My suitemate gives a frustrated sigh and closes his computer. “I need to get a job,” he says. I sympathize with his plight; finding an on-campus job at Yale as a freshman is not easy, even for students doing work-study. And while being employed has its benefits, the drawbacks can extend to students feeling isolated or unable to pursue other interests.
This year, policy changes issued by the Provost’s Office have capped the University’s contribution — which has traditionally been 50 percent of whatever a student earns — to student wages at $7.50 an hour. If a student earns more than $15 an hour, Yale will retract the entirety of its contribution. In other words, if the history department wants to hire a student at $15 an hour, it’ll only effectively cost them $7.50 an hour. But if they want to give the student a $1 raise, their obligation balloons to the full $16 per hour.
This is a case of Yale searching for that extra penny at the cost of the pound. Students complain that this shift will reinforce the socioeconomic gap between students as those on financial aid are forced to work additional hours. Working on campus consumes a precious resource: time. Students who work five or six hours each week to meet their expected student tuition contributions are limited in the time they can spend doing other things like practicing an instrument or participating in a club. An hour each day might not seem like a whole lot, but it puts pressure on an already busy schedule.
Most students do not secure positions through a traditional job search. Sending emails and filling out forms might be the way to get a job at a Dairy Queen or the local pizza place, but things work differently at Yale. The way to get a job nowadays involves networking and tip-offs from friends. This leaves network-less freshmen with no chance of finding employment.
My experience is an exception that proves the rule. I was lucky to find a job before the school year began, but not through the Yale Student Employment website. On a recommendation from a current student, I contacted a Yale librarian and set up an interview. This summer I drove to New Haven, met with the librarian, and by the start of the semester I was shelving books and cashing paychecks. The process was quick, easy and relatively stress-free.
Those Yalies who must work need to navigate a bewildering and bureaucratic job application process. This process concludes, not with a pat on the back and a pizza party, but with additional work and stress.
Freshman fall is already ripe with confusion — to add a pile of tax-forms and job interviews into the mix seems unnecessarily hard on work-study students. The YSE office is located inconveniently in the basement of a building on Whitney Avenue, the edge of campus. Jobs for freshmen are like exit-visas in the movie Casablanca; everybody wants one but nobody knows where to get one.
Because of this administrative maze, many freshmen do not apply for student jobs until after they arrive on campus. Many wait until the third or fourth week of school to begin the process in earnest. The YSE office did not contact me about applying for an on-campus job. I received no pamphlet titled “So You Want to Be Employed!” Perhaps such an absence of handholding on the part of YSE is good, and learning how to apply for a job on one’s own teaches independence and self-sufficiency. But I would argue that work-study students are given undue stress that more privileged students will never have.
The student job application process is in dire straits. Students, especially freshmen, need advice on the types of jobs they should apply for, a list of necessary paperwork and tips on balancing classes, homework and their job. Every other facet of student life is addressed during the first weeks of school from shopping period to alcohol safety. Why isn’t work-study given the same attention? It seems laughable that a university with a $120 million financial aid budget is so apathetic to working students once they arrive on campus.
Work-study gives perspective, an appreciation for work outside the classroom and an understanding of the value of money. But at what cost are these things learned? What do work-study students lose while gaining these skills? Is Yale doing all it can to help students on financial aid earn the money they need to pay tuition? Perhaps the answer is to create a better support structure for work-study students, or perhaps the answer is buried in a stack of I-9s and W-4s.
Finnegan Schick is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.