Why financial aid is scary…and wonderful.

$58,600. That’s the total cost of attendance for Yale University. When I was in high school, this number terrified me. Having watched helplessly as my family struggled to put me through school, I could not imagine adding the tremendous burden of college to my single mother’s Atlas shoulders. Receiving my financial aid letter was equally as important as my acceptance letter. It was the moment when I realized that I was truly going to college. If your parents make less than $65,000 a year, then their parental contribution to Yale tuition is $0. Nothing. College without a price tag: a dream come true.  The idea that I could attend college without any required payments from my parents and then graduate with zero student debt was absolutely incredible. However, it’s not quite as simple as it seems.

Financial aid is the light at the end of the tunnel that will get you through college. But it is also a maze that you will not necessarily be prepared for as a college freshman. I certainly was not. There were things that I had no knowledge or warning about until I saw the charges. And it was scary.

But one quick trip to the Financial Aid Office at 246 Church St. resolved my fears. The $1000 health insurance fee? You can opt out of that if you are covered under your parent’s insurance. That mysterious $75 charge? A student activities fee that you can elect not to pay without consequence. Federal aid not coming through? It’s because you don’t have a state ID and haven’t registered for the draft yet.

The $0 parental contribution to your Yale bill is true. But the story is not over once you qualify. You have to do your research. Don’t let things take you by surprise. Start filling out your paperwork the moment it becomes available. Read everything. Twice. And don’t be afraid to talk about your financial situation. It is a topic that we do not broach often enough and it is especially relevant in college.

College is one step closer to adulthood. Taxes, W-9’s, personal finance, employment, and other “grown-up” things started to shift into my hands. It was certainly intimidating and occasionally tough to manage. But, as with all aspects of our lives at Yale and beyond, there are always people willing to help so long as we are willing to call on them.