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Student Loans: Know Your Options

April 15, 2016

By Kelly Pedersen

Editor’s Note: The following information was provided during a “Financial Well-Being Workshop” held on April 11, 2016. This information is not financial advice, but rather general information about types of loans, key terms, and resources.

When it comes to attending graduate school, everyone is excited for graduation day, the culminating moment after years of hard work. You’re finally finished, but for many of us, something else is just beginning: student loan repayment. It’s important for students to understand what kinds of loans they have and their options for repayment. Below, find some information about student loans including key terms and links to help you decide what your best options are.

Loan Types for Graduate Students

  • Subsidized: the government pays interest for a period of time.
  • Unsubsidized: interest accumulates immediately.
  • Perkins loans:Federally backed educational loans for graduate students. Awarded by schools only to students with low incomes. Graduate students who qualify can get up to $8,000 a year at an interest rate of only 5 percent.
  • Subsidized Stafford loans: Federal loans for graduate students are awarded only to those who, according to the student’s FAFSA, need help paying tuition. Stafford loans are made directly by the federal government, all students can get all the money they qualify for, no matter what college they attend.
  • Unsubsidized Stafford loans:These are awarded to almost every graduate student who applies, regardless of income. Stafford loans are made directly by the federal government, all students can get all the money they qualify for, no matter what college they attend.
  • Grad PLUS:Graduate students who need more money after maxing out their Perkins and Stafford loans can borrow the full remainder of their educational costs (after other financial aid), including basic living expenses such as transportation, child care, etc., from the PLUS program.

Paying Your Student Loans

Know your grace period: A period of time after borrowers graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment where they are not required to make payments on certain federal student loans (sually 6-9 months). Some federal student loans will accrue interest during the grace period, and if the interest is unpaid, it will be added to the principal balance of the loan when the repayment period begins.

If you aren’t able to pay your loans, you may need to apply for a deferment or forbearance, but what is the difference?

Deferment: A postponement of payment on a loan that is allowed under certain conditions and during which interest does not accrue on Direct Subsidized Loans, Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, and Federal Perkins Loans. All other federal student loans that are deferred will continue to accrue interest. Any unpaid interest that accrued during the deferment period may be added to the principal balance (capitalized) of the loan(s).

Forbearance: A period during which your monthly loan payments are temporarily suspended or reduced. Your lender may grant you forbearance if you are willing but unable to make loan payments due to certain types of financial hardships. During forbearance, principal payments are postponed but interest continues to accrue. Unpaid interest that accrues during the forbearance will be added to the principal balance (capitalized) of your loan(s), increasing the total amount you owe.

Repayment Plans

Although you may select or be assigned a repayment plan when you first begin repaying your student loan, you can change repayment plans at any time—for free.

Contact your loan servicer if you would like to discuss repayment plan options or change your repayment plan. You can get information about all of the federal student loans you have received and find the loan servicer­ for your loans by logging in to My Federal Student Aid.

Forgiveness Programs

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

If you are a teacher and have been teaching full-time in a low-income elementary or secondary school or educational service agency for five consecutive years, you may be able to have as much as $17,500 of your subsidized or unsubsidized loans forgiven. Your PLUS loans cannot be included. For more information, go to Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

If you are employed in certain public service jobs and have made 120 payments on your Direct Loans, the remaining balance that you owe may be forgiven. Only payments made under certain repayment plans may be counted toward the required 120 payments. You must not be in default on the loans that are forgiven. For more information, go to Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge

The following Federal Perkins Loan Program cancellations apply to individuals who perform certain types of public service or are employed in certain occupations.

For each complete year of service, a percentage of the loan may be canceled. The total percentage of the loan that can be canceled depends on the type of service performed. Depending on the type of loan you have, and when that loan was taken out, you may be eligible to cancel part of or your entire loan if you have served as one of the following:

  • Volunteer in the Peace Corps or ACTION program (including VISTA)
  • Teacher
  • Member of the U.S. armed forces (serving in area of hostilities)
  • Nurse or medical technician
  • Law enforcement or corrections officer
  • Head Start worker
  • Child or family services worker
  • Professional provider of early intervention services

There is no standard application form for Perkins Loan cancellations. Contact the school that you were attending when you received the loan. If you have a Federal Perkins Loan, learn about Loan Cancellation and Discharge here.

Financial well-being is an important aspect of your daily life.  Make sure you are taking the steps you need to take care of your well-being.

Kelly Pedersen is a Graduate Assistant with University Life Arlington and masters candidate at the College of Visual and Performing Arts in the Arts Management program.

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Taking Care of Your Well-Being

April 8, 2016

By Lewis E. Forrest, II, M.Ed

Being a graduate student can be challenging mentally, emotionally, and even physically. It can also be extremely rewarding, filling you with new ideas, information, and energy about the field you are studying. As all students, graduate students have complex lives: many of us work and attend school, have families and other responsibilities that require a level of flexibility that can be challenging.

So, how are you taking care of yourself in the midst of classes, family, friends, work, and life in general? I can remember being a graduate student in 2003, working full-time, married, and my wife and I expecting our third child. Looking back, I survived, but I wish I had thought more about how to balance the life of being a graduate student and its impact on my well-being.

