Menu Close

Student Transition Empowerment Program

The Student Transition Empowerment Program (STEP) is an initiative of the Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment (CCEE) created to enhance the recruitment, engagement and retention of first-generation college students accepted to George Mason University. Our mission is to empower students through academic skills, access to resources, community building, self-discovery, and the global citizenship needed to compete in today’s college environment and beyond.

To participate, students must be Virginia residents accepted and committed to attending George Mason University until graduation.

STEP is divided into two key components: STEP Summer and STEP Academic Year and Beyond.

STEP Summer:

Traditionally, STEP Summer is a six week residential program from mid-June to until the late July (of the summer prior to the student’s first fall semester) for selected, first-year George Mason University students. STEP students live on campus during the program (including weekends!), earn three college credits (one class), and build a support network of peers, faculty, and staff prior to the start of their freshman school year.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, STEP 2020 successfully pivoted to an all virtual experience. If summer instruction for Summer 2021 will be administered virtually, STEP Summer 2021 will be virtual in nature and will take place during SUMMER SESSION C (June 14th – July 29th).

STEP Academic Year and Beyond:

STEP students who successfully transition from the summer portion continue on as STEP Scholars. STEP Scholars take University (UNIV) 100 together in the fall and participate in ongoing support and programmatic initiatives throughout their time at Mason. Completion of the program allows students to be eligible to apply for the STEP Scholarship

Application Requirements:

Students are eligible to apply to STEP if they meet the following criteria:

  • Accepted into and plan to attend George Mason University as an incoming first-time freshman for Fall 2021;
  • Be a Virginia resident
  • Qualify for in-state tuition
  • Identifies as a first-generation college student based upon the following definition.
    • George Mason University defines a first-generation college student as someone whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s) applies to ONE of the following:
      • Completed a Bachelor’s Degree or community college outside of the United States
      • Highest level of education is from a community college
      • Did not complete a Bachelor’s Degree
        • Certifications are not considered equivalent to a degree

* If other members in your family (siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.) went to college before you, you are still considered a first-generation college student. They may be a great resource as you navigate your college journey.*

Application Process:

To apply, students should follow these steps:

  1. Complete the online application
  2. Have one letter of recommendation submitted by a teacher, counselor, or coach that speaks to your preparedness for the summer program

*Please note: The application will include the following essay questions.  It is recommended that you prepare your responses prior to beginning the application.  Please keep the responses to each question under 500 words.

  1. Why is obtaining a college degree important to you?
  2. How can the STEP program be beneficial to you in achieving this and other personal goals?
  3. Give an example of how you achieved an academic goal. Describe how you motivated yourself to accomplish this goal.
  4. Is there anything else you would like for us to consider in your application?


Application Deadlines:

STEP 2021 Application will become available in early February 2021

Priority Deadline: Tuesday, May 3rd, 2021 by 11:59 pm; Students who apply by this deadline receive priority consideration.

Final Deadline: Tuesday May 10th, 2021 by 11:59 pm; No applications or recommendations will be accepted after this date.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does virtual STEP look like?

It is the same format as the STEP program on-campus. There are morning meetings, mentor activities, evening study halls, team bonding events, movie nights, and class time. There are also various workshops, and set time for classwork. A lot of the program is conducted face-to-face over Zoom, but is still fun and engaging!

How many hours a week does STEP require?

The CCEE faculty team would like to emphasize the commitment aspect of the STEP program during the summer, as well as your following years at the University. The STEP Summer program activities amount to about 20-25 hours a week, while you may spend another 20 hours a week in class, studying, or reading. It is a full-time commitment, whether it is in-person or on-campus. However, your class will only meet a few times a week.

What is expected of STEP students?

The expectations of STEP students are as follows:

  • You must attend ALL workshops and meetings
  • You must be on-time and participate
  • You must be willing to work hard to succeed in your STEP course
  • You must be open-minded and accepting of diversity

What courses can you choose from? Are we able to choose the course we want to take?

