‘Figuring it out by myself’: Students in Mirrielees say financial aid falls short

Oct. 28, 2021, 10:24 p.m.

After Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) placed sophomores in the four-class Mirrielees dorm, students said they have had to pay higher rent and meal plan costs — a financial burden that they feel was not clearly communicated to them. 

Within the new ResX neighborhood system, students ranked the housing options available to them based on their neighborhood assignment. Katie Smith ’24, Kaela Verner ’24 and Serena Kravantka ’24 ranked all-sophomore dorm Toyon Hall as their first choice, with Mirrielees somewhere lower than their top five. All three were assigned to Mirrielees. 

Verner and Smith share a two-room triple — a room converted from a two-room double to accommodate an increase in students living on campus this academic year — with a third roommate. 

Financial aid is based on the pricing for a standard two-room double and a 15 meal per week meal plan, according to University spokesperson E.J. Miranda. But the housing costs of Mirrielees are roughly $1,300 higher than that of other dorms for the current academic year. This information was listed on the housing portal at the time students were ranking their options, and it was a factor Smith, Verner and Kravantka all considered. 

“I put Mirrielees last because it was more expensive than all the other dorms,” Kravantka said. 

While Verner was ranking housing options, she said she assumed her status as a student on full financial aid would mean her aid would be adjusted if she was placed in more expensive housing, especially if it was not her first choice. However, this proved not to be the case — Verner, Smith and Kravantka all faced an increase in rent, irrespective of whether or not they were on financial aid. 

“It was not communicated through the financial aid office that aid would not be adjusted,” Verner said. “I wasn’t told when I got assigned to Mirrielees, I wasn’t told this when I set my move-in day.” 

Verner discovered she owed over a thousand dollars during Week 2 of fall quarter, when she received an email about a balance on her account. 

According to Verner, she received notice of her outstanding balance less than two weeks before the bill was due. Verner said she was frustrated with the lack of communication from the University and felt blindsided by the bill. 

“If you’re on full financial aid, you’re on full financial aid for a reason,” Verner said. “You don’t have the money to just pull hundreds of dollars out of your pocket in a week.”

Students placed in Mirrielees are also not automatically signed up for a meal plan, something Smith, Verner and Kravantka said they discovered after moving in. This is because the rooms come with a kitchen, Miranda said, and “students can save on food costs by shopping at the grocery store and cooking for themselves.” He also noted that Stanford Dining offers an apartment meal plan that comes at a reduced cost and provides dining dollars and 5 meals per week.

Kravantka and Verner both said that their rooms did not come with kitchen appliances other than a refrigerator and a stove. “If you need a microwave, a toaster oven or even cooking utensils, you have to get all of that yourself,” Kravantka said. Verner said she was told multiple times by the financial aid office that she could reduce her living expenses by grocery shopping and cooking, or taking out a student loan. 

“I would have pulled out a student loan if it was necessary and I chose to live in Mirrielees,” Verner said. “But I got placed here, and now I’m being asked to pull out a loan for something I didn’t ask for.”

Smith said she chose to pay extra for a traditional 15 meal per week meal plan. “In-person classes take up a lot more time and energy than online classes did — I just wanted to focus on school and be able to get food when I needed it,” she said. Smith also does not have a car and said that both getting and preparing groceries would have been a large time commitment on top of classwork and adjusting to her first quarter on campus. 

The University encouraged students with concerns about costs to contact the financial aid office, Miranda wrote. 

According to emails Smith forwarded to The Daily, she contacted the financial aid office and R&DE to ask for an adjustment in housing prices. Smith said she and her roommate were sharing a room that is smaller than the images provided online and that it cannot fit two beds and two desks, the standard furniture supplied to students. She reasoned that she should not be asked to pay the same amount that students paid in past years when the Mirrielees rooms were two-room doubles instead of triples. 

R&DE told Smith they were unable to offer rent reductions, but she could initiate the housing reassignment process. 

Verner said she received a similar response from the financial aid office, encouraging her to reassign. However, Smith, Verner and Kravantka ultimately decided against reassignment. In previous years, if students were reassigned, they were unable to pass on their new assignment and had to relocate as soon as possible. This year, students are able to turn down their assignment, according to R&DE spokesperson Thomas Walters. This change was not initially reflected on the reassignment site, but the application portal has since been updated to reflect the new policy, Walters said.

It is also not possible to enter the process as a group. Already separated from most of their initial housing group, all three sophomores said they did not want to end up somewhere new with no guarantee of a friend in the dorms. 

“My roommate and I did not want to get separated from each other, especially after move in,” Smith said. “And that was the only option we were given.”

Verner said she was able to cover the costs of both rent and a regular meal plan without taking out a loan, but this did not happen until she called the financial aid office herself. 

“I had to fight tooth and nail,” she said. “I was essentially placed in Mirrielees, something I didn’t choose, and made to figure it all out by myself.”

This article has been updated to reflect that students can turn down reassignments this year.

Marli Bosler ’24 is a beat reporter for the Daily from Kirkland, WA. In her free time she enjoys making Spotify playlists and daydreaming about Seattle coffee.

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