Seven weeks into the fall semester, many students on financial aid still have yet to receive their refund checks from the Yale Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid, despite requesting them at the beginning of the term.
Each semester, students on financial aid can request a refund check for the money that is left over in their financial aid package after tuition and fees have been paid. Students often rely on this money for books, laptops and other school-related expenses. But this semester, many students have still not received their checks, and of those who have, many have not received the full amount.
According to Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Scott Wallace-Juedes, the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid has no reason to believe there is a widespread problem with refund checks. He told the News that students might not have gotten their checks because outside scholarships are still processing or because students have not filled out all of their financial aid forms. He also said that COVID-19 has forced the office to recalculate some of the packages, to account for the new calendar and students living in residence or at home. Wallace-Juedes said that these reasons could explain the delays.
“This year has been an anomaly for lots of different reasons and in lots of different ways,” Wallace-Juedes said. “And I know that is probably an overused statement, but I think it is very much true for financial aid as well.”
Joaquin Estevez ’24, who is on the $0 parent contribution financial aid package, requested his full refund in mid-August. Estevez never heard back from the financial aid office and ended up paying out of pocket for all his expenses in the first months of school. Estevez told the News that this was initially not a problem, as he had planned to save his refund check and use money from his job to pay for these expenses. But in early October, a family issue left him in need of extra funds, at which point he filled out a safety net proposal once again requesting the refund check. He has not yet received a response from the Office of Financial Aid.
Estevez told the News that his story is not an isolated situation. He is a member of a GroupMe for First-Generation Low-Income students in which he said refund checks have been a large topic of conversation. In an informal poll conducted in the GroupMe last week, 43 students said that they had not received their refund check yet, while only seven said that they had.
“I would say for me, I’m someone who is always on top of their finances,” Estevez said. “But I also am conscious that not everyone, most people aren’t where I’m at in terms of that. So for other people, I know this is a very strong issue. It was also beneficial that all of my books, all except for two of them, I was able to get online. I know for me if I’m missing a dollar, there’s already an issue. So 60 dollars or more [for a textbook] is just unimaginable.”
Fatoumata Soumare ’24, who is also on the $0 parent contribution financial aid package, had similar issues getting her refund check. After fixing some mistaken information on her financial aid forms, she did eventually get a check, but it was only for 75 percent of the amount she had requested. She has since put in a request for a second refund, and has not yet heard anything from the financial aid office.
Because of the delay receiving her check, Soumare paid for her textbooks out of pocket. Her check was also supposed to include a grant for a laptop, which she ended up buying using her own money. Soumare said she was “really lucky” to have worked a job over the summer, otherwise she would not have been able to cover the expenses while she waited for her check.
“I know that it’s very hectic and busy right now,” Soumare said. “But I feel like I would have liked more transparency into how to get my refund check. Because [FGLI students] are just all frantically texting like ‘have you guys gotten your refund checks yet?’ And very few people have gotten their full refund.”
Soumare said that she has friends in all class years who have not received their check. One of them, Chidima Anekwe ’24, also told the News that she has heard nothing from the financial aid office since submitting her refund request during the first week of classes.
Anekwe said that because she did not receive her check and had to pay for textbooks out of pocket, she now has to be very conservative with her spending. She said that she often skips nights out or other activities that require spending money.
“It definitely has an effect not only on how I’m operating — it has affected me socially too because I’m just trying to be very, very mindful of the way I spend my money until I get that check,” Anekwe said.
Wallace-Juedes said that his office is working hard to account for all the changing factors stemming from the pandemic — the changes in Yale’s calendar, locations where students reside, availability of outside scholarships and number of students enrolled.
He said these factors can slow the office down, but that students should reach out if they still have not received their refund, and the office will prioritize them.
“We’re working really hard right now,” Wallace-Juedes said. “And we have prioritized high-need students, first-generation low-income students …We will do everything we can to get the remaining refunds out as soon as possible.”
According to the Yale Student Accounts website, a refund check will be processed after classes for the applicable term have started, a student’s anticipated aid has been received and credited to the student’s account and — if the imbalance is due to an overpayment — 30 days have passed since that payment was made.
Amelia Davidson | firstname.lastname@example.org