Delayed arrival of financial aid letters complicates student plans

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Students on financial aid are worried about being unable to plan for the fall quarter due to a delay in arrival of financial aid letters.

The Financial Aid Office usually sends its award letters for continuing students in August. This year, however, well into September many students have yet to receive their letters or are waiting on revised awards.

Senn Nwakudu ’21 expected to receive her award letter in the beginning of August, when the University had sent it in the past — but an entire month passed with no letter.

Nwakudu is a first-generation and/or low income (FLI) student who relies on University aid to fund her studies. “I’m worried that I might have to reach out to my parents for help or get a loan, just because I have no idea what my bill will look like,” Nwakudu wrote in a statement to The Daily.

As the Financial Aid Office experiences delays in processing aid letters, many Stanford students like Nwakudu have not been able to make financial arrangements for fall quarter.

“I have no idea how much money I need to pay for school and how much money I have left to pay for other things,” Vincent Chim ’23 wrote in a statement to The Daily. Chim, who previously wrote for The Daily, added that he couldn’t determine if he could afford to take a leave of absence, or if he would have to enroll in three quarters.

Carly Smith ’23 wrote in a statement to The Daily that without knowing what her aid package looks like, she may not be able to look for places to live or purchase textbooks in time.

“It has been a really big stressor for my family in trying to figure out how to afford being a student for the next couple of weeks,” Smith said. 

The Financial Aid Office is in the process of sending award letters to all applicants, according to University spokesperson E.J. Miranda.

“The office has completed all of the adjustments to first-year students to reflect their living situation since they’ve had to shift to remote study,” Miranda wrote to The Daily.

The delay has been caused by “the uncertainty around fall term” and the recent Aug. 13 announcement that most undergraduate students would not return to campus, according to Miranda.

Students say this wait is affecting their long-term plans. Sebastian Strawser ’24 received his updated aid letter in the second week of September — but in the postponement, he had already decided against a gap year and a flex quarter.

“I had no idea what Stanford would have made me pay in those cases,” he said. “Now I know, but that’s only because I got my letter long after those deadlines came and went.”

Some students are also worried about significant changes in their financial aid packages due to the pandemic. But the University does “not anticipate reductions to scholarship eligibility because of the university’s budget concerns,” Miranda wrote. Stanford has replaced the standard work expectation completely for 2020–2021 with scholarship funding, while waiving the standard summer earning expectation for 2021.

“This means that most people will see an increase in scholarship eligibility of $1,750 (or $583 per quarter) for this year,” according to a University email addressed to all financial aid applicants on Sept. 2.

“The University has committed more funds to the financial aid program to ensure that we’re able to respond to student needs due to the pandemic and the resulting economic impacts,” added Miranda.

The University has not provided a detailed timeline for the delivery of award letters, though applicants who have yet to receive their first letter will be prioritized. The fall quarter bill is expected to be distributed on Sept. 18 and is due on Oct. 15, according to Student Financial Services. Students, in the meantime, might continue to find their education and financial plans in limbo amid the uncertainties of a pandemic.

“My dad is a masonist, so luckily he has been able to work a lot over the summer, but my mom is an elementary school teacher, and the minimum-wage jobs I’ve held in my hometown have all been shut down due lack of business in the pandemic,” Smith said. “My family — and I’m positive many other FLI student families — are all very worried that the circumstances surrounding this delay in finaid [are] going to make it more difficult to access our education.”

Contact Smiti Mittal at smiti06 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Tianyu M. Fang at tmf ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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Smiti Mittal, originally from New Delhi, India, contributes to News, Satire, and Podcasts. Contact her at smiti06 'at' stanford.edu.