Tagged: COAP

“Survey Says”- What The Cost of Living Survey Told Us

It’s been a couple of years since I have written a blog post on the YLS Cost of Living survey and felt it was time to re-address what it is we actually do with this survey data and why it’s critical to the financial aid process. And along the way I will share some of the specific results of the recently completed 2014-2015 survey.

WE CAN’T DO IT WITHOUT YOU– the Cost of Living survey is only valuable when students take the time to respond and provide accurate data. So thank you to everyone who completed our 14-15 survey which yielded a 32% response rate of all YLS JD and Graduate students ( down from the 13-14 year response rate of 42% but still yields a good enough sample to draw conclusions.)

WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH FINANCIAL AID? In order to award aid (by federal regulations) we must annually develop a “Cost of Attendance” (i.e. budget) which represents both the fixed (think tuition and fees) and estimated (i.e. books, housing, food) costs that a student attending YLS would incur. . That Cost of Attendance forms that basis of all aid awards since the need based aid formula is Cost of Attendance – Contribution (student, parent etc.) = Need. So to come up with those estimated costs of books, housing, food etc. we go (through the survey) to the people actually incurring these costs- our students- .

WHY FOCUS THE SURVEY ON ONLY CERTAIN EXPENSES? – The Department of Education regulations specify what are “allowable” expenses in the Cost of Attendance and it’s usually a pretty narrow definition. They also mandate that the same Cost of Attendance must be used for all students in the same degree program So we can’t create budgets based on each individual student’s spending pattern or needs… everyone is held to same overall Cost of Attendance accountability.

THE “BONUS”- beyond helping us build the Cost of Attendance, the survey gives us information to evaluate financial challenges among our students, which we can then address. . For example the increasing cost of professional clothing in last year’s survey led to our “Dress For Success For Less Workshop” this past year, as well as our increasing the COAP eligible suit loan from $350–$600.

SO… WHAT DID THE SURVEY SAY…? Some highlights (in a geeky “I love data” kind of way):
99% of our students live in New Haven – that figure is not much different than in prior years but this year we added a question asking in what area or neighborhood :

Where YLS Students live in New Haven


East Rock


West River




Wooster Square





So the pragmatist in me says it makes sense that people want to live in downtown as close to YLS as possible. But the Financial Aid Director in me looks at that same data and worries about the “price” of that convenience given that Downtown rents are notoriously higher priced.

blog 3

Living Situation data on the whole differed very little from the 13-14 year but when we drill down a little into this data and start segmenting it by class year … we find a very interesting development:


Class Year





I live alone





I live with my spouse





I live with my spouse/children





I live with one roommate





I live with two or more roommates





For the first time (in the 5 years that I have been conducting the survey) – the percentage of 1Ls living with roommates surpassed the number of 1Ls living alone. To me that’s a very positive trend because there are huge cost savings in living with roommates (and even more if you can do it for all three years). How much savings?

blog 2

Our survey answers that as well:

Let’s do the math – that cost difference between living with a roommate (let alone two or more roommates) is $3,978 for the 9 month academic year. If you lived alone for all three years that’s $11,394. Think that’s a lot? How about if you had to borrow that amount in extra Grad Plus loan funds and then pay it back on a 10 year repayment- total cost then for wanting to live alone for your three years of law school is now – $16,230?

The Average Monthly Living Cost decreased from 13-14 (primarily due to a drop in the average rent/housing cost) and given that data it’s awfully hard to justify an increase to the present $17,000 allotted for living in the student budget.

EXPENSE CATEGORY 2013-2104 2014-2015
Rent/mortgage* $921 $891
Basic Household utilities $92 $91
Telephone (cell or landline) $69 $67
Cable/Internet $51 $46
Food $443 $432
Local Transportation $142 $105
Average Monthly Total: $1,718 $1,631
Academic Year Total (9 months) $15,461 $14,679

In addition, the present estimate of $1,100 for books is fairly accurate given that the survey showed 2Ls and 3Ls spending an average of $954 last academic year.


  • A higher percentage (28%) of students indicate they primarily get their meals by “eating out-“ than last year (17%) with a corresponding decrease in students who make meals at home (77% to 56% ). As a wise, former YLS student so eloquently shared with me “buying meals out is one of the most efficient ways to deplete your budget”. ( A quote I should have carved over our office entrance)
  • There were some “ongoing” expenses cited for which we can make budget adjustments and allow additional COAP eligible loan borrowing- professional clothing, travel for Clerkship interviews and computer purchases. I worry from the responses that not everyone knew this option was available to them.
  • Many people cited out of pocket health costs as a challenge. Per federal regulations this is an area where on an individual case by case basis we can potentially make a budget adjustment for additional loan funds (however not COAP eligible) but in a cash flow situation that might help you deal with these costs. If this is your situation, come talk to us.
  • Of all the responses to “what are other ongoing expenses not captured elsewhere on the survey”- the most common was “gifts” for the holidays, for weddings, for birthdays etc. I know this is going to sound preachy but I need to say it.. the fact that you are here at Yale Law School has to make your family and friends very happy and proud. I think they would understand that for three very short years of your life you are going to be facing some financial constraints and restrictions that may hinder your ability to give pricey gifts. But you should never forget that the biggest/best gift for them will be your graduation from YLS. Seriously the only “wedding gift” that I received and still use on a daily basis is a very inexpensive hand crafted piece of pottery and I have never used one place setting of my Lenox china. I’m just saying… people will understand your situation



