You’ve read for years about how tough it is for international applicants to find financial support for their MBA, but during the current downtrend in applications from foreign countries, US schools have found new ways to lure a diverse applicant pool with the GRA.
The Graduate Research Assistant position, or GRA, has been around for a long time in the US, but only recently has it become a legitimate financial resource for international MBA students looking to defray the cost of one of the most expensive graduate degrees on the market.
A GRA position is essentially a position offered to graduate students who are willing to work a few hours per week for their school in exchange (in some cases) for a full tuition waiver. While not covering all the costs of an MBA, avoiding the big-ticket item of tuition can eliminate the bulk of it, and for students who may lack the top-shelf profile to land a scholarship or fellowship offer, the GRA can be a great backup plan.
GRAs can be assigned to a wide variety of roles, and are typically required to work between 10-20 hours per week. Sometimes they work directly for a professor in an actual research support capacity, or grading homework assignments or projects like a teaching assistant. Other assignment might be with the school or university staff team, either in the career services center, the marketing department, the accounting team or even in admissions. Just as in a corporation, the network of employees inside a business school is robust and widely varied. The larger the school, the larger the budget, and therefore more GRA slots are available. Admittedly, it can be a challenge to find GRAs in smaller schools, particularly in private institutions. Often, public universities have state and federal funding to subsidize student research staff positions.
Being on the staff has other benefits as well, particularly for international students. Firstly and foremost, GRAs are accruing bonafide, post-graduate, US work experience. Albeit only part-time, having work experience on your resume from the US can be a real edge with US-based corporate recruiters. Particularly in an era where the HB-1 Visa is an ever-elusive prize to achieve, demonstrating employability in America is helpful. Additionally, working side by side with staff employees offers valuable cultural opportunities. It’s one thing to have classroom time or project-based interactions with classmates, but another thing altogether to assimilate into a functioning, regular office environment. Depending on the assignment, GRAs gain a unique level of access and insight into the behind-the-scenes inter-workings of one of the highest quality products in the world, that is US higher education.