The courses vary each year but consist of 100’s level English, Math, Science, History, Communications, Honors (HNRS) course, and other electives like Women and Gender Studies or World Religions. While you will not be able to select the exact course, you will be enrolled in, you will be placed based in a class based on your major requirements, credits you have transferred in, class availability, and capacity.

What is UNIV 100? Is it a requirement? Is it for credit?

UNIV 100 is a required course that all students take in the fall of their Freshman year. It is referred to as a class on “how to succeed in college.” Topics such as stress management, mental health, study habits, and how to get involved at George Mason. The class counts for 1 credit, but you are able to take it as a non-credit course.

You can learn more about the course here:

Can you take other classes while doing STEP?

No, you are not able to take other classes while participating in the STEP Summer Program. STEP is a full-time commitment due to various activities, workshops, and study halls. There will be no extra time to devote to another course, especially if the program is in-person.

Can you do STEP if you are in the honors college?

Yes, honors college students are able to participate in STEP, and various courses such as honors, math, or science courses can fulfill honors college curriculum requirements.

Are you allowed to have a job or go on vacation during the STEP Summer Program?

No, you will be very busy during the 6 weeks of the STEP program. Programs, workshops, events, class, homework, and study sessions will be a full-time commitment. A sample of what an average day during the STEP Summer entails can be seen below.

Sample Daily Schedule 

9:00am – 10:0am:  Morning Activity
10:00am – 12:30pm: Class reading, assignments, and planning.
12:30pm – 1:00pm:  Lunch
1:00pm  – 2:00pm : One-on-one meeting with Mentor
2:00pm – 4:30pm:  Workshops
4:30pm – 6:00pm:  Study or group meeting
6:00pm – 7:00pm: Dinner
7:00pm – 9:00pm:  Study hall
9:00pm – 10:30pm:  Read and prepare for next day

How do you accept financial responsibility for the STEP program? Are there any costs involved?

There are ZERO costs involved with the STEP program. If the program is in-person, all living, food, and activity expenses are covered! Any class materials like textbooks or access codes for the STEP summer course are covered as well.

However, if a student does not complete the UNIV 100 course in the fall, therefore failing to complete the STEP program, following their STEP summer, they will be responsible for the costs of the STEP Summer tuition and fees.

Is STEP over after the summer semester?

No. During the fall you will take UNIV 100 as a cohort. Additionally, there are STEP programs throughout your academic career at George Mason University to network with other STEP students. Also, all STEP students have regular meetings with the CCEE professional staff for academic check-ins throughout their time at Mason. There will be various events and activities to attend as well!

What are the benefits of participating in STEP?

STEP provides students with assistance in their transition to college including, academic preparation, retention, career exploration and empowerment. Once admitted, students receive continuous support through various activities and services.

  1. Students will be divided into groups according to their majors and/or interests. They will be matched with Mentors who will serve as their social coordinator, tutor, and residence hall advisor— during the summer portion of the program.
  2. Students will meet with their assigned Faculty Advisor (Mason faculty/staff) for scheduled one-on-one appointments. They will discuss their academic/interpersonal goals and challenges.
  3. Students will have the opportunity to attend a number of career exploration
    workshops, network, and build their resumé.
  4. Students will take one 3-credit course during the STEP Summer Program, which will help them jumpstart their college career and get acclimated to the rigor of college classes.
  5. Students will benefit from workshops on topics such as financial aid, leadership, study skills, time management, diversity, and community service.
  6. Because STEP is a multi-year program, students will establish a wide network of friends, staff, mentors and future associates.
  7. The numerous components of STEP will give students a head-start in the university community and provide essential resources to build upon their future endeavors.
  8. The memories that you build in the summer portion of STEP will leave a lasting impression during your time here at Mason and beyond.

Is there any advice or tips for participating in the STEP program?

Some advice last year’s STEP cohort would like to recommend is to try hard in your STEP summer courses because they count toward your GPA, as well as the fall UNIV 100 course. Also, truly consider if you are ready to take on the time commitment and join an amazing network of people for the next four years before applying!

What is the difference between STEP and The Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment?

The Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment (CCEE) is the department that houses the STEP Program. STEP is one of the office’s largest initiatives.

Have questions? Contact