Jen Farkas might be the Yale School of Public Health’s director of financial aid – the person who puts the numbers together and tells prospective students the ways they can budget for their education – but that simple description doesn’t quite spell out her job duties. In the big picture, her role goes beyond that.
“My favorite part of my day is counseling – prospective students, current students, and even alumni,” she said. “It’s empowering to make a thoughtful financial decision that will serve you well for years to come.”
Counseling has been an important part of Farkas’s job since she joined Yale as an assistant director of undergraduate financial aid in January 2011. She became director of the Student Financial Services Center in December 2013 and has led YSPH’s financial aid operations since January 2016.
That’s in addition to her other daily duties: processing scholarships, loans, and award letters; ensuring compliance with regulations; and working with campus partners such as the Career Management Center, and the Registrar and Development offices.
The nuts and bolts of her job haven’t changed over the years, but the scope has.
“With an increase in applications and students comes more of everything,” Farkas said. YSPH is known for its strong and helpful community, “so the challenge has been to scale individualized attention to a larger group.”
The main challenge of her job, though, is the eternal one: funding – finding and developing new routes through which students can support their education at YSPH. And for that, she thanks the people across the school with whom she works to procure money for students, while hoping for further growth in available funds.
“I’m grateful for the development office’s hard work with donors to support scholarship funding, and for YSPH alumni who generously contribute to making our school more affordable for future generations,” Farkas said. “I’d love to see our scholarship program grow over time, but we’ve already made some meaningful changes in the last few years, like making scholarships for international students comparable to those for U.S. citizens.”
Farkas said she wishes there were a financial hack she could offer that would help ease students’ financial burdens. Essentially, she said, there are just two ways to make a budget balance in a way to be able to afford school: get more money (scholarships, student employment) or spend less (budgeting).
“Financial Aid maintains an external funding page, and I encourage students to keep searching for external funding,” she said. “Even if you miss a deadline when you’re applying, you might find a scholarship for your second year. Student employment on campus is relatively flexible around studies and can be a great résumé-builder.”
While few people get a thrill from budgeting, the earlier they tackle that life skill, the better, she added. Students have access to a self-guided Financial Fitness curriculum for working on their financial wellness. Topics include budgeting, student loans, health insurance, credit reports, and investing.
In the meantime, Farkas has some advice for prospective students in their quest to meet tuition.
“Start early, set up regular times to check on your progress, and use a buddy to hold you accountable if you need one,” she said. “Checkpoints help you avoid missing financial opportunities, and make it easier to correct your course when life inevitably throws a few curveballs your way.”