Even as students, computer scientists are in demand. During the 2020-21 academic year, over 90 percent of Blacksburg research track graduate students were on full-time support. (Depending on the funding source, that typically means a 20 hour per week work obligation as a GTA or GRA.) GTAs and GRAs include tuition, most (but not all) fees, and a stipend of about $2200-2500/month for nine months. Note that cost of living in Blacksburg area is low compared to most major metropolitain areas in the United States.
Of approximately 250 research track graduate students at the Blacksburg campus during Spring 2021, we hired about 115 Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) and about 85 Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs). About 15 students were hired by other units on campus or at the nearby Corporate Research Center, and about 15 were supported through outside funding from their government, company, fellowship, etc.
Master's thesis and Ph.D. students who receive departmental support in their first year can normally expect to receive continued support during the remainder of their course of study (typically two years for master's; four or five years for Ph.D.), as long as their job performance and degree progress are good.
Note that we no longer have a master's of science coursework-only option for non-Ph.D. students. Our coursework-only degree for non-PhD students is the Masters of Engineering (MEng) in Computer Science. MEng students do not receive funding from our department.
Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA):
GTA applications are accepted twice a year, in November for spring semester and in March for the following academic year. Students entering the program in fall are given an opportunity to request a GTA at the departmental orientation meeting. Be aware, however, that the department will have already screened the incoming students and awarded a pool of assistantships at the time admission offers were made. Thus, incoming students for that semester not given an assistantship from this pool generally have lower priority over continuing students for the few remaining positions.
Continuing students must have a minimum GPA of B (3.0) to be eligible for a GTA position. Decisions regarding the award of GTA positions are made by the ADH and the Graduate Program Committee. Funding decisions are largely guided by a ranking formula. Students who do not receive initial awards are placed on a waiting list and will be informed of their quartile standing on that list. The list is re-ordered at the end of the semester when new grades and GTA evaluations become available.
Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA):
Many faculty have active research programs that include funds for research assistants. Note that GRAs are most commonly awarded to students who have been in the Department for at least one semester. GRAs receive the same stipends, tuition exemption, and healthcare benefits as GTAs. Typically, GRA funding comes from grant support awarded to individual faculty members or research centers. For more information, see the various individual faculty and research center pages at this website.
Can grad students afford to live in Blacksburg on a grad assistantship? What might typical take-home pay look like for a graduate assistant after applicable deductions? What are housing costs like?
[Please note that the following was written in Spring 2021.]
One major factor affecting the typical stipend take-home pay is whether you choose to have the comprehensive fees that students pay (those not covered by the assistantship) deducted from your paycheck. Also, while the University pays most of the health insurance premium, there is a portion that the student pays, which can also be deducted from the paycheck. If you do choose both of these automatic deductions (most students do), then the actual take-home pay, after all taxes and deductions, would typically be about $700 per pay period or about $1,400 per month.
A major factor for any grad student at any school will be the cost of housing. You should never try to compare the take-home pay for assistantships at different universities without also factoring in the cost of housing. For those attending the Blacksburg campus, you can find some typical housing costs.
The CS Grad Council has provided some resources for new students regarding housing information on their website. For those attending the National Capital Region campus, you can find information on housing options here. Students on assistantship at the NCR are normally paid more than are students at Blacksburg to help compensate for the higher cost of living.
Some additional reference material on assistantship compensation, deductions, and insurance is provided below:
Graduate Assistantship Information from the Graduate School: We recommend reviewing the tab on “Compensation” and “Graduate Assistantship Stipends”
Student Medical Insurance: There are details on coverage and deductions under the "Aetna Medical Plan" link.