AllGrant_title
Stories by Kim Catley Photographs by Kris Qua | Photo illustrations by Mark Harris

Now in its second year, Williams’ All-Grant Financial Aid program is making a difference in the lives of students.

 

In April 2022, Williams College took a major leap in improving college affordability when it announced its All-Grant Financial Aid program, replacing traditional loans and work-study requirements with grants that don’t have to be repaid.

The program is the first of its kind in the nation and furthers the college’s commitment to eliminating economic barriers to a Williams education.

Fifty-three percent of students receive financial aid, which extends beyond tuition, room and board to cover expenses such as health insurance, unexpected medical bills, textbooks and art supplies, study abroad, and travel to and from campus. At a cost of roughly $6.75 million per year, All-Grant increases Williams’ total annual financial aid budget to $77.5 million. The aim is to sustain the initiative with new endowment gifts to Williams, including through an innovative 1:1 matching program.

For many students, the program relieves some of the unseen financial pressures of college life and provides flexibility. The time once devoted to a campus job can now be spent taking a more demanding course load, diving deeper into the material by attending professors’ office hours or exploring a new passion. A summer job to earn money toward a student’s tuition contribution can be replaced by an unpaid internship to support their career exploration.

“All-Grant is our next major step toward true affordability,” says Liz Creighton ’01, dean of admission and student financial services. “We listened to students talk about what they wished they had more time to pour themselves into at Williams. We’re passionate about giving them the flexibility to pursue what they love.” Here, seven students share how All-Grant is shaping their Williams experience.

Photo illustration of Vanya Funez ’26Vanya Funez ’26 was organizing her high school’s Relay for Life event with one eye on her phone, waiting to see if she had been accepted to Williams. When the notification arrived, she recalls, she couldn’t believe it. Then she read the good news about her financial aid package: Everything was covered except for a $2,700 contribution from work-study.

A few weeks later, she received an update from Student Financial Services and assumed her contribution was increasing. Instead, Funez learned that Williams had just announced its new All-Grant Financial Aid program. Her $2,700 contribution was eliminated.

Aside from a state school that she says was “too close to home,” Williams was now the only college that covered 100% of her cost to attend.

“It was definitely a deciding factor,” Funez says. “I always wanted to go to college for free. I didn’t want my parents to spend a dime, and I didn’t want to have loans.”

She graduated from a vocational-technical high school focused on business and information technology. Her plan was to major in political economy, economics or political science. But Funez says she struggled with the idea of taking classes in subjects she felt less connected to—particularly math and science.

“I told my adviser, ‘I’m not a STEM person,’ and he suggested Oceanography,” Funez says. “That class and the professor changed everything.”

The course is taught by geosciences professor Mea Cook, whose research uses sediment samples from the Bering Sea to study the ocean’s role in climate change. Funez joined Cook’s lab as a research assistant the following semester.

She’s now considering a geosciences major while continuing to study economics, making connections between the two disciplines inside and outside the classroom. She has spent the fall semester working as a teaching assistant for an economics course on price and allocation theory. She’s interested in the economic impact of climate change. And she is working as a science fellow with Williams’ Brayton and Greylock Elementary School Partnership, visiting a first-grade classroom to teach science lessons once a week.

“Being at Williams has taught me to appreciate the academic side of econ,” Funez says. “I know I don’t have to go into consulting or finance; I can be a professor or study policy. The love that I have for econ is very different than the love that I had before, but it’s way better.”

Photo illustration of Kaia GlickmanDuring high school, Kaia Glickman ’25 started emailing softball coaches at Division III colleges, hoping to secure a spot on one of the teams. Williams was high on her list. Williams had recently made it to the Women’s College World Series, and she wanted to study at a top liberal arts school.

With a twin sister heading to Tufts University, Glickman says she found Williams’ financial aid package to be a critical factor in her decision. She was nervous about balancing a campus job with her plans to take multivariable calculus and astrophysics classes that fall, training with a new softball team, and moving from California to an unfamiliar place. So she spent the summer after high school babysitting to cover her required financial contribution. (Williams had not yet unveiled its All-Grant program.)

“It wasn’t ideal to have to hand that money over to the college,” she says, “but I’m glad I decided not to get a job on campus. I wasn’t in a place to spread myself even thinner.”

During her first two years at Williams, Glickman took a variety of classes as she explored potential majors. She loved her Introduction to Astrophysics class but hesitated to continue such a time-intensive course of study. But with the promise of support from her softball coaches—and the elimination of the work requirement in her financial aid package her sophomore year—she felt confident to move forward.

Glickman says balancing her astrophysics major and a varsity sport can feel like having two full-time jobs, especially when softball is in season. But she’s learned to study effectively and ask for help where she needs it. She regularly attends office hours with her teaching assistants for guidance on homework.

The elimination of her on-campus and summer work requirements also created space for Glickman to get a job as a teaching assistant in the astronomy department, where she helps students operate the three telescopes in the observatory.

