Student Guide to Managing Your Finances at Yale
It’s hard to focus on your academic work when you are feeling financial stress. This guide will provide suggestions made by peers for how to approach your finances so that you can minimize your stress and maximize your academic success. Keep in mind, however, that your questions about Financial Aid and finances are best addressed by Yale’s Financial Aid Office: https://finaid.yale.edu
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Making an effective financial plan for your time at Yale begins with knowing how much money you as an individual will need for the coming year. Helpfully, Yale estimates how much money you will need in your financial aid award letter. This is called the Student Effort. In your award letter, the Student Effort can be determined by adding the amounts for the Student Summer Income Contribution and Student Employment. The standard Student Effort for 2017-2018 was $4450 for first-year students and $5950 for upper-level students. For high financial need students, the standard student effort for 2017-2018 was $4450 for first-years and $5050 for upper-level students. (See Understanding the Student Effort for more details.)
Important: The Student Effort is *not* how much you owe the university. Instead, the Student Effort is the estimate of the amount of money you should try to earn in a given year through summer employment and employment on campus to cover your expenses and bills. You decide when and how to earn this money, and you will control how this money is spent on your school-related expenses.
Student expenses may include (but are not limited to):
- Computer, books, and other course materials
- Expenses related to extracurricular activities
- Travel to and from Yale
- Cell phone and cell phone plan
- Personal expenses
- Small savings for personal emergencies or unanticipated events
- The remainder of any tuition, room & board bill after Yale grants and outside scholarships have been applied and your parents have paid their Parent Contribution. For most students, this is the only expense for which you will have to write a check to Yale, and usually it is a small portion of the overall expected Student Effort.
Potential additional expenses:
For a few families, one potential additional expense beyond those anticipated by the Student Effort is the Hospitalization/Specialty Care Plan. Most families waive enrollment due to having an adequate insurance plan outside of Yale. All students who receive a start-up grant will receive a grant through financial aid to cover the cost of the Hospitalization/Specialty Care insurance. Students not receiving a start-up grant should go to Undergraduate Financial Aid to speak with a counselor to determine what options they may have to assist with the cost of the plan.
Some students may have families that have relied on them to contribute to family expenses during high school and they may need to offer some limited but ongoing financial support to their families. If this is your situation, it is important to discuss with your family how much you can realistically earn and contribute (if anything) over and above the expected student effort. Keep in mind that reducing your financial contribution to family, if possible, while in college may make it more possible for you to increase your financial support after graduation.
Other students may not have stable family support off campus and may struggle with obtaining housing and food over breaks. Reaching out to your Residential College Dean and on campus networks, including the Yale Harbor Scholars Program, can make a difference.
If you think it is likely you will encounter any of these additional challenges, consult as soon as you can with trusted deans, advisors, and peer counselors for advice on how to manage them. You are not alone. Asking for advice and suggestions about how to manage these issues in the long term and before you find yourself in an acute financial or housing crisis will help provide some relief from worry and stress.
The most common ways students meet the estimated student effort is through summer jobs and student employment during the academic year. The Student Summer Income Contribution and Student Employment amounts in your Financial Aid award letter provide guidelines for how much you should try to earn during the summer and the school year. If you have earned an outside scholarship or grant, those awards can be used to pay down your Student Effort after other bills directly payable to Yale have been covered. Occasionally, students may take on a small student loan to meet this effort.
Any questions you have about your Financial Aid award or paying for your college expenses should be directed to a financial aid counselor at Yale’s Undergraduate Financial Aid office: https://finaid.yale.edu.
Academics, Work, Life: Finding the Balance When You Need to Work
Managing your finances and income efficiently will help you avoid the need to sacrifice your academic and extracurricular goals. Given Yale Student Employment’s relatively high hourly wages, you may be tempted to work as many hours as you can (up to 19 hours/week). During high school, you may even have worked a job for up to twenty hours per week and been able to keep up with your schoolwork.
However, working the maximum number of hours at Yale will make it virtually impossible for you to keep up with your Yale academic workload. Most students find that the increased complexity and amount of college-level work significantly increases their time spent out of class on schoolwork as compared to high school.
