I am a dual citizen, American and Canadian. When I applied for financial aid at Yale, I filled out a form on which there was no place to write that my family pays Canadian taxes as well as American ones. As a result, I was asked to pay thirty thousand dollars more than I should have been asked to pay. We were able to negotiate with Yale so that I ended up with a financial aid package that reflected my family’s actual financial situation. But the process of appealing the aid package definitely left a feeling that Yale was not a welcoming community or home.
I also felt somewhat alienated at Camp Yale. I had a hard time coming from another country, and part of the reason for this was the amount of wealth I saw on display at Yale. I was surprised that many people I met paid full tuition. Many students knew each other from Bulldog Days and programs like Harvest and FOOT, both of which seemed like unjustifiable expenses to my family. Their parents often stayed in hotels for the first few days in order to be with them and ease their transition to college, which my family didn't consider doing. At orientation, we played a game in which I found out that I was one of the only people in my froco group who had worked a service job during high school.
The cumulative effect of these impressions was that I felt my residential college—and Yale more generally—was a culture to which I didn't quite belong, with slightly different values when it came to money. I moved off campus in my junior year, partly to save money for my family—my room and board are significantly cheaper than Yale accommodation—and to feel financially and personally self-reliant.
I had always taken for granted that I would have a student job during the year, and find a way to earn money during the summer; and it also dawned on me in my freshman year that many or most of my peers had never worried about this at all. Working to pay student income contribution and contribute to my rent and living expenses often reinforced my feeling of alienation. I was lucky enough to get a high-paying job in my field of interest as a freshman, and kept it as a sophomore. But this job was so inflexible that it forced me to drop certain classes, to move my final exams and to forgo many other undergraduate activities. It was a minimum of five hours a week, but there was a lot of additional travel time to other cities for which I was not paid, and in certain parts of the semester, the time commitment was increased to twenty or twenty-five hours a week. Moreover, this was a job mostly held by graduate students, and so I never saw it as my social group; I was under twenty one, and could not go out drinking with my coworkers.
I considered quitting sophomore year, but didn't, mainly for financial reasons. I finally left the job this year, because of academic and extracurricular conflicts, and because it made me so unhappy. Now I work a desk job at the music library, tutor French, assist the director in one of my ensembles, and sing in a church choir. I usually work between sixteen and eighteen hours a week, but sometimes again up to twenty five hours. I pay the student income contribution, but I also feel responsible for things like rent, living expenses and replacing a broken computer. If I run out of money, my parents would be able to help. But my parents expect me to do my best to contribute—especially since I need their assistance to pay for summer programs, and because there is a good chance I will continue to be financially dependent on them for graduate school. It is unfair that in addition to this I have to spend so much time as an undergraduate paying the student income contribution.