Balancing School, Work and Life as a Graduate Assistant


by William Westerkamp

Danilo Louis feature

SUMMARY: Danilo Louis, a first-year graduate student, shares how graduate assistantships are beneficial beyond tuition waivers and stipends.

Danilo Louis is a first-year student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling concentration in the M.A. in Counselor Education program. After he graduates, he hopes to pursue a career in counseling.

Danilo applied for and was awarded a graduate assistantship to reduce the cost of graduate school. This allowed him to pursue his degree without accruing debt and also to gain useful experience through his assistantship work. Danilo has found a way to maintain a balance between school work and his graduate assistantship, and he still finds time to pursue some personal interests. Danilo’s experience is a great example of how graduate assistantships can help students fund their education while also providing an opportunity to build their skills and resumes.

As a graduate assistant, Danilo helps the JMU Graduate School determine whether students have met all graduation requirements. After students apply to graduate, Danilo reviews each student’s transcript and compares it to each program’s requirements and he decides whether all required courses have been taken. For each student, course grades, overall GPA, course substitutions, and other program requirements are all considered. Everything must be properly documented. Danilo says that his job can be challenging, but also fulfilling because through communication with students and faculty he is helping students understand what they need to do to graduate.

One of the challenges of this position is time management, something that he is learning though this professional work experience. He has needed to learn to compartmentalize school work, assistantship obligations and his personal life. All are important, but there needs to be balance among them.

Focusing on his graduate assistantship hours, Danilo says that rarely are two days the same. A typical day includes reading and responding to email, organizing and reviewing paperwork, and participating in many meetings with fellow graduate assistants and their supervisors. Through his graduate assistantship Danilo is developing his organizational skills and becoming much better at using programs like Excel. He says that this is his first office job and it is helping him develop his communication skills, which will certainly help him in his future work as a counselor.

Financially, this graduate assistantship is extremely valuable to Danilo. The assistantship pays for 18 credit hours of coursework each academic year and provides him with a small stipend that is sufficient to cover most housing and meal expenses. The assistantship contract is only for one year, but it is renewable and he hopes to continue the role annually until he graduates.

At JMU, students find graduate assistantship positions in several ways. Some are offered graduate assistantships from their academic departments shortly after they receive offers of admission. Others apply for these positions, as you would a job, using the university employment website, Joblink.

Danilo suggests that before accepting a graduate assistantship, students should understand how much time they will need to devote to their academic program each week to be successful. You don’t want to detract from your graduate program—that’s the reason you are here. Also consider your personal life—do you have time to work 20 hours each week? When applying for a graduate assistantship learn what is expected of the role, how much time it will take, and whether the hours are flexible enough to fit around other responsibilities. Ask potential assistantship supervisors questions and talk with others who are serving in similar assistantship roles to get a sense of what is required.

In conclusion, even though Danilo's time as a graduate assistant is rigorous, he is managing to juggle his school work, assistantship duties, with personal interests and free time. He advises anyone who is considering applying for a graduate assistantship to do their homework and gather suggestions from individuals who have been graduate assistants. Graduate assistantships are wonderful but you will probably learn that time management and task prioritization are critical to be successful and enjoy your life as a graduate student.

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Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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