With the offer of a Robertson Scholarship luring him to Duke University, Dan Ewert needed a reason to choose Yale. When the University announced an overhaul of its financial-aid system this past winter, he got the excuse he needed.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the financial-aid package,” said Ewert, who attends Germantown High School in Germantown, Wis. “For me that made the decision between Yale and Duke a little bit easier. It made it worth it for me.”
Since January, when Yale unveiled its reforms, administrators and students have been speculating about whether — and hoping that — the improved packages will encourage this year’s pool of admitted students to choose Yale. Interviews with several students offered spots in the class of 2012 indicate Yale officials may have gotten their wish: When financial aid mattered, the University’s increased benefits were a big part of these students’ decision to attend Yale.
But those interviews suggest the University may still be having trouble keeping up with Harvard.
Yale was Kyle Rusciano’s third choice, behind Dartmouth and Davidson colleges.
“The financial aid was what brought me to Bulldog Days, because I got $10 to $12 thousand off. I liked the kids I met there,” he said. “I got accepted into Dartmouth and Davidson, my top two, and I couldn’t really afford Dartmouth at all.”
Yale’s offer was so superior that Rusciano — who will don the Eli white and blue next year — did not even attend Dartmouth’s admitted-student weekend.
Yale’s initiative eliminated student loans and parental contributions for those whose families make less than $60,000 a year and requires households earning $60,000 to $120,000 to pay between one and 10 percent of family income on average. The reforms closely resembled those of Harvard University, which announced a similar move in December.
Indeed, the reforms appear to have helped Yale compete with its Cantab peer, as students who received higher financial-aid offers from Harvard were in several cases able to leverage the packages against each other.
Gabriel Zucker, for instance, found himself in a dilemma when Harvard’s financial-aid offer dwarfed that of Yale, his top choice.
“Yale gave me $15,000, Harvard gave me $33,000. After appealing to Yale with Harvard’s package, Yale raised theirs to $22,000,” the Hunter College High School senior wrote in an e-mail. “I chose Yale over Harvard because, well, Yale is a better school.”
Zucker was not alone.
“I got into Yale and got no financial aid, and Yale was always my first-choice school,” said one high-school senior who asked to remain anonymous. “Then my dad made me keep my application live for Harvard because of their financial aid, and I got a vastly, vastly different financial-aid offer — upwards of five-figures discrepancy.”
After appealing to Yale, the student had his offer reviewed and increased, enough to convince him to choose Yale.
Yet for other students, Yale’s and Harvard’s financial-aid offers were too similar to distinguish the schools from one another.
Stuyvesant High School senior Snigdha Sur, who remained undecided between the two, received offers similar enough to one another that they were no help to her in making a decision.
“Surprisingly everyone has been asking [about financial aid] because of Harvard’s sweeping financial-aid reform, but Yale gave me more money than Harvard,” she said, adding, “It was just a difference of a few hundred dollars, so it isn’t really a factor.”
And for others, it was not this year’s aid reform that tipped the scales. Nico Casasanto, of Geneva Community High School in Geneva, Ill., applied early to Yale in November — before the aid reform was announced — when he learned about what he said was Yale’s already-generous aid policy.
“I went to a Yale info session, and the main thing that stuck out to me was just how much money they were offering to students through financial aid,” he said. “For me that was one of the biggest considerations.”
After receiving his financial-aid package in December, which he says covered nearly 90 percent of the total cost, Casasanto left his Harvard application unfinished.
At presstime, with only a few hours left to make her decision, Sur was left to make up her mind based on decidedly less concrete considerations — the differing atmospheres at the two schools and the recommendations of current students.
Pooja Venkatraman, meanwhile — accepted to Yale, Harvard and Princeton — decided to go to Harvard.
Venkatraman, who did not receive financial aid at any of the three schools, instead based her decision on interactions with professors.
“I thought I was totally set on Yale and that it was the rational choice,” she said, “but I ended up going with my gut.”
But for those like Ewert, for whom Yale was always the first choice, the aid reforms were a godsend.
“Yale was my first choice walking into the admissions process, so it made a lot of sense for me to pick it,” he said.