Phuc Duong, Contributing Photographer

When Ivana Ñique ’26 submitted her financial aid application in April, she hoped that she would not have to deal with the financial aid office again until next year. But now, five months later, she has yet to receive her final aid package.

The News spoke with four students who expressed frustration with the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid. Among their grievances were difficulty getting in touch with the office, slow and misleading messaging and unnecessary late fees and financial holds. Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, said that staff turnover, a leadership transition and a record number of financial aid applicants were responsible for the office’s slow response times.

“The reality is that no one wants to be calling the financial aid office,” Ñique said in an interview with the News. “People call there for help. They call in order to access this institution that they got into, and to experience it in a way that prevents them from going into debt. But unfortunately, on the off chance that we are able to get in touch with the office, we get these unhelpful responses. It’s stressful.”

“Ignored emails and calls”

Ñique told the News that she first submitted her financial aid application, with all required documents completed, on April 12 — over a month before the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid’s May 19 priority deadline and three months before the July 31 tuition due date. 

Still, she wanted to remain in touch with the office to ensure that any problems with her documents were resolved before she left for her summer study abroad program. But she did not receive any communication from the office until June 5, when she was informed that there was an issue with one of her documents. 

By this point, she was already overseas and unable to communicate directly with the financial aid office.

While abroad, Ñique said that her mother repeatedly called the office in hopes of sorting out the problem, but that she had difficulty getting in touch with any member of the office. When she or her mother did get in touch with the office, Ñique described being met with hostility.

“The only way that I’ve seen that I’ll get an answer is if I’m just kind of annoyingly persistent,” Ñique said. “That means I’ll call every afternoon for a week, if I have to, just to get in touch with an officer. If you don’t call at least three times a week, I doubt that any communication will be done with the financial aid office. It’s a shame.”

Holly Sexton ’24 expressed similar grievances with the office. She told the News that, due to extenuating circumstances, she had to submit her financial aid application a month late this year. Because her application was late, she said, she wanted to maintain regular contact with the office, in order to be proactive about any problems with her documents. 

But her requests for updates on her financial aid package went unanswered, she told the News. She said that this has been a recurring issue throughout her time at Yale. 

“I tried emailing, and I would get no response,” Sexton told the News. “I called the number listed on the website, during business hours, and I couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I think, in all four years that I’ve been here, whenever I’ve tried to call the office, I’ve never had anybody pick up.”

Viktor Kagan ’24 has been on aid all four years at Yale. Because of past issues with the office, he told the News, he submitted his documents in the winter this year, months before the deadline.

When Kagan received a status update that said there were problems with some of his documents, he said that he contacted the office frequently to try to resolve the issue, but did not hear back.

“They simply ignored emails and calls,” he wrote in a message to the News.

On the “contact us” page of their website, the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid presents four ways for students to get in touch with their staff: via email, phone, an in-person drop-in or a pre-scheduled virtual appointment.

In an email to the News, Kari DiFonzo, the new director of undergraduate financial aid, echoed these options, specifically emphasizing the virtual option.

“I encourage students and families to reach out to the office with questions or concerns about anything related to financing their Yale education,” DiFonzo wrote. “Our financial aid staff are available over the phone, via walk-ins at 246 Church Street, and by virtual appointment over Zoom. These Zoom meetings are often the easiest way to resolve issues and answer questions, especially when students are away from campus during the summer.”

For some students, the email and phone options have proved to be a sufficient means of getting in touch with the office. Maya Fonkeu ’25 told the News that in the few times she has reached out to the office, she has always gotten a response.

Ñique and Sexton both said that, while they have had difficulty contacting the office, they have been successful in getting in touch with specific aid officers via pre-scheduled virtual appointments. 

Both students said that, after finding one officer who has been helpful, they have tried to sidestep the office’s general contact forums, instead opting to reach out to this officer directly and request a Zoom meeting.

Sexton said that, while Zoom is the best option, she often has to wait over a week to secure an appointment to speak to any member of the office.

Ultimately, according to Sexton and Ñique, dealing with unresponsiveness from the financial aid office adds another layer to an already stressful Yale experience.

“Over the course of my time here, it’s definitely been a major stressor, both for me and for my family,” Sexton said. “It’s sometimes hard to get other work done. I often have to rearrange my schedule to find a time that works in order to get the very specific Zoom meetings set up with an officer.”

Incurring late fees and financial holds

In addition to the reported difficulty contacting the financial aid office, students also expressed dissatisfaction with the office’s messaging surrounding missing application documents and appeal requests.

Nearly four months after she submitted her application, and two months after she was informed that she had missing documents, Ñique received her initial financial aid package Aug. 1. Within a week after receiving this package, she requested a review of her aid award, since she did not think her family could afford the initial package. 

According to the financial aid office’s website, students may request a review of their initial aid package if “the amounts listed on the award letter do not accurately reflect [their] family’s financial need” or ability to contribute to their education.

Ñique told the News that she has yet to hear back about any updates on the status of her request for review. 

During the time in which she has waited for an appeal decision, Ñique explained, her account has incurred two late fees, with a third to be added Oct. 1. 

