Paying for an Education

Mason offers a variety of resources to help students and families make informed descisions about financing an education. Please see below for a list of key terms and tips. Please visit the Office of Student Financial Aid for more information on the topics listed below.

Please click the category below to find out more information.

Applying for financial aid

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. All students interested in receiving financial aid must complete the FAFSA. The FAFSA is used to determine your EFC. For more information the FAFSA, visit Family Contribution
Your student’s EFC is the Expected Family Contribution, meaning what your family is expected to contribute financially to your student’s education. The University will take your student’s EFC and use that number to determine the amount of Financial Aid he or she will be offered.

Cost of Attendance (COA)/ College Budget
The annual cost of attending college that is used to determine a student’s financial need; includes tuition, books, fees, room and board, transportation and out-of-pocket expenses; also referred to as the student expense budget.

Financial aid
The term financial aid is used to describe the combination of loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study that will help your student pay for college.

Financial aid office
The Office of Student Financial Aid at Mason helps students obtain funds for their education and determines financial aid awards/packages.

Financial aid Package
Your student will be notified of his or her financial aid package by e-mail from Mason and the package is the total financial aid award received by your student.

Types of financial aid

Merit-based aid
Any form of financial aid awarded on the basis of personal achievement or individual characteristics without reference to financial need. Merit-based aid is also known as scholarship. Your student may qualify for merit-based aid by meeting a certain academic requirement, such as grade point average, test scores, or career goal. Your student’s financial aid package may include both need- and merit-based aid.

Need-based Aid
If the Cost of Attendance (COA) for your college exceeds your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), you will be eligible for need-based aid to cover the difference. You may be awarded a financial aid package that consists of a combination of grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study. The total amount of your package will be determined by a combination of demonstrated financial need, federal award maximums, and your school’s available funds.


Perkins Loans
Awarded by the student’s school, these low-interest loans (5%) are given to students (both undergraduate and graduate) that demonstrate exceptional financial need. Repayment of this loan begins nine months after the student graduates, leave school or drop to less than half-time student status.

PLUS Loans (Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students)
PLUS loans are federal loans for parents or legal guardians of dependent undergraduate students. This loan allows parents to borrow all or some of the difference between financial aid received and the cost of attending Mason, including room, board, and other charges. For example, if your student’s college costs a total of $10,000 and he or she receives $6,000 in financial aid, you could apply for a PLUS loan of $4,000. The PLUS is not based on need, so your student is not required to fill out the FAFSA in order for you to apply for this loan. For more information on PLUS loans, click here

Subsidized Loans
Subsidized loans are need-based. Interest is not charged on these loans while your student is enrolled in school.

Unsubsidized Loans
Unsubsidized loans are also need-based. Unlike subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans build interest while your student is enrolled in school.

Commercial (or Private) Loans
Commercial or private loans are available through several financial service providers. To qualify, your student must pass a credit check and potentially have a co-signer. The interest rate may be higher than that of a Direct, Stafford or Perkins loan or may be a variable rate that changes over time.

Applying for financial aid

Scholarships can be merit based, need based or whatever criteria the awarding organization is expecting of the potential recipient. The Office of Student Financial Aid at Mason has an extensive list of scholarships that students can apply to each year.


A grant is any amount of money that is offered to your student that does not have to be repaid. One of the most common grants for students is the Federal Pell Grant. Please note that the amounts for grants vary by individual.

Pell Grants
Given by the Federal Government, Pell Grants are awarded to students demonstrating exceptional financial need. Pell Grants do not have to be repaid.

Work Study

Work Study
If your student is offered work study through the Office of Student Financial Aid he or she is expected to obtain a designated work study job offered through George Mason. Please note that the money earned during work study is not used to pay the student’s tuition bill, this is money that the student has earned for their own use.

Things to consider when applying for financial aid:
Encourage your student to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. The FAFSA becomes available on January 1. If you do not have your current tax forms completed, the system allows you to enter your previous years statements as an estimate for the upcoming school year. The updated tax forms will need to be submitted to Office of Student Financial Aid at a later date.

Mason’s priority filing for financial aid is March 1. Applying after this date limits the amount of aid that the Mason will be able to offer you. Please note that the FAFSA must be completed every year for the upcoming school year in order for your student to receive financial aid for the upcoming school year. Your student will want to submit his or her first FAFSA by March 1 of the year when your student plans to enroll at Mason.

Please be aware of companies or websites that request payment to help locate merit or need based aid. is NOT the same thing as Always make sure that you are visiting

Check your local organizations for scholarship opportunities. Large sums of money often go unused because students are not aware of their local organizations that are looking to give a scholarships to a local student. Stay in contact with high school counselors about scholarship opportunities that are available on the local level.