As you may know, Mason has made a commitment to become a model well-being university, which helps students, faculty, and staff build a life of vitality, purpose, resilience, and engagement. You can read about Mason’s strategic goal #7, which focuses on Well-Being in more detail here: http://strategicplan.gmu.edu. There are many questions about how we become a Well-Being University and why we would aspire to do so. The why is outlined in the plan and is stated as follows:

At Mason, we believe that “we thrive together” – shared success is one of our core values. We want to become the first well-being university, providing a place for all members of our Mason community in an environment where they can personally thrive while contributing to the overall mission.

The question I have for you is: “With all you have on your plate, how can our lives serve as examples of Well-Being?What common practices, beliefs, perspectives do you engage in everyday that contribute to your well-being?

I’ll use a short story to illustrate my life as an example of well-being.

On the white board in my office I have three words which motivate me everyday. I shared these three words and what they meant to me with a colleague. This colleague now uses these words as inspiration as well. This is just a small example of how something common can be used as an example of well-being.

While I initially thought the words would only be for my benefit, I learned they meant something to my colleague. This is well-being and a small example of how we can be intentional about our connections to others as we aspire to be a community that “thrives together.”

Take some time to think about three positive practices, beliefs, or perspectives (you fill in the blank) that you do daily or weekly that help you be your best self at work or at home. Write these things down and begin to pay closer attention to how they contribute to your well-being. You may even be moved to share your positive practices, beliefs, or perspectives with someone else to help increase their well-being.

Once you have identified the three positive practices, beliefs, or perspectives, try these three easy steps (borrowed from Gallup StrengthsFinder training):

  1. Name it

Find your personal connection to Well-Being. Write it down, post it up, talk about it.

  1. Claim it

Think about how to embody/share that connection with your classmates, colleagues, family, and friends.

  1. Aim it

Let your individual Well-Being practice(s) be an empowering tool to help you be at your best each and every day.

In the midst of your busy lives, I challenge you to be mindful of your well-being, and the well-being of your classmates, colleagues, and families. Well-being can mean many things, and the pathways toward well-being are as varied as our individual lives, find where you fit in and claim it.

You can learn more about the University’s Well-Being initiatives here:


Lewis E. Forrest, II, M.Ed, is Associate Dean for University Life at George Mason University.

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George Mason University Appreciates You!

April 1, 2016

By Kate Shaw

Next week, April 4-8, 2016, is Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week. In case you didn’t know that there was a week of appreciation for us hard-working graduate students, many university offices take time to honor Mason’s 10,000+ graduate and professional students in a number of ways. As part of appreciation week, Graduate Student Life, University Life Arlington, and other units across the campuses are holding events for graduate students. All events are free and open to all graduate and professional students at Mason. Here’s a complete list:

Monday, April 4

3:00-5:30 pm

It’s Sweet to Be a Grad Student

Johnson Center, 240K (Women and Gender Studies Center)

Join your fellow graduate students for coffee, desserts, and giveaways in the Women and Gender Studies Center in Johnson Center 240K. All graduate students are welcome! Sponsored by Women and Gender Studies, Graduate Student Life, and Off-Campus Student Programs and Services.

Tuesday, April 5


Graduate Student Appreciation Breakfast

Johnson Center 310 (Graduate Student Center)

Start the day with a drop-by continental breakfast at the Graduate Student Center, hosted by Graduate Student Life and the Journal of Mason Graduate Research.



Graduate Fellowship Tuesdays Brown Bag: National Science Foundation and Graduate Research Fellowships Program Q&A

Johnson Center, Room D

The Office of Graduate Fellowships is hosting a series of mini-workshops on graduate funding opportunities, including grants, fellowships and international opportunities. All Mason graduate students are welcome! Feel free to bring your lunch for the Brown Bag session. Visit the Office of Graduate Fellowships webpage for more information.

Wednesday, April 6


Graduate Student Center Coffee Break

Johnson Center 310 (Graduate Student Center)

Visit the Graduate Student Center on the third floor of the Johnson Center for the Graduate Student Life monthly Coffee Break, featuring free coffee, tea, and snacks from 3:30 to 7:00pm! Meet the Graduate Student Life staff and fellow Mason graduate students, and learn about campus resources. Stop by on your way to class and say hello! Co-sponsored by the Journal of Mason Graduate Research.


Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week Ice Cream Social

Founder’s Hall Plaza, Arlington Campus

Join fellow graduate and professional students for ice cream with lots of toppings as part of Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week.  We appreciate you!  Special VIP ice cream scoopers.  Please bring your Mason ID.

Thursday, April 7


Building Community Lunch for Graduate Students of Color

Student Union Building I, Room 4210

Graduate students of color and other interested Mason community members are warmly invited to an informal time of connecting with one another and key campus resources over lunch. Share experiences, ask questions, and develop collective wisdom for promoting your success as a graduate student at Mason. Sponsored by Graduate Student Life, African and African American Studies, and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education.

Please register by April 6 if you plan to attend.

Friday, April 8


iWeek Parade

Johnson Center North Plaza (outdoors)

Join the Mason community to kick off International Week 2016 with the annual iWeek Parade, featuring the parade of flags, performances, and an international buffet. To learn more, visit the iWeek webpage.

Whether you can attend only one or many of the events, the Graduate Student Life staff hopes to see you during the week. Thank you, Mason graduate and professional students, for all you do!

Kate Shaw is a graduate assistant with Graduate Student Life.

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