Now that Yale’s sweeping aid reform is out in the open, administrators are saying it nearly matches aid packages presented earlier this year by Harvard and Princeton universities and does so while increasing student flexibility to an unprecedented level.

The aid plan, which will begin in the 2002-2003 school year for all students, will reduce the amount students must contribute to their education by $13,780 over four years, lowering the self-help portion — which comprises term-time work and loans — to $3,900 for all students. The $6.34 million student contribution plan also lowers summer contributions, allowing the new grant money to be used flexibly to cover loans, term-time work or summer work. The plan is coupled with a $1.2 million change to parental contribution that was part of a summer pact with 27 other universities, bringing Yale’s new investment in financial aid to $7.5 million.

“I am just ecstatic about this policy,” Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Shaw said of the plan that was announced by Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead in an e-mail to all students Wednesday morning. “It puts us on a more even keel. … We’re now able to compete with institutions who have come up with more generous policies.”

After Princeton announced it would replace all loans with grants last winter, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College quickly unveiled similar plans to lower the amounts students have to contribute for their education. Yale students have waited anxiously ever since for the University to respond to its peer institutions.

Yale’s plan gives similar amounts of new funding to students as the other schools did — Harvard gave all students $2,000 grants, and Yale is giving underclassmen $2,320 and upperclassmen $4,520 — but goes beyond to offer more flexibility, administrators said.

The plan coins a new phrase, “self effort,” to refer to term-time work, loans and summer employment. Self help does not include summer employment. Yale’s grant money can be used to replace any of the three self-effort components. In contrast, most other schools’ policies — including Yale’s old policy — place summer employment under the “parental contribution,” which means that it is separate from the self-help or the student portion.

This change will allow Yale financial aid students to use the new grant money to replace loans, term-time work or summer work. At both Harvard and Princeton, students cannot generally use their grant money to cover the summer contribution.

“If you absolutely can’t work or can only save half the required amount, you may be allowed to work or borrow more during the year to make up for it,” the Harvard financial aid Web site reads. “You should do your best to make as much money as possible over the summer, sparing yourself extra work during the academic year.”

Yale’s “self-effort” approach, then, is creative, Yale Financial Aid Director Myra Smith said, and more flexible than other plans.

“We’ve explicitly combined term time and summer earnings and loans. [Students] can trade on all three,” Yale President Richard Levin said. “In an era of extra-curricular activities and low-paying summer jobs, I think that makes possible people making their own choices — like taking non-paying internships.”

So now, all in all, Yale’s self-effort portion has been reduced from $7,820 to $5,500 for freshmen, from $8,320 to $5,900 for sophomores, and from $10,420 to $5,900 for juniors and seniors. All Yale aid students will now contribute $3,900 for self-help, or just loans and term-time work study.

Upperclassmen and underclassmen payments now differ only in summer expectations, whereas they used to differ in school year expectations as well, with upperclassmen paying more.

It is difficult to compare these figures to student contributions at Harvard and Princeton, since their plans on self help do not affect summer contribution. Just looking at self-help places Harvard as most generous, Yale next and Princeton last in what the schools expect from students. Harvard expects students to contribute $3,500 from work and loans each year. Yale’s at $3,900, and Princeton expects students to bring in $3,400 to $5,500 — depending on what year they are — from work alone because most Princeton students do not take out loans.

Looking at what Yale alone calls self effort — or term-time work, loans and summer expectation — places Yale at $5,500-$5,900, depending on what year a student is in. Harvard and Princeton’s summer expectations, which are about $2,000, must be added to their self-help portions to compare them to Yale’s self-effort amount. Quick addition of summer expectation at Harvard and Princeton to their self-help portions show that their packages aren’t any better than Yale’s, Yale administrators said.

Whichever plan is best, administrators at Harvard, Princeton and Yale said all of this year’s changes are good for students.

“If Yale makes these changes, it’s good for everyone,” said Sally Donahue, Harvard’s director of financial aid. “They’re going in the right direction.”

Yale administrators said they hope this will be the beginning of a quiet time in the aid arena. Yale, after all, has to juggle expenses to pay for this new $7.5 million feat. But an administrator at Princeton said more changes could be coming.

“There’s not too much more we can do now on the same scale,” said Robyn Moriano, Princeton’s associate director. “But we can do things like make smaller adjustments. I think we’ll next be looking at uses of outside scholarships.”

Whatever’s yet to come, Yale administrators are pleased with their position today.

“It comes back to the ability of a student to make a decision on where he or she wants to go to college on the basis of what he loves rather than the dollars,” Shaw said.