The Graduate School Advance to a Higher Degree

Criteria for Fellowship versus Assistantship Appointments

The following guidelines provide criteria for departments to consider in determining whether it is appropriate to administer Graduate School awards as assistantships rather than fellowships.


Graduate fellows receive scholarship or fellowship payments made to assist them in pursuing a course of study or research. This payment is not a payment for teaching, conducting research or other services. Purdue does not report the payment to the IRS. Graduate fellows have the following characteristics:

  • Fellows must be enrolled in a graduate degree program.
  • Fellows must have major professors who can appropriately mentor the proposed research and provide an environment conducive to carrying out this research.
  • Fellows generally are free to explore new areas, depending on the progress of the research.
  • Fellows are not considered graduate staff of the University. Payment is provided in the form of a stipend provided to support the fellow. Stipends are not considered compensation for services.
  • Fellowships generally are awarded to students who may freely select the faculty advisor with whom they will conduct research while receiving their stipend.

Students are encouraged to visit the internal fellowship page and the outside fellowship page for more information on current fellowship opportunities. 


Graduate assistants are graduate staff of Purdue, and the money (salary) paid to them is taxable income reported by Purdue to the IRS. The salary earned by graduate assistants is subject to withholding for income tax, Social Security tax and Medicare; it is reported on the W-2 at year end. Graduate assistants have the following characteristics:

  • Graduate assistants must be enrolled in a graduate degree program. 
  • The work for which graduate assistants are being compensated may or may not be related to their degree requirements. For example, a number of departments employ graduate assistants pursuing degrees in other fields of specialization to assist in teaching their classes.
  • If the work graduate students are performing supports the development of their theses, the major professor plays a large role in devising the research plan. Normally, the research is part of the larger program of the major professor. Although the student is encouraged to explore new and innovative methods/ideas, the student cannot deviate from the research without the concurrence of the major professor.
  • Graduate assistants are considered graduate staff of the University and receive a salary that is considered payment for services

Students interested in assistantships should contact their department's graduate coordinator or graduate director for more information. 

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