57% of you indicated that you keep a budget!!! That’s the key to this whole Cost of Attendance challenge. And interestingly most of you are keeping it on a basic Excel spreadsheet and if using an app or software the majority are using mint.com If you are not keeping a budget you may want to check out the basic excel budget template we have available on the Inside Page.

THE BOTTOM LINE: As with all things financial- we have to end with the bottom line… we will retain the $17,000 allowance for “living” and $1,100 allowance for “books” in next year’s 2015-2016 Cost Of Attendance because based on the survey data (which is the only empirical evidence we have) an increase is not justified. That $17,000 allowance is still above the $14,679 average academic year living costs calculated by the survey and, as such ,we are still allowing a $2,321 “buffer” for higher cost choices or to cover some of the ancillary costs. (toiletries, household expenses, entertainment, technology maintenance, pet care, etc.) cited as ongoing expenses in the survey. We also need to point out that increasing the “living allowance and Cost of Attendance in general also increases the amount of unit loans offered to you and your overall borrowing/debt.

So my best advice is:
1) Start/continue to keep a budget so that you can live within that allowance, recognizing the reality that while here (again for three short years) you are going to need to make some challenging financial choices, decisions and sacrifices
2) Don’t hesitate to come to the Financial Aid Office to discuss any of the financial challenges that you face. There are circumstances under which we can make aid adjustment and, at the very least, we may be able to offer support and help you come up with some creative solutions.

T’was 11 Months Before Loan Repayment- Holiday Greetings from Financial Aid

T’was 11 months before repayment
And all through YLS
All the 3Ls were worrying about their loan mess
All the borrowing had been done
All the MPNs signed
And the reality of debt was beginning to shine
When what to their wondering eyes should appear
But a counseling session with financial aid… to make their loans clear
On Standard, on IBR, or on Graduated too
We will discuss what repayment plan makes most sense for you
Would consolidation or refinancing help in your plight?
And does the future of Public Service Loan Forgiveness look at all bright?
With calculators and spreadsheets that will give you hope
We’ll finish off by projecting your COAP
And I hear the 3L exclaim as they leave YLS
“I have a loan repayment plan now and feel a lot less stressed”.

That rhyme (in the spirit of the holidays) was meant to reinforce that the Financial Aid Office is always willing to do individual loan counseling sessions to review your entire loan portfolio, repayment timeframe, servicer contact, repayment plan options and COAP eligibility. Why are these sessions so important (and why do we keep promoting them)? It’s simple … despite the fact that we offer group workshops on loan repayment and COAP… there is no “one size fits all” advice for loan repayment because:

  1. Everyone’s loan debt (how much and why type of loans at what interest rate) is different,
  2. Everyone’s career trajectory and income is different
  3. And as such (because of 1 and 2) … everyone’s COAP eligibility is different.

That’s why an individual session is so valuable… beause we can develop a long term financial plan which meets your own circumstances and life. And if you have significant others in your life (boyfriends/girl friends, fiancees, spouse, parents … whoever) who you want in on this loan repayment conversation, you are welcome to bring them to the session.

So, 3Ls… if you haven’t scheduled a session yet.. the proverbial loan repayment clock is ticking. Contact the financial aid office to get on our schedule for the Spring term when these sessions are in peak demand.

Let’s Make A Deal- Refinancing Your Student Loans

Remember the basic premise of the vintage game show “Let’s Make A Deal” – you win a prize but then are asked if you want to keep what you have or trade it for another unknown prize that may or may not be better than what you originally had. That’s basically the scenario you are faced with when considering refinancing or consolidating your student loans.

Right now you know how much you borrowed on each loan, you know the interest rate on that loan and if you use the handy Department of Education Loan Estimator you can project (depending on what repayment plan you choose) what that means in terms of a monthly payment, as well as total interest and principal paid over the life of the loan. But what happens when you are facing the decision of refinancing or consolidating your student loans?