She also has been able to spend summers as a member of the Israeli national softball team. During the last three summers, she has traveled to Israel and Canada to compete against the national teams from Japan, Italy and Mexico, where, she says, “I got to be on the field with some of the greatest athletes to ever play.”

Photo illustration of Jacob Rivet ’25Last year, history major Jacob Rivet ’25 had an unexpected opportunity when his roommates proposed a 10-day trip to Italy during spring break. Apart from a family road trip to Canada, he’d never been outside of the U.S.

Because his financial aid package includes a combination of grants to cover personal expenses, books, clothing and health care—and as a self-described frugal person who relies heavily on his meal plan—he says he felt comfortable with the expense of the trip.

“I decided I’m only in college once,” Rivet says.

He attended a soccer game in Milan, visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo in Florence, and took in art museums and historic churches. Inspired by the experience, Rivet came back to campus and started applying to study abroad programs. He looked for opportunities that supported his plans to attend medical school. This spring, he’ll take part in a School for International Training program focused on public health that will bring him to Washington, D.C., Argentina, India and South Africa.

On campus, meanwhile, his days are filled with research and laboratory classes in biology, chemistry and physics in preparation for medical school. He is also using his time to explore subspecialties. During the spring 2022 semester, he worked in psychology professor Noah Sandstrom’s neuroscience lab, studying the brain and behavioral changes resulting from mild traumatic brain injury in mice.

“For the first time, I was doing lab work where there wasn’t pressure to get exact results,” he says. “We had the freedom to make mistakes and gain from it because that’s just science.”

This past summer, Rivet had an internship with the Pediatric Anxiety Research Center at Bradley Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I. There he assisted with exposure therapy and worked alongside a mobile therapist.

Without a required work-study contribution, Rivet says he’s had time and flexibility to explore his passions.

“I never thought I would go abroad,” Rivet says, adding that he is enjoying being what he calls a “true liberal arts geek.”

Photo illustration of Al Mercedes Casado ’26

In high school, Al Mercedes Casado ’26 decided on a career path after watching the TV series The Big Bang Theory. “Everything on the show sent me into a deeper research rabbit hole,” they say. “I decided I wanted to be a physicist.”

Mercedes Casado’s Bronx, N.Y., high school didn’t offer physics, so a chemistry teacher recommended the City College of New York’s STEM Institute. The program, which they attended the summer before their senior year, encourages underrepresented students to pursue STEM fields.

Mercedes Casado discovered Williams when researching colleges with computer science and physics programs that also met students’ full financial need.

“I always knew that if I was going to afford college, I would have to make it up on my own,” they say.

Attending Williams’ Previews program—where admitted students spend two days experiencing life on campus—helped them make their decision. Mercedes Casado says their hosts showed them around campus and Williamstown and introduced them to life beyond the campus tour. They experienced a strong sense of community they didn’t find at other colleges.

The financial aid package also set Williams apart. Other colleges still expected their family to contribute more than Mercedes Casado felt was possible.

“I didn’t want to burden my parents or ask them to break the bank to pay for my college,” they say.

Though they held paid jobs during high school, Mercedes Casado says they were glad not to be required to work on campus right away, given “the culture shock of moving to a different place and not having my immediate support system. I wanted to be more adjusted before getting a job. When I got the financial aid packet, it was one less thing I had to worry about.”

The transition was still challenging. Many of their classmates came to Williams with high school and Advanced Placement physics and a solid set of problem-solving skills. Mercedes Casado says they are comfortable with advanced math but regularly attend office hours for extra help. They also formed a study group with their classmates.

Now they are exploring different subfields, in part by spending 10 weeks over the summer in a biochemistry lab at Virginia Tech that their Williams professor introduced them to.

“The feeling of satisfaction I get after struggling for hours over a problem set,” they say, “when I finally understand it, it’s totally worth it.”

 

Photo illustration of Elias Sienkiewicz ’24

By the time he got to Williams, Elias Sienkiewicz ’24 had worked in a variety of jobs, including in food service, installing fire sprinkler systems and manufacturing hotel wall panels. The income went toward his family’s contribution to his secondary school tuition in Great Barrington, Mass.—a debt he paid off during a gap year before college.

“I was always looking for the highest paying job I could get with a high school diploma,” he says. “I had to budget out the coming year and make a plan to earn that much money during the summer.”

At first his experience at Williams was no different. He worked summers and kept the academic year free to explore his interests. He led first-year students on outdoor orientation trips. He took courses in philosophy and physics but chose to major in economics and computer science, saying that practicality and earning potential were priorities.

“Especially as a kid coming from a low-income background, it feels like a safety net to be broadly employable,” he says.

Williams announced its All-Grant program in the spring of Sienkiewicz’s sophomore year. He also learned that his job the next year as a junior advisor, living with first-year students and helping them acclimate to college life, would now be a paid position.

With dramatically reduced expenses, Sienkiewicz explored more opportunities. He joined the crew team and is now the captain. And, for the first time ever, he opted to take a lower-paying job. He guided high school students through the mountains of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons with Overland Summers.

