Guidelines for Assistantship and Fellowship Award Offer Letters

Departments offering graduate students funding in support of their graduate study (fellowships, traineeships, assistantships) must provide students with an official signed offer letter, informing them of the type of support awarded (research, teaching, fellowship, traineeship), the offer period, the hours per week expected as well as the amount of the stipend and terms for payment. 

Sample letters

Departments may use these templates provided by the Office of Graduate Studies, which meet all guidelines.

Alternatively you may provide your own letter, offering acceptance to new students to your graduate program as you see fit, or you may modify these samples to add information, requirements or restrictions beyond those imposed by the Office of Graduate Studies.

Fellowships

Full Support Fellowship Awards from Graduate Studies (Presidential and Fling Fellowships) provide stipend payments for recipients of these awards. Fellowship recipients are required to be full-time students (at least 9 credit hours or have an approved full-time graduate status form) during the period of appointment and may hold another major fellowship. They may not engage in remunerative employment, including a graduate assistantship or traineeship.

The provisions of the tax law require students who are degree candidates to report fellowship awards as taxable income to the extent such awards exceed “course-related expenses.” The IRS does not require institutions to withhold taxes with respect to fellowship payments nor does it require institutions to report those payments, except in the case of certain nonresident aliens. It is the student’s responsibility to report the fellowship income while filing a tax return.

Assistantships combined with a fellowship or traineeship

Some fellowships provide partial support (i.e., Chancellor’s, Dean’s Fellowship); students with these fellowships may hold other fellowships and assistantships.  No taxes are withheld on fellowship payments for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, but some or all of the fellowship payment may be taxable income to the extent it exceeds course-related expenses.  Sometimes taxes are withheld for international students depending on the student’s country.  It is the student’s responsibility to report the fellowship income while filing a tax return.

Essential information

The following information must be included in every offer letter:

  1. The offer. Begin with an opening paragraph stating the appointment status (research assistantship, graduate assistantship, or fellowship) and specify the period that the offer covers.  Personalize the letter whenever possible. Welcome the student to your program, indicate enthusiasm for the prospective student who will be joining your program, and convey positive information regarding the departmental culture.
  2. The offer period as well as the hours of work per week expected.

    GAs are limited to .49 FTE during the AY

    Graduate assistants may not work more than a total of 19.6 (.49 FTE) hours per week for all appointments combined, during the academic year. Graduate assistants may work up to 40 hours per week during school breaks and any or all summer sessions.

  3. The stipend amount paid out in ten equal monthly payments and the beginning date. Monthly stipends are direct deposited into the student’s bank account the last working day of each month.
  4. The tuition benefit package.  With a benefits-eligible assistantship, students receive a tuition wavier for up to 12 credit hours of graduate course work during the academic semesters plus (6-12) hours during summer (depending on the academic year salary sometimes students don’t earn enough for a summer waiver). Graduate assistants are not required to register for courses during the summer term. Graduate assistants employed in the summer but not registered for courses will be subject to FICA and Medicare taxes (currently 7.65% of your salary). Students not enrolled during the summer have limited access to libraries and will be assessed health center fees and recreation center fees for usage. (International students that are also graduate assistants have to follow ISSO guidelines for registration.)
  5. Insurance benefits.  In addition to the tuition benefit, benefits-eligible assistantships provide basic individual student health insurance at a reduced rate. The student and the University share in the cost of the premium.  Approximately 21% of the annual health insurance premium will be billed directly to the student account (the University covers the remaining 79%).
    • If students do not require the University health insurance, they need to complete a Waiver of Insurance Form each semester. The waiver form will be made available 45 days before the deadline each semester and it is completed online. Paper copies will not be accepted.
    • Students also have the option of purchasing additional health insurance for family members from the same plan by contacting the Business Office at the University Health Center.
    • International students are always required to have student health insurance coverage, unless proof of insurance from an outside source is provided.
  6. Additional student fees. It is the student’s responsibility to pay ALL student fees plus the student’s portion (21%) of the health insurance premium. 
  7. Work expectations associated with the assistantship and expectations for performance of assistantship duties. If known, state the teaching assignment for the semester, the name of the faculty supervisor, and expectations for satisfactory performance. Describe the teaching load, teaching duties, and any expectations for attending meetings, orientations, or additional training activities. Attach a job description, if possible.
    • Include this statement: Your assignment of duties may be changed at the discretion of the department with notice to you in advance.
  8. Procedures (and consequences) regarding resignation/discharge from an assistantship.  If, during the course of the semester, a student decides to resign from the assistantship, it is expected he/she will give 30 days notice.  Likewise, if there is a need to discharge the student from an assistantship, the student should be given 30 days notice. Resigning or being removed from the assistantship will require the student to assume responsibility for all tuition and fees for the semester.
    • Include this statement: Should you be discharged or choose to resign from your assistantship before completing 120 continuous days of employment, all tuition and health benefits will be forfeited. You will be held responsible for the entire cost for those benefits, which will be posted to your student account.
  9. Acceptance and signature. A returned, signed letter is the student’s acceptance. Request the student indicate acceptance of the offer by signing and returning a copy of the offer letter.
  10. For international students:
    • Offers are contingent upon verification of their identity and eligibility to work in the United States as required by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.  International students are responsible for obtaining and providing the appropriate identity verification and work authorization. Failure to provide identity verification and work authorization prior to the commencement of their employment may result a withdrawal of an offer.
    • International graduate students for whom English is not their native language and who expect to receive instructional assignments must successfully complete the Institute for International Teaching Assistants, which meets for two weeks from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, beginning the last week of July.
    • International students must maintain their nonimmigrant status in order to be eligible for any form of employment. International students must consult with the International Student and Scholars Office (ISSO) before making any changes in their program of study or employment.