Messaging around financial aid for Winter Break on-campus housing is confusing, some students say


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

A Nov. 1 campuswide email informed Northwestern students they could apply for University-provided housing over Winter Break.

Margot Amouyal, Reporter

As global COVID-19 case rates rose, it was no longer practical for Communication freshman Lena Huang to go home to Hong Kong, so she applied for Northwestern’s Winter Break housing.

A Nov. 1 campuswide email informed NU students they could apply for University-provided housing. The email did not say whether financial aid would automatically apply to Winter Break housing or whether housing was guaranteed.

Huang ultimately received Winter Break housing accomodations, but she said she wished NU provided students with more guidance throughout the process.

“Winter Break housing, personally for me, was not super clearly communicated,” Huang said. “It was a little bit stressful.”

Undergraduate dorms are closed over Winter Break, so the students who’ve remained on campus are staying in graduate student apartments. University spokesperson Jon Yates told The Daily the apartments can accommodate up to 90 students over break.

Without financial assistance, Winter Break housing costs $1,050 for 21 days, a price that’s based on the operating costs of buildings, Yates said. NU does not offer a prorated option for students who wish to stay for fewer than 21 days, according to the Nov. 1 email, though students who stay for a shorter duration are still paying the full price.

The University did not state how students could apply for financial aid for Winter Break housing. However, the email did say “in rare cases, financial support might be available for need-based aid recipients with special circumstances.”

Yates told The Daily “special circumstances” are determined individually.

“There is no automatic funding that pays the expense of living on campus during the Winter Recess,” Yates said in an email. “In cases in which a student’s safety or security is determined to be at risk, the Financial Aid office can intervene and provide help, based on the student’s request for assistance.”

The University generally receives fewer than 15 such requests each year, Yates said, and all students who have called or emailed Residential Services this year have been assigned Winter Break housing.

McCormick freshman Shingirai Tande said he initially wanted to go home and visit his family in Zimbabwe for Winter Break. But in light of the omicron variant and the high cost of a round-trip plane ticket, he changed his mind, opting to stay on campus.

While Tande said it was easy for him to navigate the Winter Break housing application process, his experiences contradicted the information provided by the University. Without completing an additional request for financial support, Tande obtained full financial assistance for Winter Break housing.

McCormick freshman Herbert Botwe also said he received aid without submitting a special request. Overall, Botwe described the Winter Break housing accommodations process as “pretty easy.”

Communication freshman Juan Barrera said he was interested in staying on campus for Winter Break, but did not want to apply for financial aid and risk not receiving it. Barrera said that if denied, he would have had less time to look for other housing options. Ultimately, Barrera made arrangements to stay in a friend’s off-campus house in Evanston for free during Winter Break.

On Dec. 10, Yates told The Daily the University has “been taking and continues to take applications to date.” Residential Services did not send an email to the student body informing them of this option.

Huang said the overall lack of clarity from the University surrounding housing options for international students could have prevented students from applying.

“I would, as an international student, especially during these times, appreciate more intentional communication on behalf of the University, more guidance to relieve stress and a more flexible housing option,” Huang said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @MargotAmouyal

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