In the spring of 2014, after withdrawing from Yale the previous fall, Stewart McDonald ’15 enrolled at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
He began taking classes in his hometown because he was required by Yale’s regulations to complete two term courses. McDonald said that while help from family members made the financial cost of a semester at a private university more manageable, the amount he spent for SMU classes was more than he has ever spent at Yale over the course of his four years here.
The expenses of being a full-time Yale student are well known, ranging from tuition to textbooks to meal plans. But for some students who withdraw from the University, a less expected, heavier financial burden awaits.
As part of a wider campus discussion surrounding Yale’s policies on withdrawal and readmission, many students have criticized University regulations that they say complicate the process of temporarily leaving school for medical reasons. Conversations often center on the technicalities and stigmas associated with the withdrawal process itself.
However, some students who have experienced the withdrawal process firsthand also voiced concerns about what happens after the decision to take time off and the financial costs associated with trying to return.
According to the withdrawal and readmission policies outlined in Yale’s Undergraduate Regulations, students who withdraw after the 10th day of a term can receive only a partial rebate on their tuition, room and board for that semester — 50 percent for those who withdraw in the first quarter and 25 percent for those who withdraw in the second quarter. Students who withdraw after midterm are not entitled to any reimbursement of tuition.
Students who later wish to be readmitted to Yale College must meet certain requirements before they are eligible to apply. Any withdrawn student not in good academic standing — which includes any student who left while the semester was in progress, even for medical reasons — is required to complete two term courses, either through Yale Summer Session or at another college or university, to prove that he or she has been “constructively occupied” and is ready to return to Yale.
Applicants for readmission must also complete several in-person interviews with the members of the Committee on Readmission — interviews which, according to the Undergraduate Regulations, are usually conducted “just prior to the beginning of the term to which the student is seeking readmission.”
After readmission, students who will be able to complete their graduation requirements in eight terms will regain their financial aid eligibility. However, during the first term back, the student will receive less gift assistance than usual.
Students who apply for a ninth term are normally not eligible for additional financial aid.
Some students interviewed pointed to these regulations as a source of significant financial burden, while others emphasized Yale’s generosity and flexibility in the readmissions process. But all students revealed a process that is inconsistent, confusing and lacking in communication from the University.
When McDonald withdrew from Yale in the fall of 2013, he said, it was never clear to him what remaining “constructively occupied” meant. McDonald said administrators provided confusing and incomplete answers that made it difficult to know what kind of work or study program would satisfy the requirements, especially since he was barred from applying to many Yale programs due to his status as a non-Yale student.
In addition to the two courses at SMU, McDonald said, he was unsure whether he also needed to find an internship or additional work to fully satisfy the readmission requirements. The uncertainty about his readmission not only caused added stress but also increased the financial burden of his education.
“The lack of clear requirements is what makes you spend all this money because you never know if you’re fulfilling the requirements [the University] is setting,” McDonald said. “It’s the cost of things you have to pay for before you know if you’re readmitted, and the cost of being constructively occupied despite not having the resources of [a Yale student] to be constructively occupied.”
Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi said that when students withdraw and take courses at another institution, they should apply for financial aid through that institution.
But Alexa Little ’16, who was readmitted this past fall, said that when she took two courses at the University of Pittsburgh, she was unable to obtain financial aid from that school because she was not a fully enrolled student. Little finds it unlikely that any institution that withdrawn students choose to attend would provide financial aid to them, she said.
“I called both Yale’s financial aid office and the University of Pittsburgh’s financial aid office, and both said that it would be the other one who would pay for [my classes],” she said.
Ultimately, Little said, her parents paid for the classes out of pocket, and she eventually paid them back.
The summer before he was readmitted, McDonald returned to New Haven to take summer classes at Yale and received partial financial aid. The summer classes and accompanying financial aid at Yale are available to any student at any university. McDonald said he was lucky because being in New Haven that summer also meant that, unlike other withdrawn students he knew, he would not have to fly back and forth to attend the meetings and interviews that were part of the readmission process.
