The financial aid office has already started building files for this year’s early admission applicants, some of whom will eventually receive a financial aid award letter along with a letter of acceptance.

But exactly what these award letters will say is still unknown, said Myra Smith, the director of undergraduate financial aid.

A decrease in the required total student contribution — part of a massive financial aid overhaul announced in September — will allow students flexibility in determining how to fulfill the self-help portion of their aid packages. The office is working to ensure that these choices do not confuse entering freshmen, and during a retreat today directors will consider how best to communicate self-help options to the Class of 2006, Smith said.

Still considering input from various sources, Smith said she has “ten pages of wacky recommendations” from students and financial aid officers about how to publicize the new choices freshmen will have.

The reforms reduce each student’s expected self-help contribution. Beginning in the fall of 2002, students will be expected to contribute $3,900 each year, a significant decrease from the current expected contributions of $6,020 for freshmen and sophomores and $8,120 for juniors and seniors.

“We’re not in the business of telling everyone about the new plan,” Smith said. “Our concern is with implementing it on a student-by-student basis. Every student comes to us a little different than the others.”

Under the old plan, Smith said, financial aid award letters recommended the same three components of self-help to all freshmen: a Stafford loan, a Perkins loan and employment on campus. While students had freedom to deviate from this suggestion and build their own packages, the financial aid office made their recommendation clear.

But the financial aid office has yet to decide if it will make such a clear recommendation this year.

With a decreased self-help obligation, Smith said students will now be able to pick and choose from available options.

Some may decide to meet their self-help through work-study alone, while others may rely entirely on loans, Smith said. And then there is the range of options between these two extremes.

“I can’t really tell [which options students will pick] because I don’t have a sense of students here yet,” said Smith, who came to Yale last year from Smith College.

Smith said returning students are used to making such decisions because they map out their self-help contributions for annual aid applications.

But for entering freshmen, the process is a new one.

“Part of the problem is that they are new and they don’t know what they are going to want to do,” Smith said.

At a meeting last week, Smith said Yale College Council representatives recommended an award letter that suggests several ways to meet self-help requirements.

Diane Torre, one of six full-time financial aid counselors, said the counselors make recommendations to Smith in weekly meetings. Torre said the counselors, who frequently talk to students, have stressed that simplicity of paperwork is key.

“I always say there are two kinds of education involved at this University: that [which] the students get, and then the education parents get from taking care of all the forms,” Torre said.

Smith said that finding a way to express clearly all options to students is on the agenda for the retreat, which will take place at the home of another administrator, and that she is personally and professionally glad for the opportunity to get out of the office.

“It’s hard to plan where there is work to do,” said Smith, “I hope we come out with some ideas, but if nothing else, I’ll be glad to have the chance to wear blue jeans.”