When weighing graduate school options one opportunity students should look to consider is a graduate assistantship in athletics. It is a great way to earn money while in school and also gain invaluable experiences in your field. 

Graduate assistants are very important to a collegiate sports team, and because of that the NCAA has bylaws that GA’s and universities must follow. You will be compensated for work as a graduate assistant, which will depend on the university, they are not allowed to arrange an additional job on campus during the academic year. Being a GA also will cover at least 50% of your tuition. The NCAA limits terms on GA’s to 2 years, this fits well into the timeline for most graduate programs. To be a graduate assistant you must be admitted to a graduate program at the school you wish to be a GA. You also must be within 7 years of receiving an undergraduate degree or have exhausted all of your athletic eligibility. 

A GA position with a sports team is an excellent way to gain coaching skills as you will be working with experienced coaches. Many of the top coaches in the country got their start as a grad assistant after they finished competing as a student-athlete. Jacob Pardonnet ’18 currently works as a graduate assistant for Bryant University’s football program. He is pursuing his MBA with a specialization in business analytics. Pardonnet was able to use his athletic experience playing football for Hope College to coach the outside linebackers at Bryant. 

“I’ve got a journal with every single job I applied for over the course of a year. The number sits at 86, give or take a few. On top of that I went to the NFL Combine and the Coaches Convention to try and make something happen through face-to-face networking. Those trips included some terrifying interactions with Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, and Les Snead…but that’s a different story. When it was all said and done I was able to get five phone calls about the possibility of a position. You can never grow complacent and think you’re doing enough if you’re truly passionate about getting a job in this industry. I was choice number 6 for the school I’m currently at, the first 5 were either unable to get into grad school or they moved on to bigger opportunities”

During the season Pardonnet has many jobs that he is tasked with and he typically works from 8am to 10pm. His duties typically include: breaking down game and practice film, analyzing opponent film one week in advance while also putting together the scouting report and recruiting. He also does some of the logistical things for the team, such as: reserving and setting up meeting rooms, setting up game equipment. He also does all of this on top of coaching the outside linebackers and graduate school. As a GA you will have many commitments and a large part of the job is managing those commitments the best way you can.  

“Things are constantly in flux and you could get a new assignment at any given moment. When you’re a student athlete, the biggest skill you learn is time management. As a GA, it’s prioritization. There’s no free time to begin with so you’d better knock out the important stuff as soon as possible and hit the rest in pieces when you can”

Pardonnet also had some advice for students that are pursuing a graduate assistantship.

jacob coaching
Jacob in action on the football field.

“Stay hungry! You can’t think of this as a job, it has to be your life. If you have the clock in/clock out mentality, it will crush you. Don’t forget why you got into this in the first place, and keep pushing and pushing and pushing. Also, don’t think you’re in it alone. It will definitely seem like it at times, but there’s always someone who’s got your back”

Another great opportunity as a GA is working as an athletic trainer. Another Hope graduate Bryanna Howard ‘18 is currently a GA at the University of Utah where she is working on her Masters of Science in Sports Medicine. She was given her placement at a local high school where she works with around 700 athletes across 15 sports. 

Bryanna (center) with her colleagues.

“I cover all on-campus practices and games as well as facilitate in-house rehabilitation for a variety of orthopedic and musculoskeletal injuries.  We also facilitate and provide care for any emergencies during athletic play and coordinate with local hospitals and EMS agencies for game coverage and referrals for athletes”

Being a GA is a large time commitment and as Pardonnet said that prioritization is key to success in a GA position. 

 “Workload is high as a GA, it can get frustrating to have so many commitments, but not get paid as much as you would like to.  But it facilitates an incredible learning environment where you can soak up knowledge from the full-time staff you are working with.” 

Howard was able to use some of the resources at Boerigter Center to help her gain her GA position. 

“I used the (Boerigter) Center A LOT.  I had 3, if not 4 mock interviews and I requested that they throw any question at me. Practice for an interview is your best friend. I also had staff there read my resume and cover letter and provide feedback”. 

Howard also had some advice to offer someone applying for a GA position.    

“Apply early and apply often. I applied to 9 graduate schools and heard back from 5 and interviewed at a few places less than that. I encourage people to not be discouraged, but to discern what makes them different. Participate in events at Hope, get involved. Get involved in things that make you happy, not only what will boost your resume. Don’t be fearful.  Put yourself out there.  Never in a million years did I think I would move 2,000 miles away from home to do this thing called graduate school and work my butt off as a GA.  But the experience is worth it , despite the fears that may stand in your way”

Finding a GA position will be a difficult process that will require a lot of time but the payoff in gaining invaluable experience is unparalleled. The experience gained will set you up well for the future career goals that you want to pursue. 

Bryanna with her colleagues onsite at Nitro World games.

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