When Yemisi Mustapha ’25 received a likely letter from Cornell in March, she immediately had her heart set on attending the University.
As she awaited a final admissions decision, her acceptance letter came — but her financial aid package did not. While many other colleges gave her a financial aid package when she was accepted, she hadn’t heard from Cornell, and commitment day was fast-approaching.
“At this point, it’s reaching the end of April, and May 3 is coming up and I wanted to compare it against other schools,” she said, reflecting on her decision days after she committed to Cornell. “Even though it was with my first choice, if there was a significant difference in price I would have gone elsewhere.”
But the notification of her package never came. Following multiple emails and calls to the Cornell Office of Financial Aid and having passed commitment deadlines for her other schools, Mustapha decided to commit to Cornell without knowing her cost of attendance.
Mustapha isn’t the only one in this situation. While many relied on tools like financial aid calculators or the aid their siblings receive from other universities, she is one of many admitted first-year and transfer students forced to commit to Cornell this year without knowing the status of their financial aid.
Unless there are outstanding documents or logistical miscommunications, admitted students are typically notified of their financial aid package along with their acceptance letter.
In an email to the Sun, Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment, explained that delays in aid this year came from a higher volume of students and changing financial circumstances due to the pandemic. According to Burdick, students who began their application process later were given the opportunity for an extension.
But for students who were not given the extension, the responsibility fell on them to keep in contact with the financial aid office. “I was thinking maybe I should call their office and ask for an extension to commit. But I just thought, it should be fine,” Mustapha said. “I definitely don’t want to be trapped, which is like my worst fear. I don’t want to take out an immense amount of loans.”
Aima Ali ’25 said the aid office offered extensions for students who hadn’t received their aid offers, but said she felt the extensions did not offer much value. Following her acceptance, she was asked to submit three separate sets of additional documentation from the financial aid office. She has still yet to receive her aid offer.
“Being able to go to college without it being a financial burden on my family has been something that’s really important to me,” Ali said. This extra documentation included a housing verification form, as well as mortgage information.
“I wasn’t able to make a decision based on my financial aid, which is something I wanted to do,” she continued, explaining that she relied on the online calculator for an aid estimate.
For Nikolas Martin ’25, an incoming College of Human Ecology student planning on studying fiber science and apparel design, after the initial excitement of his acceptance wore off, he settled into other news — he was notified that part of his financial aid application hadn’t yet been completed.
“With items that weren’t complete, there were no real instructions on how to complete those items,” Martin said “I updated that [information] in the portal about two and a half weeks ago and I still haven’t had any type of notification or any update.”
In the days leading up to commitment day , the subreddit r/Cornell, a hub for incoming students to ask questions, was flooded with students who reported they had not yet received their financial aid, with one user writing, “even though Cornell was my first choice, I felt as if I no longer had other options since the deadline already passed for most colleges.”
Some students who tried to follow up with the financial aid office said they waited on the phone for more than two hours, and received multiple automated emails with no real answers to questions. For Mustapha, who lives in Arizona, contacting the Cornell aid office meant waking up at 7 a.m. to sit in front of her phone for the chance to catch a financial aid staffer.
And even when the aid offers did come weeks after their acceptance, some students were asked to take on loans that they felt were excessive for their financial situation.
Ashley Servia ’25, said a significant portion of the aid offer she received from Cornell was made up of loans.
“I got my financial aid need met but it was mostly in loans, so as someone who doesn’t want student loan debt, I didn’t really care for that part of the offer,” she said.
Servia said going forward, she plans to use the appeal process offered by the office in hopes to receive a more favorable offer.
Though committing to Cornell was feasible without financial aid information for some, for others, it meant giving up their dream school in favor of another.
“I do know of many other students and my friends who ended up having to commit somewhere else because they didn’t receive their financial aid package in time,” Martin said.
Update, May 14, 4:30 p.m.: This post has been updated to include a statement from Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment.