a reference. I actually used one of the undergraduate professors that I TA’d for as a reference to get into my Master’s program.
What do you do as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant?
The responsibilities you are given as a TA really depends on the type of course you are assigned and the professor that you are assigned to, but here is what you might expect:
- Marking. Most schools now use scantrons so if you will be doing any marking, it would be essays, or problem based questions. Don’t worry; the prof will give you the answer key and/or the keywords, and format they are looking for if it’s essay-based.
- Public speaking. Many 1st and 2nd year business courses require a lot of public speaking and group activity. You may be required to help students in developing their public speaking skills.
- Evaluating PowerPoint presentations. Because business courses have so many presentations, your prof may request you assist in evaluating some of the students in a separate classroom. With well over 100 students in many 1 year business classes in larger schools, it’s not an uncommon scenario.
- Proctor. You will most likely need to proctor every single exam/quiz/test your assigned course will have. It’s a great way to earn some cash walking around bored out of your mind making sure people aren’t cheating.
- Updating class website & answering questions in forums. Depending on the course, some classes will have a dedicated online platform for which students can ask questions, provide exchange of ideas and download/upload tests and assignments. You may be responsible in managing this platform, but to what extend will be determined by your assigned prof.
Hi, I’m Pamela. I’m 30 years old and live in Canada. I started my blog 6 months ago after my husband and I paid off $120k of debt in 2.5 years. We’ve never looked back since.
The journey I went through in accomplishing this made me want to share my experience with others and learn from them as well. I have been featured in Financial Independence Hub and enjoy all things finance. Check me out at My Money Counts or follow me on Twitter.
It’s all about commitment when you venture into anything. Also having the right attitude about what you’re doing. I never knew TA made that much to be honest, great info!
Neither did I! When Pamela told me my jaw was on the floor!
I loved being a TA! I was a TA for an Acting for Non-Theatre majors class. However, we weren’t paid cash – we only got a tuition credit or it was counted as a theatre elective and we were graded on our performance. Still think it’s worth it for all of the reasons you mentioned above. Not to mention it was a great way to get some mentored teaching practice. 🙂
I just read something by someone saying they got both…tuition reduction and pay! Best of both worlds for sure. Just goes to show it’s good to ask around, because the benefits at your school may surprise you. Also love the mentored teaching aspect. Has to look great on a resume and translate well in real-life skills!