First a little background… historically the only vehicle to refinance or consolidate has been the federal Direct Consolidation Loan under which all your federal loans are basically bundled (not unlike a cable/internet/wireless phone package) to create one “mega” loan with a new interest rate based on the weighted average interest rate (from all your individual loans) rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of 1%. Since it is a weighted average rate in some cases (if your overall loan portfolio is made up of loans at high interest rates – like the Grad Plus) you may actually end up paying more over the life of the loan then if you kept the loans individual. You also lose the ability to triage your loans and pay down the highest interest loans first if they are now combined. But for some people the idea of managing multiple loans (1 or 2 for every year of Law School) makes a consolidation seem like a manageable benefit. In addition because it’s still a federal loan you still get the advantage of multiple repayment plan options, the ability to switch plans, can still participate in Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and have generous options for medical and economic forbearance.

But evolving on the student loan landscape over the last couple of years have been lending agencies that will refinance your federal student loans. Some of these agencies are traditional “bank” lenders and others are new ventures created just for the refinancing opportunities. Many of these new companies operate somewhat on a crowd sourcing model where company investors and borrowers are connected with one another for mutual benefit. Many offer borrowers the chance to build their own community for their personal and professional advancement through social and networking events. It’s a new and very different way of looking at student loan repayment and very well may be the wave of the future.

the balance

In refinancing the borrower upfront likely makes two critical decisions: 1) which loan term (i.e. 3 of years to repay the loans) and 2) the choice between a variable and fixed rate. These two decisions are actually interconnected in that the combination of choices drives the ultimate loan payoff amount. A fixed rate (more than likely higher than a variable) partnered with a long repayment term (say 15 years) is always going to yield a more expensive loan repayment than the variable rate at a short repayment (say 5 years). But what if you have a fixed rate on a short repayment vs. a variable rate on a long repayment- that combination may be much harder to analyze. Also with private refinancing your interest rate (whether fixed or variable) is going to be based on your credit (good credit = low rate and not so good credit = higher rate). So depending on what your interest rate turns out to be also drives which combination of the choices will be most advantageous to you.

Weighing the overall value of the fixed vs variable rate is also challenging. The fixed rate will be higher but will be stable throughout the life of loan making long term projections of repayment far more accurate. The variable rate may provide a financial gain over the life of the loan but given that the rate will change makes projections far more “guestimates”

The only way to really assess what to do with your loan among the choices of: 1) keep as is, 2) consolidate or 3) refinance is to try to do a side by side comparison of the following factors: your monthly payments, years in repayment, your total cumulative payments and your total interest paid over the life of the loan. Talk to present loan servicer, talk to the Department of Education’s Loan Consolidation Information Center and your potential private refinancing lender and make sure you understand fully the terms of each decision.

Finally… let’s talk about the elephant in the loan repayment room… COAP. Beginning in the January 2015 COAP cycle, federal loans refinanced through private lenders (that meet our definition of a “private refinanced student loan”) will be allowed into COAP. And while that sounds like a great development (i.e. if you get a significantly lower interest rate in refinancing you will pay less in your loan repayment) remember that that also means that we recalculate your COAP eligible loan balance at that new lower interest rate for a new (presumably lower) annual payout. . That lower annual payout minus your participant contribution based on income will equal a decreased annual COAP award. More significantly it may mean that you will reach the “income out” threshold (that point where the annual payout equals your assessed participant contribution) at a lower income level.

Lots of options, variables need to be analyzed and evaluating in this refinance/consolidate or not decision. Welcome to Let’s Make A Deal.

Want more information on federal consolidation and/or private refinancing of your student loans. See our FAQ on this topic, review the COAP Policy and Procedure Manual and join us for a webinar “ Frequently Asked Questions –Federal Loan Consolidation and Refinancing (and COAP!” ) on Friday, October 17th from 12:00-1:00 PM EDT (registration info) .

Rumor Has It.. Debunking COAP Myths For New Admits

Yale Law School’s COAP (Career Options Assistance Program) lends itself to a lot of questions at this time of the year when new admits are most likely comparing loan repayment assistance program (LRAPs) among schools. And since these LRAPs really function as a significant post enrollment scholarship for you they should be factored into any financial aid evaluation. But sometimes the complexities and details of these programs can lead to misinformation or misconceptions, so we wanted to “debunk” some of the common COAP myths:

Myth 1: Below the $50,000 income threshold COAP pays for my loans but above that I do not receive COAP support …
FALSE… it’s true that at an income level of $50,000 or below (for anyone admitted post 9/1/11) COAP will fully support your loan payments. But above $50,000 we use a tiered contribution schedule at which you are expected to put in a portion of your loan payment but where, depending on your debt, YLS is still providing significant support. COAP is not an “all or nothing” support program.