“I got to shop around and spend my summer in a much more rewarding and fulfilling way,” he says. “It was a huge quality-of-life upgrade for me and an opportunity to do something that I probably will never have the chance to do again.”

This past summer—his last before graduation—he took a management consulting internship with Ernst & Young after meeting with representatives at a campus information session. He also knew a handful of recent graduates working there and tapped into the Williams alumni network in preparation for entering the job market.

“I may want to do management consulting as a career, I may not,” says Sienkiewicz, who, in October, accepted a position as an analyst at Broadhaven Capital Partners in New York starting in July. “But it’s broadly applicable to a bunch of different career paths. Even if I don’t know what I want to do, I want to at least come out of Williams with a lot of options.”

Photo illustration of Chris Flores '26Chris Flores ’26 grew up in the border town of Nogales, Ariz., with a single working mother and a younger sibling. When it came time to explore colleges, he says, “I knew my family wouldn’t be able to help me out.”

The change to All-Grant made a big difference. “I was able to come to Williams and not worry about how I would support myself,” he says. “I have the freedom and power to be intentional with my time and the jobs I choose.”

Nearly everything he does with that time involves working to create a welcoming and inclusive environment. He organizes events as a member of the Williams Firsts Student Union. Through the Outing Club, he encourages underrepresented communities to get outdoors, including by securing funds to help students go skiing and snowboarding free of charge. He also works as an ambassador in the admission and financial aid office, where he helps to demystify the financial aid process for prospective students.

With an interest in health care, Flores says he is considering a chemistry major and is open to careers in both clinical and policy settings. So he spent last summer in Washington, D.C., as an intern for U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. His living expenses were covered by Williams’ Alumni Sponsored Internship Program, and he purchased a suit with money from the ’68 Center for Career Exploration’s Career Access Fund.

Flores says it was “rejuvenating” to connect with a cohort of students from similar cultural backgrounds and to represent the issues they face across the U.S.

His goal is to ground his career in improving people’s lives—especially those of low-income people and people of color like him. It’s a step he’s already taking in his work as a teaching assistant for Deborah Carlisle’s Biology 101 class, where he regularly assures students from similar backgrounds that they will be successful at Williams.

“For me, it’s about being there and having representation,” Flores says.

“I came from an underfunded public school. I didn’t even take chemistry in high school. But being able to tell people, ‘I was in your shoes not too long ago, and you can do it’—that I understand their unique circumstances—I think that’s so powerful.”

Photo illustration of Ry Emmert ’26While attending the Princeton University Summer Journalism Program, a free, year-long college preparation program for high school juniors from limited income backgrounds, Ry Emmert ’26 connected with professional journalists who offered advice on colleges and the admissions process. They also introduced her to Williams College.

She took part in Windows on Williams, a three-day, all-expenses-paid visit to campus for high-achieving high school seniors. She sat in on classes, listening to the intellectual conversations and noticing how intertwined and interconnected everyone seemed. At a presentation on financial aid, she learned about the All-Grant program as well as how grants covered books, supplies and study-away opportunities, among many other things.

“I realized there was no better financial aid that I could get from another college,” Emmert says.

She struggled her first year as she adapted to challenging coursework and an unfamiliar seminar format for many classes. But she started to find her niche after an introductory geosciences course with José Constantine, director of the  environmental studies program.

Emmert worked as a paid research assistant in Constantine’s geomorphology lab, which led to an internship with an environmental studies lab at Bates College, near Emmert’s home in Maine. She spent the summer working alongside other undergraduates, investigating environmental changes in Maine lakes and their influence on the proliferation of cyanobacteria algae blooms. She says the internship, supported by a grant from Williams’ Center for Environmental Studies, built on her classroom skills in geographic information systems, and she gained experience conducting field observations and collecting data samples.

“Pursuing unpaid work, with no other source of income, is difficult for first-gen, low-income students,” she says. “But all of these experiences are exposing me to the interdisciplinary nature of geosciences and allowing me to explore careers in the field.”

Emmert says she is interested in preserving marine biodiversity and in the intersections of water quality, coastal resilience and climate change. In the spring, she plans to delve further into these issues through the Williams-Mystic program, where students spend a semester engaged in a multidisciplinary investigation of the sea.

“[All-Grant] has allowed me to pursue extracurricular involvement, community engagement and anything that’s conducive to my academic interests,” she says. “It allows me to pursue opportunities like Williams-Mystic that I wouldn’t be able to pay for by myself at another college or university. 

“I’m being given this fantastic opportunity to pursue my true academic interests and figure out who I want to be and what I want to do with my life.”

Kim Catley is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Va. She previously worked for the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University and is now a contributor to a number of university magazines.
Mark Harris is a nuanced collage artist living in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter. Emulating tactics akin to the foundation of print, Harris brings a tactile feel to every project he approaches.
Kris Qua is a photographer based in Albany, N.Y., who has more than 20 years’ experience working with clients in education, health care, sports and beyond.