Graduate and Teaching Assistantship Requirements

Graduate assistantships are awarded to students for service to further the University’s academic mission, but not directly related to their dissertation or preparation for it. Examples are offering administrative support by editing a journal, managing a website, or assisting a faculty member with developing or coordinating a conference.

Teaching assistantships are awarded to students who perform duties ranging from reading and grading assignments, running discussion sections or labs, or teaching sections of undergraduate courses, all while continuing the University’s academic mission and their own academic requirements and training.

Specific Requirements for Graduate and Teaching Assistants

Students within their first five years of study are usually appointed as a graduate teaching assistant (for details on requirements for teaching at Northwestern, visit our Policy section). Students in their sixth year are appointed by their department to a graduate/teaching assistantship if they have received external funding within their first five years of study and/or there is a specific teaching need approved by their school and The Graduate School (TGS).

In addition to reviewing the Regulations Governing Recipients of University Assistance, students pursuing their graduate assistantships need to complete the following requirements:

  • All international PhD and MFA students whose primary language is not English are required to fulfill The Graduate School’s spoken English proficiency requirement before being appointed as graduate or teaching assistants.  Students may fulfill this requirement in one of 4 ways:
    • Score 26 or higher on the Speaking Section of theTOEFL iBT.  Students who score 26 (out of a possible 30) on this section of the TOEFL internet-based test fulfill the English proficiency requirement, and are not required to participate in English proficiency testing at Northwestern.
    • Score 65 or higher on theVersant English Test.  The Versant test is administered to all incoming international PhD and MFA students upon entering Northwestern.  Those who score lower than 65 (out of a possible 80) are given the opportunity to re-take the test in a later quarter, and continue to participate in Versant testing roughly every 6 months until they have fulfilled the English proficiency requirement.  Based on Versant score, certain students may be required to participate in services offered by Northwestern’s English Language ProgramsStudents who score 63 or 64 on two separate Versant tests will be considered to have fulfilled the English proficiency requirement.
    • Score 50 or higher on theSPEAK test.  The SPEAK test is offered twice per year, and is available only by department request.  Students who score 50 or higher (out of a possible 60) fulfill the English proficiency requirement.
    • Pass a teaching demonstration at the conclusion of LING 480. Linguistics 480, The Language of Teaching and Teachers, is a course co-taught by faculty from Northwestern’s English Language Programs and the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence.  It allows students to work on improving their English proficiency while preparing them to be effective teachers and TA’s.  Students who demonstrate the required level of English proficiency during a teaching demonstration at the conclusion of the course fulfill the English proficiency requirement.