Let Me Help You Out with That: A George Mason University Student’s Guide to Financial Aid
By: Lauren Daube
For many college students, the price tag on education can leave quite a heavy burden. From tuition and textbooks to parking passes and dining halls, college students are expected to pay thousands of dollars to a university in the hopes of receiving a degree. While scholarships and grants can certainly decrease the price coming out of pocket, many students find themselves seeking assistance elsewhere. Ultimately, this leads students on the search for financial aid options, whether it be grants, loans, scholarships, what have you. For my research, I chose to study financial aid that students receive, including FAFSA, loan repayment, and certain rights and responsibilities associated with financial aid.
First and foremost, it is important to understand exactly what Federal Student Aid is. Federal Student is a part of the U.S. Department of Education and is highly regarded for being the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation. As the website claims, it is “responsible for managing the student financial assistance programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. These programs provide grants, loans, and work-study funds to students attending college or career school.” Federal Student Aid prides themselves on the ability to provide information to both students and families about the financial assistance programs available, as well as developing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – FAFSA. In addition, Federal Student Aid continues to manage outstanding financial loans and securing repayment from the borrowers, despite complications involving borrowers’ rights. Federal Student Aid also offers assistance to students and their families throughout the process, and provides monitoring for all programs available. Federal Student Aid attempts to understand the high price tag of education and the possible burden that may come with it; with that in mind, the office “offers more than $150 billion each year to help millions of students pay for higher education.” As previously mentioned, in order to receive federal aid, a student must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and be approved.
So you might be asking yourself, “What exactly is FAFSA and how do I receive it?” In actuality, there are many facts and figures about FAFSA, as well as myths that have been debunked over the years. If you are a student and you believe that you may not qualify for financial aid, think again. Some of the most common myths include “I (or my parents) make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid,” or “only students with good grades get financial aid.” Many of the preconceived notions that students have about federal aid are much more than meets the eye. For instance, there is no precise income cut off for federal student aid and while grades may help a student get into their ‘dream school,’ most of the federal aid programs available do not consider a student’s grade point average. The Office of Federal Student Aid encourages each and every college student to apply for financial aid; the application is once again, free, and some students may be surprised how much money they are qualified to receive. It is also important for students to note the deadlines to apply for financial aid in correlation to the academic year. For example, if a student is interested in applying for financial aid for the 2017-2018 school year, applications can be filled out and filed between October 1, 2016 and June 30, 2018. It is important for each student to collaborate with and discuss financial aid with their university seeing as though individual deadlines at the universities typically fall in February or March, although some may be even earlier with applications available in October. For example, students at George Mason University are encouraged to meet with a staff member from the Office of Financial Aid.
At George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, professional staff of the Financial Aid department take pride in their aim to provide “an affordable and wise college choice, offering academic quality, opportunities for top tier internships, and applied knowledge and skills that will assist you beyond graduation.” At George Mason, a college degree is considered to be “one of the most valuable investments you can make, and your return on investment is demonstrated” through the successes of the alumni. In order to assist with the Financial Aid process, Mason’s Financial Aid Office contains a team of trained and dedicated professionals to ensure the obtainment of perceivably adequate and satisfactory financial aid for each and every student, no matter what the case may be.
George Mason also outline the various forms of financial aid – loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study. Loans are described as money that you or your parents borrow and repay with interest; education loans are usually offered at lower than average interest rates and longer repayment terms. Scholarships are awards that do not have to be paid back and are based on both student talent and performance. Grants are described as financial awards that are based on demonstration of financial need and do not have to be paid back. Lastly, work-study is described on George Mason University’s website as “a financial aid program that allows eligible students to earn money toward their educational expenses by working a part-time job at one of the George Mason campuses.” As it has been shown, each type of financial aid does not necessarily have to be repaid, but each and every type is designed to take the weight off a heavy college bill.
However, loans that have been taken out to alleviate the price of a college education ‘must’ be repaid, although this principle alone usually lands many students in debt as default. The Office of Federal Student Aid has designed several repayment plans for each student, designed to provide flexibility for each student. Each student will be asked to choose a plan, however, if they do not choose one, said student will be placed on the Standard Repayment Plan, which involves repaying your loans over the course of 10 years. As repayment begins, students are given the option to switch to a different plan at any time to meet their current needs. Lastly, the monthly payment toward the loans ultimately depends on how much income the individual is making, in the terms of income-based loan repayment. In order to encourage ease and reliability amongst students, a loan servicer is issued per student. The Loan Servicer is designed to handle all billing in regards to the student, as well as work with the student if any assistance is needed.
Upon receiving financial aid at George Mason University, each student is provided with a list of rights associated with financial aid. Some of which include: the cost of attendance, the refund policy for students who withdraw, what type of financial assistance is available from federal, state, and institutional sources, how financial aid recipients are selected, how and when funds will be disbursed to you, so on and so forth. In correlation, each student is asked to follow a certain list of responsibilities to match. Some of these responsibilities include: read directions thoroughly, complete forms accurately, and comply with deadlines, provide supplemental documentation as requested, repay student loans, complete entrance and exit counseling if you receive federal student loans while in attendance at George Mason, as well as several more. It is important for each student to understand both the rights and responsibilities provided to them in order to ensure the best scenario possible to receiving federal student aid at an individual university level.
In summation, the price of college tuition can certainly weigh a heavy weight on an individual, however there are assistance programs in place such as federal student aid. With access to these types of programs, students are given the opportunity to attend college, take classes, and succeed to their highest ability. Many claim that college is the best four years of an individual’s life, and whether you disagree or not, every student should be given the opportunity to decide on their own.
About Us. (2015, November 22). Retrieved April 4, 2017, from https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/about
Federal Student Aid. (2016, May). Myths About Financial Aid [Digital image]. Retrieved April 4, 2017, from https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/financial-aid-myths.pdf
Federal Student Aid. (2017, April 05). How to Repay Your Loans. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans
George Mason University. (2017). Rights and Responsibilities. Retrieved April 4, 2017, from https://www2.gmu.edu/admissions-aid/financial-aid/other-information/rights-and-responsibilities