During First-Year Scholars at Yale (FSY), a summer program created for first-generation low-income (FGLI) students, I constantly heard people give Yale praise for its commitment to socioeconomic diversity. In my short time here, I’ve already seen how simplistic this view is.
Yale is expensive. And I don’t just mean tuition and fees. Yes, Yale offers generous financial aid that allows me to attend, but that in no way makes the college experience a level playing field. Everyone reading this piece should know the basic costs of college living, whether the expenses are academic or personal. More than just Taco Bell and GHeav sandwiches, there are numerous costs associated with transitioning to college.
Yale seems to recognize this need, as many students on full financial aid are supposed to receive a startup grant. Except the vast majority of my FSY cohort — and many more FGLI students outside of FSY — had to wait multiple weeks into the semester to receive the grant. They set up direct deposit accounts, repeatedly requested the grant online and even pestered the Financial Aid Office through the phone and in person. Miraculously, I was lucky enough to receive mine before shopping period ended. But many students were left waiting.
For many, this waiting period was extremely difficult. Classes had started. Textbooks needed to be bought. Problem sets were due. Course fees had to be paid. If the student grant is earmarked for these expenses, why are students forced to empty their bank accounts before receiving it?
During FSY, all course materials were provided and we received our stipends sufficiently on time. Did the University expect us and our needs to disappear when the summer ended? I’m not being ungrateful — I’m being honest. This isn’t the equivalent of your buttery order taking longer than usual. This is an institution with billions of dollars leaving FGLI students in the dark.
My Italian textbook cost me $170 at the Yale bookstore, and there was no cheaper option because of a required access code. On top of this, my professor told me to purchase the book as soon as possible, ideally by the next class. Coupled with all the other expenses I’d been grappling with, this $170 really stung.
Time and time again, I was told to reach out to Yale for help, to go to a dean or head of college. I was told that they would be more than willing to solve all my problems. And I did just that — I went to my dean. I expressed my concerns about academic costs. Yet I was gently told, “that’s what the student grant is for.” Ah, yes, the illustrious student grant I hadn’t yet received. The same one that everyone I knew was waiting for.
Not everyone has the privilege of being able to afford basic course materials. STEM courses, art supplies, language textbooks; no one is free from academic expenses. I’ve heard Yale be described as a marathon, but how are low-income students expected to run this race when we’ve been given a late start?
The Financial Aid Office has been inconsistent at best in addressing students’ concerns. Staff informed fellow FSY students that they were a little behind this year. Well, many students were “a little behind” on purchasing required course materials because they did not have any money yet. Yale should not be treating its students this way. Next year, FGLI students should receive money needed for course materials by the end of shopping period.
Regardless, the financial aid website markets platitudes such as “affordable” and “for everyone.” If you go to the financial aid website, you’ll see an image of students hard at work with the text, “Make Your Dream of Yale a Reality.” But the truth is, even when dreams come true, they are not affordable for everyone.
Addison Beer is a first year in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at email@example.com .