“Two months have passed with no further updates from the financial aid office. It has been a simple waiting game of calling the office and asking if there are any updates for the past eight weeks, and there have been none,” she told the News.

Fonkeu told the News that, while she never had any difficulty getting in touch with the financial aid office, she often experienced miscommunication and “unhelpful” responses.

Like Sexton, Fonkeu submitted her financial aid application late due to personal circumstances. She said that she submitted all of her required documents by the end of June. 

As the July deadline to pay tuition approached, she called the office to verify that all necessary materials were turned in. According to Fonkeu, on this phone call, she was told that the whole application was received and was currently under review. Also on this call, the office told her that her late fee would be waived since her financial aid package was not released before the due date.

According to Yale’s student accounts website, if term charges are not paid by the due date, students will receive a late fee of $125 per month, or up to $375 per semester.

When Fonkeu opened her inbox in early August, she saw an email from the financial aid office saying that there were “minor typos” in some of her documents and that the office had “clarifying questions” about her application. She said that she quickly resubmitted all of the flawed documents and was told that, as long as she explained her situation, she would not incur a late fee. 

But, Fonkeu said, there is currently a late fee on her account.

“They didn’t communicate everything that they needed from me until after the deadline had passed to pay for fall tuition,” Fonkeu said. “And even when I explained my situation to them, they said I would still have to incur the late fees. It’s really annoying because in the prior conversation that I had with them, they said that I would get my late fee waived.”

In an email to the News, Quinlan said that the office sent three messages to students with missing application requirements between the end of June and the beginning of September. He added that, according to the office’s records, any student who submitted an appeal request by the end of July in order to give the financial aid committee time to consider the appeal did not incur a late fee.

Like Fonkeu, Kagan — who submitted his initial financial aid application months before the July deadline — received communication about missing documents over the summer.

After several attempts to contact the office, he told the News that he was finally able to get in touch with a financial aid officer in the spring and resolve the issue. 

But, come August, Kagan said that he had still not received his financial aid package.

“Since I had no aid package, I could not afford to pay the ‘real’ Yale tuition, and missed the first deadline, incurring an unnecessary late fee,” Kagan wrote to the News. “Until I paid for the first month, I lost access to integral parts of Yale Hub.”

Kagan was put on financial hold, a restriction that is placed on students who do not pay their account charges by the due date, according to the student accounts website. Students on financial hold will remain on hold until their term charges have been paid in full, the website says.

While on hold, students are unable to request transcripts or diplomas, Kagan said. As a senior applying to postgraduate jobs that require his transcript, he said that his need to access these documents was particularly dire.

“My Yale Hub was locked down due to non-payment, which is entirely because the Financial Aid office refused to acknowledge my emails and calls in the Spring of 2023,” Kagan wrote in a message to the News. “I can’t express how ridiculously managed this office is — I’ve been ignored each year, but this year was beyond ridiculous. The fact that my post-graduate plans could’ve been jeopardized because a Yale institution can’t double check its work is frightening, especially as the ones being impacted are Yale’s low-income students who rely on many more support networks at the institution to ensure that we can afford tuition.”

Kagan told the News that he received his aid letter a week before move-in, despite submitting his documents more than half a year prior.

Furthermore, he said, the issue with his financial aid application was fixed internally months before he received his aid package.

“This, coupled with their ineptitude and lack of communication, speaks to a poorly managed office where the culture is of getting aid letters in whenever, rather than ensuring students are informed about the status of their aid letter,” Kagan wrote to the News.

Response from financial aid office

Quinlan and DiFonzo cited leadership transition, staff turnover and an increasingly large undergraduate student body as contributing factors to the concerns expressed by students.

Earlier this year, Scott Wallace-Juedes, the previous director of undergraduate financial aid, left in March. Alex Muro, senior associate director of financial aid, served as the interim director of financial aid this summer. In June, DiFonzo was named the next director of undergraduate financial aid. She began the role Aug. 21.

“I am sorry to hear that some students did not receive timely responses from the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid,” Quinlan wrote in an email to the News. “This past year has been especially challenging and busy for the financial aid staff. We had multiple vacancies and a leadership transition at the top of the office throughout the office’s busiest season. Also, with a larger undergraduate student body and more students receiving financial aid, undergraduate financial aid officers reviewed a record number of Yale College student financial aid applications in 2023 with fewer officers than usual.”

DiFonzo added that, since arriving at Yale, she has been impressed by the office’s work to facilitate affordability and access at the University.

She added that she hopes to advance the office’s services as she continues in the role.

“I am, of course, disappointed to hear that any student found their communication with the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid frustrating or challenging,” Quinlan wrote. “Our hiring of Kari DiFonzo along with several new staff members in the past few months provides an excellent opportunity for the office to reflect on our expectations for responsiveness and identify areas for improvement.”

The Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid was created in 2017.

Molly Reinmann covers Admissions, Financial Aid & Alumni for the News. Originally from Westchester, New York, she is a sophomore in Berkeley College majoring in American Studies.