When it came time for McDonald to make a down payment for his off-campus apartment, he still had not received confirmation of his readmission for the fall 2014 semester. That notification did not officially come until Aug. 13, just two weeks before the start of the term. While this timeline is consistent with the University’s stated readmission policy, McDonald said it forced him to commit to an apartment lease he was not sure he would need.
Little echoed McDonald’s concerns about the late notice of readmission. Her readmission interviews were conducted, as stated in University policy, near the end of the summer, and she also did not receive notice that she had been accepted for the fall term until Aug. 13. Her parents had to take time off work and rearrange their schedules in order to drive her back to campus, Little said.
Mark Kantrowitz — an expert on student financial aid, scholarships and student loans — said other obstacles in returning to school, like relearning study habits, are more difficult when financial burdens are added to the mix. Kantrowitz said issues regarding the cost of readmission are not unique to Yale, and that financial commitments like paying for housing can be “frightening before you know whether you’re actually going to be able to return.”
Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs for Yale College and chair of the Readmissions Committee Pamela George did not respond to specific questions about students’ complaints regarding the cost of withdrawal and readmission. However, she said the Readmissions Committee takes students’ finances into account.
“Whenever a student has presented a financial hardship, the committee has done all we can to accommodate the student, and in some cases we have waived or lessened financial requirements,” George wrote in an email to the News.
HIT AND MISS
Ian Akers ’14, who withdrew from Yale College twice — once in 2010 and once in 2012 — was one of the students for whom the requirements were lessened.
While Little said she was explicitly told she had to take the required two courses at an accredited four-year institution, not at a community college or online, Akers said he told his residential college dean that he could only afford to do so at a community college and was subsequently allowed to do so.
Yale’s withdrawal policies state that courses taken to fulfill readmission requirements should be cleared in advance with George or the applicant’s residential college dean.
Little said she is not surprised to hear of such wide variation across application of the policies. While Akers was permitted to take classes at a community college, Little claimed her residential college’s dean denied her the same permission.
Akers added that while Yale’s policies guarantee each student only eight semesters of financial aid, the University offered him two additional semesters of full financial aid to complete his education.
“When I [first] came [to Yale], they agreed to give me eight semesters,” Akers said. “They gave me 10. That’s another $50,000.”
While the Undergraduate Regulations state that readmitted students applying for financial aid will receive “less gift assistance than usual” in their first term back, Akers said that, to his knowledge, he received the same amount of aid as before.
He acknowledged that there were certain financial complications that came with withdrawal — for example, withdrawn students lose access to Yale Health Insurance, meaning that Akers had to pay for his own insurance. But overall, Akers said, the costs in his particular situation were not overly burdensome and were mitigated by Yale’s generous financial aid.
“I think a lot of people think it’s this really terrible process, and part of it is intimidating and scary, but a lot of it is not necessarily Yale doing anything wrong,” he said. “I certainly didn’t feel like Yale owed me anything.”
One currently withdrawn student, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, said that while their cost of readmission was ultimately manageable, it was not clear from the outset that this would be the case.
The student, who is on full financial aid, said they were originally told they could not take the required classes at a community college — a rule that would have rendered their two classes at an outside institution much more expensive than a semester at Yale. Initially, the student said, they thought they might have needed to take an additional semester off in order to support themselves and their younger brother, who will be starting college next year.
But after speaking with George, the student said, they were given permission to take classes at community college.
While this solution is significantly cheaper than taking classes at a four-year university, the expenses still do not seem fully necessary, the student said. The student will not receive any Yale credit for the courses. They are essentially only to fulfill the “constructively occupied” requirement, the student said.
“They’re joke classes, and they seem a little bit like a waste because they’re not being used for anything,” the student said. “The classes I ended up settling on are essentially only due to circumstance.”
Rather than simply requiring two course credits, the University should allow for more flexibility in what students choose to undertake, the student said.
George acknowledged that the readmission process is due for re-evaluation.
“As the number of withdrawals have increased over the last few years, I think it wise to reflect and reconsider our policies,” she said. “I look forward to further input and dialogue.”