Myth 2: There is one income at which all COAP participants “income out” of the program…
FALSE … The income where your assessed participant contribution (Myth 1) is equal to or greater than the calculated annual payment (or at which point you income out) is dependent on your own loan debt, as well as any income exclusions specific to your own circumstances. There is no one income threshold that applies to all participants.

Myth 3: The 15/5 amortization schedule in calculating payments is not as generous as a straight 10 year repayment schedule
FALSE… The 15/5 works like this … for COAP years 1-5 your annual payment is calculated on a 15 year repayment schedule but then at COAP years 6-10 we recalculate your loan debt on a much more accelerated (i.e. increased) 5 year repayment schedule . The advantage of changing the amortization schedule in the middle of the program is that you can earn more income in the back five years of COAP and still have COAP eligibility. If that annual payment never changes (i.e. a straight 10 year repayment for all years of the program) but your income increases and your contribution goes up eventually you in will reach a point where you income out (see Myth 2). But if that annual payment changes to a higher number (as it does when we switch to a 5 year repayment schedule in Year 6) you have a higher ceiling for income growth and your contribution while still maintaining eligibility for support from us.

Myth 4 : if I leave COAP or don’t begin COAP as soon as I graduate I can never be eligible again
FALSE… You have 10 years of eligibility in COAP at any time (provided you still have loan debt). So you can be in the program for a couple of years, leave and return to it whenever there is a point in your life where you need COAP assistance to make the loan payments. And you don’t need to start COAP immediately after graduation to start your eligibility. As long as you enter the program at some point within 10 years of graduating you will still have your flexible 10 years of program eligibility available to you.

Myth 5: COAP support is dependent on being in a public interest career….
FALSE… what makes COAP truly unique is that the program does not dictate what type of employment you must have to stay eligible. COAP is solely based on income no matter what career path you may choose. Granted many COAP participants are in public service or governmental work but we also have had participants ranging from concert pianists to record label producers to novelists. Your loan repayment assistance program should never restrict you from pursuing your dreams or taking a new direction in life.

Myth 6: COAP is the most generous, flexible and supportive loan repayment assistance program available…
Okay… based on everything above this myth is actually the TRUTH.

Want more information on COAP? Visit the COAP website or attend the COAP Workshop at Admitted Student Weekend. Interesting in having the Financial Aid Office work up a projection of what COAP support may look like for you based on your anticipated loan debt and career path… reach out to us at financialaid.law@yale.edu

What is truly important…in the New Year?

At this time of the year, we all look back at the past year, what happened, what did not happen, what we will change in the upcoming year and everyone thinks about going on a diet! But what is truly important?

2014Good question, huh? What is important to one may not be so important to another, right? But what if that “important” was bothering you and you are unable or afraid to talk about it or bring it to someone’s attention?

Some problems or issues can be as small as a grain of sand but depending on the problem or issue that is bothering you, it can feel like the size of Mount Rushmore. Am I right? And what if the issue/problem/stress is just too much to handle? What do you do? There is always a huge relief to talk things out, get feedback/advice/suggestions. When you talk out loud and actually hear what you are talking about, it may help. You may find you feel better and possibly at the same time, find that it can be worked out.

January starts off a new year…let’s try and find things that make us happy, ease the stress, talk things out and to those who can help, etc. Let’s start off the new year on an upbeat note which can only bring positive vibes for the upcoming year!

Spring term 2014, the financial literacy sessions resume (four in total). Two significant sessions that should not be missed are about Yale Law’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program – COAP…Session I – Coping through COAP, Monday, March 24th (giving you the basics on the process) and Session II – COAP in Action, Wednesday, March 26th (giving you a more detailed narrative on how it works for you and your household). For those of you who are 3Ls…be sure NOT to miss either one! As always, great food will be served!

Spring is also the time 1Ls and 2Ls are getting ready to finish out the term and looking forward to summer. Possibly thinking of using summer funding (SPIF) for the public interest, non-profit positions…2Ls may repeat SPIF or may want to venture into a firm position and 3Ls are getting excited because spring term 2014 is all that is left before graduation! Believe it? Three years here at Yale Law are coming to an end. The next chapter of your lives will soon begin.

For 3Ls, it would be in your best interest to make an appointment to meet with the Director of the Financial Aid Office, Jill Stone, who will review your loan debt, the repayment process, repayment plans (which is best for you), know what to expect after graduation, COAP, etc., which can all be tricky especially if you are new to the repayment process. Jill has posted a new blog for our 3Ls in regard to all that I just mentioned. Please review; make an appointment and be sure to bring all of your questions!

The Financial Aid Office is always here to help. Please call or visit us at anytime…our door is always open. We are located straight across the courtyard, up the stairs, pass the childcare center…once through the door…you will find us straight ahead! Visitors are welcome at all times!

Happy New Year…we are looking forward to seeing you soon!

Kellie signing out…