As a result, working the maximum amount that you can will lead to imbalance and stress. It is critical to find a balance of school, work and life that helps you achieve financial stability without compromising your education.
Academic work is the top priority
Your academic, extracurricular, and professional goals should be your primary focus during your time as a student at Yale. While the student income contribution may mean you’ll need to put in a certain number of hours of employed work per week, your school-work-life balance should include the time to commit to your personal objectives.
Finding stability between the right amount of paid work alongside the demands of coursework will bring you a more satisfying Yale experience. Your greater satisfaction will bring along with it a higher likelihood of success. Plan out your finances and time to learn what you need to do to create this stability for yourself.
Actively manage your time
Your success in working a job and prioritizing academic success at Yale will come down to time management and a clear-as-possible understanding of what your goals are for the semester and academic year. There will be times during the year when you can put in more hours for your campus job, and other times when you will have to focus more energy on your academics. The key is to plan both your academic and paid work ahead of time. The Academic Strategies Program offers support for this planning through its Time Management and Pathways workshops, and through individual meetings with peer mentors.
Strategic Student Employment: Navigating on Campus Jobs
To find possible on-campus jobs, visit the Yale Student Employment Site at www.yalestudentjobs.org. All open/available campus jobs are posted here under the Student Job Search, and you can create an advanced search according to several criteria. Start looking at the site a few weeks before school starts and through the first few weeks of class. If you see something you’re interested in, apply right away. The most attractive jobs will have many applicants, and you may have to apply to several different jobs before you are hired.
As you begin your job search, consider how many hours you can realistically expect to work every week. According to a 2010 American Association of University Professors report, working an on-campus job a moderate number of hours per week (10-15) can have a positive impact on students’ academic experiences. Working more than 15 hours per week, however, has been shown to have a negative impact on students’ academic work. At Yale, working up to 10 hours seems to offer the best balance for most students.
In your first year, it may be easier to work one job that gives you a steady schedule and may not be too taxing, even if it pays a slightly lower hourly rate. The consistency of the schedule and having a job that allows you to work at a lower level of intensity can be helpful as you get used to the very intensive academic, extracurricular, and social pace of undergraduate life at Yale. In your later years, you may want to take on higher paid work that may have some relation to your academic or career interests. Often these jobs are more intensive and may offer fewer hours, so you may have multiple jobs which require more intensive time management on your part.
Many students find out about good campus jobs through other students. Ask your formal and informal peer mentors for suggestions for jobs you might apply for. FroCos, Pre-Orientation trip mentors, Peer Liaisons, FSY Counselors, OIS Counselors, and upper-level students in your college and your extracurriculars can be good sources of information about different jobs, their expectations, and time commitment.
For more information about finding and applying for jobs, visit the Yale Student Employment website: https://www.yalestudentjobs.org
In 2017-2018, the expected Student Summer Income Contribution was $2600 for upper-level students (and only $1700 for high-need upper-level students). This expectation can easily be met if you are able to live rent-free at home and work a full-time hourly job during the summer.
However, many Yale students use their summers to study abroad, pursue summer research, or work low-paying and unpaid internships. Most students pay for these opportunities through their International Summer Award (ISA), Domestic Summer Award (DSA), and fellowships, which can cover the cost of travel and living expenses for the study abroad, research and internship programs they are engaged in.
Many students find that working just a few additional hours each week during the year can cover much of the expected Student Summer Income Contribution. Students might also work extra hours for Yale Spring Salvage, graduation, or other special events to help make up the difference.
Outside scholarships can also help; Yale Financial Aid suggests these scholarship resources. Keep in mind that relevant scholarships will appear throughout the school year, and you may want to spend some time during October break to prepare materials so you can be ready when a scholarship is announced. Also, it’s better to apply for scholarships well before their deadlines, as some scholarships are awarded on a rolling basis.
Finally, some students may decide to take out a small student loan when it is extremely difficult to earn income over the summer and term-time earnings can’t quite cover the shortfall.
Remember, the Student Effort is the estimate of the amount of money you should try to earn in a given year through summer employment and employment on campus to cover your expenses and bills. One way to develop financial stability is to minimize your expenses and create and stick to a budget. Below are strategies Yale students have used to save money while at Yale.
