New PhD Student FAQs

What is PhD Orientation?

PhD Orientation is a day-long event held the Friday before classes begin in August. The Schar School faculty and incoming doctoral students from the school’s three PhD programs attend. This mandatory program will provide you with useful information about academic requirements, program policies, and important resources. More importantly, you will hear from faculty about their research and receive advice from both faculty and current students about forming your own research agenda.

PhD Orientation details are provided in your admissions materials.

Where will my classes be held?

Most Public Policy PhD core courses are held on Mason Square. Doctoral students take other Schar School courses on the Fairfax campus as well as courses offered by other departments.

Where can I go for advising and assistance with planning my academic program?

The Schar School will assign you a faculty advisor before your first semester and you will receive their name prior to the start of classes. Throughout the program, you will work with your advisor to explore and define your academic and research goals. In addition, the PhD Student Services team will help you with issues related to course selection, registration, academic policies, and university procedures. 

The first semester of the program is spent taking core courses and does not require extensive consultation with your advisor. Public Policy, Biodefense, and Political Science students should contact John Washington. John can also help you track your progress toward degree completion. PhD Student Services will help you with course selection for your first semester in the program. Public Policy, Biodefense, and Political Science students should contact John Washington. John can also help you track your progress toward degree completion.

How do I register for courses?

Registration is completed via the Patriot Web system. Step-by-step instructions explaining how to register for classes via Patriot Web can be found in the mailing you received following your offer of admission. In addition to registering for classes on Patriot Web, students can also make tuition payments, review their academic record, check class schedules, and update contact information.

Please refer to the Schar School’s Student Guide to the Patriot Web if you need further guidance. Waitlist procedures and information about adding and dropping classes can be found in the Guide. 

What are typical course loads?

The university considers nine credits to be a full-time load at the graduate level. Students taking fewer than nine credit hours are classified as part-time, unless they hold a research or teaching assistantship. International students on F-1 or J-1 visas are required to carry nine or more credits each semester. Students wishing to take more than 12 credit hours should meet with their academic advisor and Ph.D. Student Services to discuss their course load. Public Policy, Biodefense, and Political Science students should contact John Washington.

How can I obtain course descriptions and syllabi?

You can find course descriptions listed in the Mason University Catalog and on the Schar School websiteMost syllabi are available on the Schar School website here. If the syllabus for a course is not on the website, please contact the instructor directly for a copy. Professors will also distribute copies of the syllabus during the first class meeting.

Where do I buy my books?

Students may purchase books online through the George Mason University Bookstore website for courses on any campus. The storefront for the Mason Square bookstore is on the main level of Van Metre Hall. The Fairfax campus bookstore is located on the first floor of the Johnson Center.

Can I purchase a parking decal?

Students wishing to park on campus must register with Parking Services and purchase a parking decal. Students may buy decals online or in person. Mason Square Parking Services is located in Room 219 of the Van Metre Hall Building (phone: 703-993-8146). Fairfax Parking Services is in the Sandy Creek Shuttle Building (phone: 703-993-2710). While Mason Square parking decals are valid on the Fairfax campus, Fairfax decals are not valid for Mason Square.

Where do I get my student ID?

Students are required to have a Mason Card to use most university services in Mason Square, cards are available at the Print Services office located in room 220 in Van Metre Hall building (phone: 703-993-2095). In Fairfax, the office is in SUB 1, room 1203 (phone: 703-993-1004). To obtain a card, students must be registered for the current semester and must present a valid picture ID (driver’s license, military ID, Passport, Visa).

Do I need to activate my Mason email account?

Students are required to activate and regularly access their Mason email account. You can activate your email at the Office 365 website. Official information will be communicated to students only through this account and students are responsible for the information sent to this account. If you wish to have your email forwarded from your Mason email account, instructions for doing so are available on the above link. Each student’s email account has a quota, so please delete emails regularly to avoid error messages.

How do I connect with other PhD students?

Many of the programs listed on the Schar School Events Calendar are opportunities to meet students and scholars while learning about current Schar School research. You will also find a variety of campus activities for graduate students at University Life Mason Square and the Fairfax-based Graduate Student Life.

All Schar School doctoral students may join the Schar PhD Student Association (SPSA), a Mason-recognized organization. SPSA hosts social, professional, and academic events throughout the year. Check your email for information about workshops, events, and social hours. To learn more and to get involved, visit the SPSA page.

I work full time. Is it possible to complete my degree as a part-time student?

Yes, you can complete your degree as a part-time student. Part-time students are required to take a minimum of two courses of at least three credits each semester. Reduction of this load can be offset by a course in the summer. Please keep in mind that required courses are generally not available in the summer.

Is there funding available for PhD students?

Yes. Full-time PhD students may apply for Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs) or Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs), depending on program, which are offered in the fall term for the academic year. There are no new GRA or GTA awards offered for spring term. Part-time students are not eligible for GRAs/GTAs.

Funding is also available through various fellowships and scholarships. Information can be found on the Schar School’s scholarships and funding page.