2019 by the numbers: Confronting class at Yale

2019 by the numbers:
Confronting class at Yale

Published on September 4, 2015

This February, bundled up against the bitter cold, nearly 100 students stood in front of Woodbridge Hall to protest the student income contribution, which requires students on financial aid to work term-time jobs or use personal savings to help fund their awards.

Sharing their personal stories, the students argued that the requirement divides Yalies along class boundaries, with lower-income students having fewer opportunities to completely participate in academic, extracurricular and social activities because of their need to work toward their contribution. Higher-income students, meanwhile, do not face such constraints.

“The current system divides Yalies into two classes of students: One group has time to pursue the kind of activities that the Admissions Office displays prominently on its website and in mailers to prospective students. The other must instead work long hours each week to (almost) afford to study alongside their wealthier peers,” reads a report published by the Yale College Council in January to capture student views on financial aid.

When asked to identify the social issue that they feel most divides the United States, 54 percent of freshmen chose “race.” But further analysis shows the second-most popular response, “class,” more directly shades students’ plans for the years ahead.


Within the freshman class, race and socioeconomic class were closely connected.

Eighty-two percent of students in the highest-income bracket, with annual family income of over $500,000, identified as Caucasian, while only 8 percent of African-American students fell into the same socioeconomic category. Twenty percent of the Hispanic population on campus reported an annual family income of less than $40,000, compared to 9 percent of white students from similar households.

Educational attainment was similarly skewed by race: 87 percent of Yale legacies in 2019, for instance, are white, as were 76 percent of the freshmen with siblings in the University community. Revealing a connection to income level, 42 percent of students who will be the first to graduate from college came from families with an annual income of less than $40,000. There was only one first-generation survey respondent from a family with an annual income of over $500,000.

Students hailing from the Northeastern United States are the wealthiest incoming freshmen, with 65 percent indicating an annual family income level above $125,000. On the other end of the spectrum, those from the Southwestern United States or international hometowns reported generous financial aid packages — 29 percent of respondents  from each of these areas have over 91 percent of their tuition bill covered by the University.

Freshmen on financial aid were more likely to attend a public high school than their peers, with only 27 percent attending a private school. Fifty-five percent of students not receiving financial aid attended private school.

And though just 8 percent of students said they chose Yale primarily for because of its affordability, 67 percent of those who did came from households earning less than $80,000 a year.

“Yale was a top choice for me,” Dominic Schnabel ’19, a low-income student from Claremont, California, said. “It was the cheapest option for me.”


In July, The Atlantic published an article titled “Rich Kids Study English.” In the piece, writer Joe Pinsker explained that “kids from lower-income families tend toward more ‘useful’ majors,” often in the STEM fields, while students from more privileged backgrounds generally “flock to history, English and performing arts.” As members of the class of 2019 begin considering their majors, the patterns identified by Pinsker appear to hold true at Yale: 40 percent of students interested in pursuing a single major in the humanities came from families earning $250,000 per year or more.

Among students in the highest income bracket, 18 percent expressed interest in pursuing a single major in the humanities — a rate 5 percent higher than that of the entire class. Only 6 percent of those in the lowest income bracket reported a similar preference for a humanities major. For both groups, however, STEM majors were the most popular option, at 48 percent and 74 percent for the highest- and lowest-income brackets, respectively.

The split between wealthy and poorer students extended beyond academic interests, also affecting students’ levels of comfort at the as they begin their college careers. Among students in the below-$40,000 income bracket, 32 percent claimed to feel unprepared for the academic workload at Yale. Only 18 percent of students from the $500,000-plus income bracket expressed the same concern.

“When you come from a low-income background, you don’t feel like you have the same entitlement to access certain resources that should be available to all students,” said Nicole Chavez ’19, a Questbridge Scholar who graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall, the preparatory boarding school.

After her years at Choate, Chavez said she has largely overcome such mental hurdles. But the difficulties may endure for hundreds of low-income students coming to Yale this year as they confront far more than course selection.

For many of the 271 respondents planning to seek an on-campus job as part of a student income contribution requirement, social opportunities may be comparatively limited.

“I’m worried about it more and more — what if I have friends that say, ‘Oh, let’s go to New York City for a day,’ and I’m sitting there like, ‘I really don’t have the money,’” Schnabel said. “I’m concerned about going forward and having to opt out of social times.”

In the aggregate, freshmen were divided on the student income contribution issue. Less than half of the respondents who will work a part-time job disputed the fairness of a student income contribution. Meanwhile, students who will not have to seek employment felt more strongly that the contribution unfairly hindered lower-income students, with 55 percent stating they would eliminate the requirement.

“I don’t think any student should be expected to do anything other than contribute in their own way to the community, however they chose to, and do well in classes,” said Charles Kenney ’19, who does not receive financial aid and will not work a student job. “That’s what students should be expected to do.”

Survey results also revealed splits in expectations for extracurricular and social activities at Yale. Sixty-three percent of students who wish to join a fraternity or sorority, for example, do not receive any financial aid, and 80 percent of those from the highest income bracket said they anticipate drinking alcohol during college, a percentage twice that of students from the lowest income bracket.

(Alex Cruz, Production & Design Editor)


Students on financial aid expressed concerns about being able to dedicate time to finding summer and post-graduate employment, while also working on campus. Already considering their post-Yale careers, students from low-income backgrounds most frequently listed medical, business or law school as their ideal destination after graduation, with very few opting for professions in the arts or education.

“I hope I’m not forced into a situation where I have to pursue a job just for the sake of money,” Chavez said. “It concerns me, as a student who comes from a low-income background.”

But much as they successfully navigated through a complicated path to Yale, these students will eventually emerge from their time at the University with a Yale diploma to their name,  the rights and responsibilities of which Vice President Joe Biden discussed on Class Day. In his address, Biden encouraged the class of 2015 to take advantage of their newfound opportunity.

“Don’t forget about what doesn’t come from this prestigious diploma,” Biden said in May. “Regardless of academic or social background, those who had the most success and were most respected were the ones who never confused academic credentials and societal sophistication with gravitas and judgement.”


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About the series

On Aug. 12, the News sent all incoming freshmen a survey with questions running the gamut from family life to post-graduate plans. This is a four-part series on the results.