Budgeting well is critical towards your success in managing finances without creating additional stress. Your budget may include an itemized list of expenses, such as books, travel, personal expenses, food and leisure, as well as a list of income sources to meet those expenses. Budgeting as a college student can be tricky, as both your income and your expenses can fluctuate from week to week. There may be times in the semester when you have more in your bank account than you need, and other times when you can’t work as many hours as you’d like to academic or extracurricular projects. Therefore, budget with a long-term view. Keep in mind plans for travel and other activities you may need to pay for at the end of semesters, and try to keep as much money as you can in your bank account. You will never know when you might need money for emergencies or unexpected opportunities.
The U.S. Federal Student Aid website offers excellent information, advice, and tools for budgeting. The most important thing is to keep track of your income and expenses on a weekly basis, with an eye towards future big expenses, such as books and materials, travel, and clothing.
The best way to keep track of your money is through your bank account. There are many banks in New Haven with checking account services. You should be sure to ask for a student checking account, as these accounts have fewer fees attached and may not require a minimum balance. Direct deposit of your paycheck can also lower or eliminate fees (see instructions for Direct Deposit on the Yale Student Jobs website).
Choose the bank with the fewest and lowest fees, lowest minimum balance to maintain an active account, and a bank that can be used/accessed when travelling. Larger banks such as Chase or Bank of America have more ATMs in more locations, which will make accessing your funds while travelling easier, but they can have higher fees. Other lower cost options include credit unions, which charge less in fees but only have a few ATM locations.
Also, as part of your checking account you may want to get a debit card supported by Visa or MasterCard so that you can have purchases taken directly out of your bank account and limit your credit card use. Having a low or no-fee savings account can also help you with budgeting and saving for emergencies or special events. A good rule of thumb is to “pay yourself first” by putting 10% of each paycheck straight into your savings account. You also might want to keep the bulk of your money in your savings, and set up an automatic transfer to your checking account each week to set and keep to your weekly budget.
Keep on top of your spending and income by making it a habit to check your account balance and transactions regularly. Just as stepping on a scale daily can help maintain your physical health, checking your account balance daily can keep you financially healthy.
One of the biggest out-of-pocket expenses for college students are books, course packets, and other course materials. Here are some tips for minimizing your expenses through free or lower cost options:
Free option: Borrowing directly from the Yale Library stacks:
Yale University has one of the most comprehensive libraries in the world. Most texts required for your courses can be found within its stacks. Getting materials free from the library does take additional work and organization on your part, and thus has an opportunity cost. You need to find and sometimes request books early enough so that they arrive when you need them but not so early that you have to return them before you discuss them in class. As a result, you need to constantly be checking to make sure you have the materials you need at the right time. If this kind of time management is difficult for you, buying used books, renting, or book sharing might be a better option for you.
Step One: Go to the library website: http://orbis.library.yale.edu
Step Two: Search for the given book you need
Step Three: Sift through the results and click on the appropriate title/edition.
Step Four: Click “Recall” or “Delivery”
You can have your books delivered to the campus library of your choice without hunting through the stacks. Sometimes a course book will be checked out or placed on a 24-hour/3-day reserve, specifying how long a book can be borrowed until it is due. This, of course, could be restrictive if you need a book for an entire week of class.
Using Borrow Direct, or the Interlibrary Loan System (ILL)
Borrow Direct and ILL are available services that allow you to place an order for a book loan from participating libraries of other universities. Borrow Direct books will arrive within 2-4 days, while ILL requests can take up to 14 days to be processed and delivered. These two options are excellent solutions when a book you need has already been reserved and you don’t want to recall the book.
Both services are available as links in the top right hand corner of the main search page on Orbis.
Using Scan and Deliver Services
If all you need is a select chapter(s) of a text on your syllabi, you may want to use the Scan and Deliver Services. This service will allow you within 1-2 days of your request to have a library employee scan and email you a PDF of the section of a text you need.
