International students accepted to master's degree programs are often not offered financial aid by their departments in their original admission packets.
Each year, many international graduate students arrive in the U.S. for master's degrees with the hope of finding financial aid or an on-campus job once they arrive. Universities generally require that graduate students be paid at a higher rate than undergraduate students, so many on-campus jobs can be effectively closed to international graduate students.
However, there are some job opportunities available to international graduate students that are not open to undergraduates.
Departments with core introductory courses required of most undergraduates, especially those with labs, tend to have large classes and typically need many teaching assistants to teach the labs and the discussion sections. If you can demonstrate that your undergraduate degree covered these courses in depth, you will stand a good chance of getting a TA position in one of these courses.
[Learn how to budget for a U.S. graduate school.]
Introductory courses in biology, chemistry and physics are good examples of classes where each semester, at many universities, more than 10-15 TAs are needed to teach labs, lead discussion sections and proctor and grade exams. Find these departments and apply to them early.
Another good avenue for on-campus employment for graduate students is tutoring. Many departments keep a contingent of tutors on hand for courses that undergraduate students tend to need help with.
Tutoring is frequently advertised on department websites. Check there, or ask professors and let your department chair know you would be interested.
If your expertise extends to subjects outside your own department, don't hesitate to apply to opportunities in those areas. You will most likely have to meet with the department chair of that department and explain how you are qualified to teach that subject.
[Find out how grad schools evaluate international applicants.]
Of the four semesters that I was a TA at the University of Rhode Island, I was a chemistry TA for three of them, despite being a student in the department of cell and molecular biology. I received good student evaluations, graded lab reports and exams on time and was nice to the students in lab and during office hours.
After my first semester of teaching introductory chemistry lab, I did not have to apply again; the professors contacted me with a new teaching contract each semester.
[Make good use of electives as an international grad student.]
There may be other tutoring opportunities as well that are not immediately apparent. The University of Rhode Island had a center that exclusively catered to the academic needs of minority students. The center kept a record of potential tutors and the subjects they were comfortable teaching.
The center would match tutors with students who applied for help. Students were allowed tutoring as long as they needed or wanted it. This was one of my first sources of income as an international graduate student at URI.
In just my first year, I tutored molecular biology, microbiology, introductory chemistry, organic chemistry and genetics – a notoriously difficult course at URI. I enjoyed tutoring and soon I had to actually turn tutoring opportunities down because the requests exceeded my 20-hour-per-week limit.
Most universities and colleges have on-campus retail shops. These are stores that belong to non-university companies that operate on campus to cater to students. It may be easy to find a job in one of these.
With any on-campus employment, however, make sure you comply with the terms of your student visa. Check with the international student office at your university.
Finding on-campus employment for graduate students can be challenging, but it is possible. Your advanced knowledge is your biggest asset. Extend yourself to beyond your own department if you need to, and you may find that opportunities abound.
Swati B. Carr, from India, is currently pursuing her doctorate in synthetic biology at Boston University and advises prospective international students. She first came to the U.S. as an international student for her master's in microbial genetics from the University of Rhode Island.