Despite recent improvements to financial aid at the School of Drama, many students say that worries about cost remain prevalent.

In recent years, Yale School of Drama Dean James Bundy has made financial aid one of his main priorities. Five years ago, the average Drama student had to borrow $38,000 for a three-year education, but the expected debt for students entering this fall will drop to about $26,500, Bundy said. Still, many students voiced complaints about the negative effects of mandatory work-study on their studies.

For the 2006-2007 academic year, the tuition and fees for the school totaled $23,610, with another estimated $300 to $1,700 necessary for books and other supplies and $13,000 for off-campus living expenses. Today, about 85 percent of Drama School students receive financial aid, Bundy said, including loans and grants. All students, whether they receive financial aid or not, are required to participate in work-study, which typically takes the form of theater-related jobs, Snehal Desai DRA ’08 said. The minimum work-study contribution for all students is $2,000.

Deputy Dean Victoria Nolan said financial aid has been one of the school’s top priorities since Bundy became dean five years ago.

“Financial aid has been a hallmark of [Bundy’s] administration — he’s really committed tremendous energies to it,” Nolan said. “We would love to be able to do what the music school has done and announce that we can be tuition-free.”

Jeffrey Rogers DRA ’07 said he agrees that financial aid is improving.

“Financial aid for School of Drama students has gotten better every year that I have been here,” Rogers said. “Perhaps in 10 or 15 years, there will be enough money in need-based grants that students won’t need to take out any money in federal loans.”

But in spite of the recent improvements in aid, some students said the cost of drama school is still daunting.

“Even with the loans and financial aid packages they provide, many of my peers have to take out additional loans to make ends meet,” Desai said. “It’s hard for us to have to deal with so many loans when many other graduate students at Yale are graduating debt-free.”

While Desai is on a fellowship that covers a portion of his educational costs, he said, he knows many of his peers have to worry about funding.

The grant-to-loan ratio of financial aid packages at the School of Drama increases each year, so students incur more debt for their first years of school than they do in later years. In the first year, students are expected to take out $14,000 in loans, which decreases to $12,500 for the second year and $3,500 for the third year.

Other Yale graduate students, like those at the School of Music and doctoral students at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, do not have to pay for tuition, and doctoral candidates even receive stipends to cover their living expenses. In the fall of 2005, the School of Music received an anonymous $100 million donation that allows all students to attend the school for free.

Jennifer Shaw DRA ’09 said the unpredictability of theater careers increases students’ anxiety about their loans.

“I think a general unease towards money is an unfortunately guaranteed condition for an artist — theater is not known as a particularly stable job for most of its workers, so I think most of us are prepared to handle the dread of taking out loans,” she said.

But Yale is known as one of the best drama programs in the country, Shaw said, so students hope that the prestige of their alma mater will translate into career success.

“To a large degree we’re paying for what’s known as one of the best — if not the best — theater programs in the country,” she said. “Yale’s a brand name, and I think we’re all counting on trading on that name to some degree to hopefully earn enough money to pay them back.”

In addition to loans and grants, work-study also adds to the financial aid package for students. Bundy said the required work-study offers students an opportunity to become more versed in areas of the theater profession outside their concentration, such as a dramaturgy student ushering for a Yale Repertory Theater show.

“Work-study at YSD/YRT supports a scale of production at the School and the Rep that enhances artistic opportunities for students in all disciplines of the theatre,” Bundy said in an e-mail.

Rogers said his work-study job, which includes such varied tasks as serving as the artistic director of the Yale Cabaret and building sets for shows, helps him gain a more well-rounded education. Rogers normally studies dramaturgy, which typically does not require technical work like hanging lights.

“The Drama School is at once a place of learning and a place of doing,” Rogers said. “The doing part of that equation requires that a large amount of production-related work get done.”

But Desai said the work-study requires so much time that even if a student is assigned to a position that directly relates to his or her interests, his or her studies are bound to suffer.

“In most cases, due to the sheer volume of work-study hours we do each year, regardless of what the assignment is, it ends up hurting us in our class work and production work since we spend so many hours being on run crew for a show,” Desai said. “Work-study assignments and the number of hours we are assigned each year are definitely some of the biggest complaints in the Drama School by far.”

But Bundy said most students are able to balance the demands of school and work successfully.

“Occasionally, a work-study assignment will distract a student from an important element of his or her training, but the overwhelming majority of our students are, or become, excellent managers of their time and commitments,” he said.

The School of Drama has a need-blind admissions policy.