With all of these resources from the Yale Library system at your fingertips, you should be able to choose in most cases whether or not you want to purchase a book for your class. These services are especially helpful when gathering materials for a research project or senior essay. Refer to the Get It @ Yale Library Guide for more in-depth information about how to use your library services: http://guides.library.yale.edu/getit
Buy used books or rent books:
The Yale College Bookstore, Amazon.com, and other sites enable buying used and rental copies of books. These low cost options allow you to worry about obtaining books only once or a few times per semester, lessening the amount of time you have to spend tracking down your books during the semester. Buying used also gives you the option of keeping a book after the semester ends. There are some books you will want to keep because they are important for your major, or simply because you love them and reading them changed your life.
Free and For Sale at Yale Facebook Group
Students often sell used copies of books and course materials on the Free and For Sale Yale Facebook Group. It is a closed group within Yale. You can find the group using this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/yaleforsale/
If there is an expensive or hard-to-find book assigned in your class, you might work with classmate to book share: each of you contributes equally to the cost of the book. As with other free/low-cost options, this takes some work and requires you to set rules for how you will share the book and what to do with the book when the class ends.
A full meal plan is mandatory for first-year students, including 3 dining hall swipes a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eating healthy is an essential element to a work-school-life balance, so it is to your advantage to use all of your swipes to eat (especially breakfast, which some students skip). For more information about the dining plan, see the Yale Dining Website: https://hospitality.yale.edu/undergraduate-meal-plan-options
In addition to hot meals, the dining halls are stocked with cereal, breads, fruit and other snacks you can take with you to eat later. Instead of spending money on a snack, use food you’ve brought out of the dining hall. This is particularly helpful during midterms and finals season, when you may be working intensely and need to refuel.
- Double swipes are available at lunch time, allowing you to swipe at a second residential college dining hall. This is helpful if you have a class in the middle of the day; you can swipe before for lunch and after class for a snack (or vice versa).
- Your first lunch swipe for food up to $9 can also be used at Durfee’s Convenience Store, the KBT Café (on Science Hill), Café Med (on the Yale Med School campus), and the Divinity Refrectory. Second swipes can’t be used at these locations, and the swipes can only be used during normal lunch hours.
- If you are living off-campus or are not on a meal plan after the first year, Sunday dinners are open to all residential college members.
- You also receive five guest swipes per semester, allowing you to swipe a friend or family member into a dining hall for one meal free of charge (or to get yourself an extra meal).
- There is free food all over campus on any given night, whether it’s dinner at the cultural houses or food for events and meetings. This is a great opportunity to sample the cuisine of local New Haven restaurants without having to spend a dime! You can find free food by following the Free Food at Yale Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/freefoodatyale/
New Haven is a great food city, and there will be times during the year when you’ll want to treat yourself or attend a special social event at a restaurant. First, plan for these expenses through your budgeting. Second, limit the number of times per semester you go out to eat—this should be a once every few weeks occurrence rather than a daily or weekly occurrence. Third, try to eliminate everyday small food expenditures, like going to a coffee shop for coffee—these small daily expenditures can add up quickly.
Here are some other suggestions for keeping your dining out bills low:
- If friends propose taking someone out for a celebration dinner, suggest a dessert event instead. Or, get together and cook in one of the residential college kitchens.
- When dining out with friends, decide how the check will be paid before you order, and suggest that everyone pay according to what they order instead of dividing the check equally at the end. The momentary social or emotional discomfort you (or others in the group) may feel in making this request is less significant than the financial discomfort you will feel when the bill comes and you have to pay beyond your budget for other people’s food and drink.
- At restaurants, order a low cost entrée, a large salad, or an appetizer in place of a meal. Drink water rather than ordering a soda or other drink.
- Use coupons, which you can sometimes find on restaurant websites for advertising flyers. Sign up for New Haven restaurant alerts from Groupon to get deals when you do treat yourself.
Plan shopping and self-care trips
Many of the shops and services near the Yale campus are relatively expensive. If you need clothing, toiletries, or a reasonably-priced haircut, going to a shopping plaza farther away from campus in New Haven or in Hamden can be a good choice. Most shopping plazas are served by low-cost CT Transit buses: https://www.cttransit.com. Ask you peers for suggestions of where to shop and find services.
Buying online is another good option for clothing and personal care items. Look for sales and online discounts.
Finally, New Haven and the surrounding area hosts a variety of vintage clothing shops and used clothing/furniture shops like Goodwill.
