“What is ‘Durfee’s’ and why do you spend so much money there?”

That is a question most freshmen will likely hear during a call home as parents examine the bill from Yale. But explaining to parents how bursar billing works and exactly why frozen yogurt from Durfee’s Sweet Shoppe — a campus convenience store — is a necessity at 1 a.m. is only part of navigating the tricky business of financing four years at Yale.

Nearly 40 percent of undergraduates receive financial aid in some combination of loans, grants and work-study contribution. Some of these aid recipients are international students, who also take out loans — though usually from different sources than domestic students — and work.

Many students who help foot the bill said working a campus job or accumulating student debt is well worth what they get in return — four great years at Yale.

Away from New Haven

While buying wool sweaters, packing up the room, and exchanging e-mail addresses with friends, a lot of new Yalies will be spending the summer earning money for tuition and other Yale expenses.

For students awarded financial aid, the standard summer income contribution expectation is $1,800 for freshmen and $2,300 for upperclassmen. That’s the amount Yale’s financial aid office asks students to contribute to their tuition payment each year from a summer job.

Most students also need some of their summer money to spend when they get to New Haven. Financial aid officials estimate that students will need about $2,370 next year for books and personal expenses like laundry, clothing and various activities.

Any money students receive from outside scholarships, such as a National Merit Scholarship or a grant from a community organization, may be put toward reducing a student’s financial contribution.

Last summer, Jennifer Kessel ’04 was able to save her summer income for expenses while at school by using $2,000 from three different scholarships to replace her summer income contribution.

“I taught gymnastics and worked at a car wash, and whatever money I made I used for spending [at Yale],” Kessel said.

But this summer, Kessel will have to direct her income for tuition because her outside scholarships lasted only one year.

“I think this summer everything is going to Yale,” Kessel said.

Other students also said they found alternative ways to cover the summer income requirement.

“I think they asked for $1,600 [from my summer earnings], which was way more than I could pay,” Desiree Vargas ’04 said. Vargas’ grandfather helped pay that amount, and she put her summer money into savings.

Earning money at school

Students are also expected to continue contributing money while they are at school.

“Self-help” is the amount the financial aid office expects a student to fund with work-study earnings and student loans. Next year, freshman and sophomores have to contribute $6,020 in self-help. Federal loan programs dole out more money to upperclassmen, so Yale juniors and seniors are expected to come up with $8,120. Students decide how to divide that sum between loans and work.

About 2,000 undergraduates work on campus during the year in dining halls, libraries, residential college masters’ offices, labs, computer clusters and paid community service jobs. Some of these working students do not receive financial aid but opt to earn money while on campus to help with expenses, often funding things like pizza and parties.

Some students say their work is an opportunity to do cool things around campus. Kessel spent the first semester of her freshman year as an usher at the Yale Bowl.

“It was good because you got to see the football games,” Kessel said.

Nneka Umeh ’04 also said her work was interesting. She worked at the Yale Endowment Office looking up potential donors and doing database entry.

“When I got there, it was good,” Umeh said. But she said that sometimes she regretted that her work took time away from doing other things.

Christopher Jordan ’04 worked with the America Reads program, a federally subsidized program that pays college students to tutor.

“It was great,” Jordan said of his work-study experience with America Reads. “It was something I would have done for free [anyway].”

Borrow now, pay later

The second half of a student’s self-help contribution often comes in the form of student loans. U.S. students take out federal Stafford Loans, and some also borrow federal Perkins or Plus loans.

With these federally subsidized loans, the government pays the interest on them until six months after the student graduates. Then, the student begins to pay the money back.

Typically Yale students on financial aid graduate with $17,125 in debt, meaning they will need to make payments of about $200 a month for ten years.

Many students said they are not overly concerned about their post-graduation debt.

“I think about it from time to time, but overall I’m not too worried about it,” Kyle Brooks ’04 said. “I figure with the education I’m getting, I’ll be able to get a good job and take care of it before it gets to be too much.”

Jordan said although the thought of student debt may bother him, there is not much he can do about it.

“When I first got here, I was really worried about loans, but now it’s like, just give me the loans, whatever,” Jordan said.

Even though the Yale bill may look big and scary, many students said paying it does not dominate their day to day life at Yale.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Umeh said.