ROSEN: For more equitable financial aid

Looking left

With shopping period in full swing, Yale students are overwhelmed with seemingly impossible decisions. But for around half of Yale students, an even bigger question lurks: how to earn almost $3,000 this summer for my financial aid plan.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of Yale financial aid. I think it’s absolutely incredible that Yale has given so many students, including me, the opportunity to attend college at an affordable price. Still, I think Yale can do better.

Last year, students on financial aid were expected to contribute $2,900 in summer earnings towards their education. In the age of unpaid internships — and even worse, paying placement companies to obtain unpaid internships — earning money over the summer as an undergraduate is difficult.

As a financial aid recipient starting to make plans for my first college summer, I found myself incredibly limited by the student income contribution. Beyond the difficulty in obtaining a paid position outside of Yale’s gates, I found that looking within Yale to finance my summer plans was problematic as well. Many Yale fellowships specify that they cannot be used to cover the student income contribution. Additionally, many expensive international programs warn students not to commit unless they are confident that they can pay the full price without a fellowship award, since fellowship results frequently arrive later in the semester.

I spoke to a financial aid representative about my options going into the summer, and I was given three choices: Find a way to earn the money. Ask my parents to cover the additional cost. Take out a student loan.

Granted, most Yale students could find a way to earn $2,900 over the summer. National minimum wage is $7.25, so working 30 hours a week for 15 weeks would cover the contribution. The problem, however, is that most Yale students also hope to use their summers to expand their educational horizons, not just earn cash by mindlessly scooping ice cream.

College summers should be treated just as the fall and spring semesters are: a time for education and growth. Summer internships and travel experiences are factors taken into consideration by employers and graduate schools. One of the main reasons that Yalies take their summer plans so seriously is that they know their choices could have serious implications in the future.

Yes, parents could opt to cover their child’s summer earning costs, but if Yale is truly asking families to contribute the amount they can afford, chances are they don’t have an extra couple thousand dollars sitting around.  Although the Yale Admissions website proudly boasts that students are not expected to take out loans, financial aid recipients who wish to pursue unpaid opportunities over the summer may be left with no other option.

The net effect of the summer income contribution is that lower-income students are forced to limit their summer experiences to ones that will return substantial paychecks. Yes, Yale is giving these students the fantastic opportunity to attend the University at a reduced cost, but what’s the point of doing that if their opportunities will be limited once they arrive? I haven’t even touched on the term-time job component of Yale financial aid plans, which sucks 10 hours a week out of extracurricular and academic pursuits. If Yale genuinely wants to open the door for these students, they should reform the student financial aid requirements, allowing students to fully take advantage of everything the University has to offer during the school year and unpaid summer opportunities.

Yale’s International Summer Award program does help finance one summer abroad for financial aid recipients, but it is limited to specific programs and fellowship awardees. Much more than this one program can, and should, be done to alleviate the problem of the student income contribution. Some immediate solutions could be expanding the number of fellowships that can cover the student contribution and moving fellowship deadlines up so that the results are known in time for students to commit to summer plans.

In the future, given that Yale’s endowment is greater than the GDP of many countries, the financial aid budget can be expanded. Even just by looking at our favorite Cambridge peer, we can see that it’s possible. According to Harvard’s net price calculator, students are expected to contribute only $1,600 in summer earnings each year, little more than half of what is expected at Yale.

It’s time for Yale to stop putting financial aid recipients at a disadvantage every summer and to start granting them the full experience of a Yale education — 365 days a year — that they earned with their admission.

Diana Rosen is a freshman in Pierson College. She is an Online Blogger for the News. Her print column runs monthly. Contact her at diana.rosen@yale.edu.

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