Living off-campus, if carefully planned, can be more affordable than living on campus if your rent and food expenses are less than what Yale charges for room and board. If you are on Financial Aid, you may even receive some money from the college towards these expenses. For more information about Financial Aid and living off campus, see the Financial Aid website: https://finaid.yale.edu/faq/what-happens-my-financial-aid-if-i-move-campus
Off-Campus housing is only available to juniors and seniors or students over 21 years old.
Students find apartments through the Off Campus Living Portal, located at https://your.yale.edu/community/campus-living. Other places to find housing listings include Craigslist and the Free and For Sale at Yale Facebook group.
You can still choose to have a meal plan if you live off campus (though this will deduct from your Financial Aid refund). Alternatively, you can start learning to cook for yourself, offering a potentially more affordable and healthy method of obtaining your meals. Make sure you plan to eat well! A healthy, balanced and adequate diet is critical to your academic success.
Some students also find employment opportunities off-campus, though Yale’s minimum wage and flexibility for student workers can be hard to beat.
Occasionally students will experience a personal emergency which requires immediate funds. Examples include suddenly traveling home due to a health crisis in your family or emergency dental care. If this kind of extreme emergency occurs, you should immediately contact your residential college dean to discuss your circumstances and needs.
If you have a large expense looming that you will not be able to meet with your current income/savings, consider taking out a Federal student loan. Student loans do not charge interest while you are in college, charge much less interest than credit cards, and have extended payment plans. A modest loan, used for a specific purpose, may save you from going into a cycle of long-term credit card debt.
Credit cards are best used to bridge short-term cash flow gaps. For example, a student needs to buy an airplane ticket several months before they travel in order to save money on the ticket. They don’t have enough in their bank account to cover the expense right now. Using a credit card to buy a $300 ticket and then paying it off the following month or in the next three months at $100/month plus interest can be a responsible choice.
Keep in mind that credit cards usually charge relatively high interest rates: up to 19% per year. Any card that charges more than this upper limit is predatory and should be avoided. Many credit cards charge lower rates, and may give a lower introductory rate that then rises after 6 months to a year. Choose a credit card through a thorough and informed search—don’t just take the first card you are offered. Read the entire credit card agreement, noting whether rates are fixed or variable, when introductory rates are set to rise, credit limits, and fees. You may find it easiest to have a credit card from the same institution that you bank with. When deciding on a credit card, always look for the lowest-interest option with the minimal amount of fees. For further guidance on responsible credit card use as a college student, consult this advice from Consumer Union.
Credit cards should always be used judiciously. Don’t use a credit card for every day expenses like food or entertainment, as this can increase your balance more quickly than you think. Instead, use a credit card for a specific purpose and limit what you plan to spend so that you can pay off the balance within a few months. For example, a student might use a credit card to pay for books in January because of unexpected travel or emergency expenses during winter break. The student would plan only to put books on the credit card, and include payments in their budget to pay off the bill by May. Always make a plan for paying off the credit card balance as soon as possible, and stick to the plan. Pay more than the minimum balance due. Always pay credit cards (and other bills) on time. Missing a credit card payment can result in large fees and/or increased interest rates, and can hurt your credit score, which will be important for renting an apartment and other post-college transactions. Carrying a large balance can also drag you down financially for years to come. If you have an especially difficult time limiting your spending (including due to anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder), it is best to avoid credit cards all together.
Any Financial Aid-related questions can be answered by contacting Financial Aid: https://finaid.yale.edu/contact-information
For information about campus jobs, visit the Student Employment website:
Your Residential College Dean should be your first point of contact for personal emergencies, including financial emergencies.
Talk with residential college deans, cultural house deans, Frocos, and other trusted peer mentors (peer liaisons, Academic Strategies Mentors) for informal but fruitful discussions about maintaining a healthy financial life while at Yale. While at first it may feel uncomfortable to talk about your personal or family financial circumstances, reaching out when you first have questions or concerns can help you find solutions before a small financial challenge becomes a full-blown crisis. Finding ways to proactively manage your financial resources will lessen your stress and give you more time to focus on your academic, extracurricular, and professional opportunities at Yale.
Note: Some of the information on this web page was initially compiled by Yale UFLIP (Undergraduate First-Generation Low-Income Partnership)