Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer

Yale’s winter clothing grant, which offers students up to $300 to purchase clothes for the cold, is once again in high demand as colder weather sets in. 

In less than a week since the portal for the grant opened on Oct. 3, over 100 requests have been submitted. Yale College assistant dean Rebekah Westphal told the News that the percentage of students who have their requests approved is likely to be the same as last year’s — nearly 60 percent. 

Still, the grant’s eligibility requirements and selection process have led to concern over the accessibility of financial resources at Yale for first-generation, low-income students. The News spoke to five students about applying for the grant and the challenges they have faced while doing so.

“From conversations I’ve had with my fellow FGLI Yalies, it’s notoriously difficult to apply [to] and be granted the fund,” said Hedy Tung ’24, who currently serves as the president of the Yale First Gen and Low-Income Advocacy Movement. 

Offered primarily to first-year and sophomore students, the Winter Clothing Grant is a Dean’s Office service that can be applied toward coats, scarves, pants and shoes that fall under the category of winter garments. 

The $300, up $25 from last year’s grant, reflects the maximum amount that a student can obtain. Students can submit an application through the Safety Net portal from October through January, and are then connected with an FGLI Community Initiative staff member if their request is approved.

According to Safety Net, preference is given to “high-need students unfamiliar with winter weather,” though previous applicants to the grant suggest that there is a hidden curriculum when navigating the application process. 

“When you come into Yale as an FGLI or QuestBridge student, you are met with program directors and admissions officers who warm us up and make us feel good about coming to Yale by talking about things like the Safety Net and the Winter Clothing Grant,” Joanna Ruiz ’25 said. “But then you come here and there are a lot of unsaid roadblocks about these programs.”

Westphal told the News that preference is given to high-need students who did not receive the start-up grant — an additional $2000 scholarship that may be used to cover costs associated with starting college — in their financial aid package.

But students eligible for the start-up grant are usually the ones on full financial aid and most susceptible to not being able to pay for their winter wear, Tung told the News.

When asked about student concerns, Westphal explained that the Office of Student Engagement responds to most requests within five business days and provides clear guidelines on how to receive and use funds. 

Ruiz secured a $275 grant last year, purchasing a set of winter clothes that she had not owned before moving to New Haven from Florida. But she advocated for a “better-developed” process of fund distribution” to accommodate the “ongoing” nature of the FGLI experience.

Winterwear can be expensive, she said, meaning one grant is often enough for just one set. Students shouldn’t be “expected to only have one coat and one set of pants for the entire winter months,” Ruiz said. 

Ruiz also noted that a one-time grant does not account for weight fluctuations and changing bodies that can impact a student’s need for new clothing.

For Mariah Najera ’25, who also received the grant as a first year, her home state of Rhode Island poses a different kind of problem: having her request approved by the Safety Net in the first place.

Because the grant prioritizes students “unfamiliar with winter weather,” Najera said older students told her that students from the Northeast are often denied the grant. She was advised by older students to “craft a story” to dramatize her financial situation in order to increase her likelihood of receiving the money.

Denied requests typically include suggestions for options to consider, Westphal wrote. But Lusangelis Ramos ’25, who was denied the clothing grant, said that reaching out for other options can have varied results; an acquaintance was able to receive monetary assistance after a request to their head of college, Ramos said, while a similar request to her own head of college was denied. 

Safety Net recommended that she use her existing refund from the University to purchase some winter wear — to which Ramos wondered, “Then, what’s the point of the Safety Net in the first place?” 

This refund, which is typically offered to students on full aid who have also accumulated outside scholarships or participated in certain academic programs at Yale College, could have been delegated for other expenses, she said.  

Tony Wang ’25, who identifies as a low-income student, said that the Winter Clothing Grant would still alleviate significant financial burden for FGLI students who have outside scholarships and funds, as those scholarships can then be used for other purposes. The administration should not assume that clothing — or any one facet of living —  is the only difficult expense confronting low-income students, he said.

Ruiz suggested that resources at Yale, such as regular newsletters, blur the diverse experiences captured by the FGLI label. According to Ruiz, failure to recognize that the campus FGLI community is not a “monolith” results in a program that, while well-intentioned, may leave some students behind.

Najera said that her participation in student-led FGLI campus mentorship groups played an integral role during the application process. Her mentors sat down with the applicants and made everyone fill out the form “at the same time,” which she said helped deconstruct one of the most difficult parts of any application process for students unfamiliar with Yale’s hidden curricula: knowing where to find the application and starting it.

Oftentimes, organizations like YFAM serve as the sole mediator of contact between FGLI students and the administrative end, Najera said. 

“The truth is, Yale will give you money if you need it,” Najera said. “You just have to know that they can give you money, and if you’re not in spaces that cater to FGLI students, you might go without knowing about these resources.” 

Applications for the Winter Clothing grant close in January.

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!