The spring semester is traditionally full of races for prestigious internships, senior society spots and, perhaps most importantly, summer fellowship funding. A new email seems to appear in my inbox each week announcing a fellowship for research in Israel or language study in Asia. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Yale fellowships do not apply to a critical summer expenditure for the 52 percent of students on financial aid — the summer income contribution.
Freshman year, I was offered a position as a project supervisor in Paraguay for Amigos de las Américas, a program in which I’d participated while in high school. The program would cover the costs of my airfare, food and housing, but the position was unpaid. I looked into the possibility of applying for a Yale fellowship to cover my summer income contribution, the $3,000 portion of my financial aid package meant to be paid with summer earnings. After struggling to find my way through the confusing fellowship website, I found that most fellowships explicitly stated that they could not cover the student income contribution for financial aid.
Yale’s online page of advice on preparing a fellowship budget states, “Fellowships are not intended to cover lost wages from summer employment. However, if you are concerned about the loss of summer earning needed for term-time expenses, you make seek advice at the Office of Student Financial Services.”
I decided to take the website’s advice. I called the financial aid office to discuss my situation, explaining that I wanted to participate in an unpaid summer program that could cover my living expenses. The representative I spoke to gave me three options: Find a way to earn the additional money during the academic year, ask my parents to cover the cost or take out a student loan.
I was a little surprised that loans were presented to me as an option, given that Yale prides itself on its no-loan policy. And the other two options did not seem to be particularly viable. Earning the money during the year on top of the money required through my term-time job would require working around the maximum 20 hours per week, if not more. Doing so would make it very difficult for me to keep up with my academic and extracurricular commitments. Many jobs do not offer students the option of working that many hours, meaning that I would need to pick up multiple jobs. For example, my dining hall job only assigns hours for two or three meals per week to each student associate.
Having my parents cover the additional cost was not an option for me. If the financial aid office is providing families with packages that accurately reflect the amount of money they can afford to contribute, then how would families be able to cover their children’s summer contributions as well?
I ultimately chose to take a paid internship in my hometown of Chicago. It worked out well, but I wish I’d at least had the option to go to Paraguay instead.
The Richter Fellowship is the only Yale fellowship I know of that can be applied to the summer income contribution. There may be others, but the complicated nature of searching for fellowships on Yale’s website has prevented me from finding them. Even the Richter Fellowship specifies that it can only be applied to the summer income contribution “if a project is compelling enough.” The fellowship provides a maximum of $1,000, less than a third of this year’s increased summer contribution.
Yale College Council representative Sara Miller ’16, a photo editor for the News, presented on this issue at Saturday’s Yale College Council meeting. After discussing how Yale’s fellowship policy disadvantages students on financial aid, the Council voted unanimously to approve Miller’s proposal to allow students to put Yale fellowships towards the summer contribution. According to YCC President Danny Avraham ’15, the Council will be conducting additional research before presenting a formal proposal to the financial aid office and Center for International and Professional Experience.
The administration should act on this proposal in time for next year’s fellowship application cycle. The student income contribution is an important financial consideration for over half of the student body, so it stands to reason that fellowships should be able to cover it. This time of year, many students are competing for summer opportunities — but current fellowship policies don’t level the playing field for students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. By revising this policy, Yale will expand summer activity options for a large number of students.
Diana Rosen is a sophomore in Pierson College. Her columns run on Mondays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .