Need-Blind Admissions

Summary: There is a lot of behind-the-scenes action that happens as colleges choose who they are going to accept each year. One of those hidden factors could be your family’s finances. This article explains the difference between need-blind and need-sensitive admissions and what you need to know about it.

You’ve likely been told over and over again how important your grades, test scores, volunteer activities, and essay answers are to your college admission chances. But, did you know that your family’s finances might play a role as well? So, how does that affect your admission chances and what do you need to know?

What Does "Need-Blind" Mean?

First of all, let’s just acknowledge that you can’t change your family’s financial status. So, no worrying about that. What you want to focus on is what the admissions office might be looking at.

A college is need-blind if it does not consider a family’s finances when deciding to admit a student. (They won’t be looking at your FAFSA or ask you for any financial information when they make their decision.) Otherwise, the college is need-sensitive or need-aware — meaning they take your financial status into account when they decide whether or not to admit you.

Benefits of Attending a Need-Blind School

Here’s the potential good news about need-blind schools: Need-blind schools often provide significant financial aid to students with “demonstrated financial need,” as determined by the FAFSA and other financial aid applications. (Some of them even meet 100% of “demonstrated financial need,” which can be a significant bonus if finances are a big part of your college enrollment decision.)

Just remember this: even if a school meets 100% of your “demonstrated financial need,” this doesn’t mean you get to attend for free. It just means that the school has put together a financial aid package that covers 100% of your need. This package could include gift aid (like grants and scholarships), as well as work-study and student loans that you will have to pay back.

There are about 100 colleges that claim to have a need-blind admissions policy. About a third offer need-blind admissions to international students and four-fifths to transfer students.

Check your financial aid award carefully if you’re accepted. About a third of these schools will leave students with unmet need: You might get admitted, but you won’t have the financial aid you need to enroll. (This is called an “admit-deny” situation.)

Need-Sensitive Schools

Even if a college is need-blind, that policy can change to need-sensitive when it comes to the wait list. This means that most schools will consider financial status when deciding to admit students on the wait list. Only five colleges say that they are need-blind for wait-listed students: Amherst, Babson, Bard, Baylor, and Wellesley.)

The potential good news about need-sensitive schools: They might be actively seeking a broad demographic mix of students. They sometimes have specific programs to help low-income students get into school, pay for school, and be successful while in school.

This can also be good news if you are an “average” student who comes from a high-income family. The school might just give you the admission and, sometimes, a merit award eligibility edge knowing you’ll be paying more tuition dollars (and probably alumni donation dollars as well).

List of Need-Blind Colleges and Universities

Curious about need-blind schools? This list of need-blind colleges and universities was compiled as of Fall 2015 through a review of college financial aid office websites and follow-up telephone calls. When the college’s policy was unable to be determined, it is marked with a “?” You should contact the colleges you are considering for the most current policy.

Name of School Need-Blind
(Domestic)
Need-Blind
(International)
Need-Blind
(Transfer)
Need-Blind
(Wait List) 
Adrian College Yes Yes Yes  
Amherst College Yes Yes Yes Yes
Babson College Yes Yes Yes Yes
Barnard College Yes No No  
Baylor University Yes Yes Yes Yes
Biola University Yes No No
Boston College Yes No Yes ?
Boston University Yes No No  
Bowdoin College Yes No No  
Brandeis University Yes No Yes  
Brown University Yes No No ?
California Institute of Technology Yes No Yes  
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Yes No Yes  
Carnegie Mellon University Yes No Yes  
Chapman University Yes Yes Yes  
Claremont McKenna College Yes No Yes  
Columbia University Yes No Yes  
Cooper Union Yes No No  
Cornell College Yes No Yes  
Cornell University Yes Yes Yes  
Dartmouth College Yes No Yes  
Davidson College Yes No Yes  
Denison University Yes No Yes  
DePaul University Yes No Yes  
Duke University Yes No Yes  
Elon University Yes No No  
Emory University Yes No Yes  
Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Yes Yes Yes  
Florida State University Yes No Yes  
Fordham University Yes No No  
Georgetown University Yes Yes Yes  
Grinnell College Yes No Yes  
Hamilton College Yes No Yes  
Harvard Business School Yes Yes Yes  
Harvard College Yes Yes Yes  
Harvey Mudd College Yes No Yes  
Haverford College Yes No Yes  
Hiram College Yes No Yes  
Holy Cross Yes Yes Yes  
Jewish Theological Seminary Yes ? Yes  
Johns Hopkins University  Yes No    
Julliard Yes ? ?
Lawrence University Yes No Yes  
Lehigh University Yes No    
Lewis & Clark College  Yes No Yes  
Marist College Yes No No  
Marlboro College Yes No Yes  
Middlebury College Yes No Yes  
Mills College  Yes No No  
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Yes Yes Yes  
Mount St. Mary’s College Yes No No  
North Carolina State University (NCSU) Yes No Yes  
New York University (NYU) Yes No Yes  
North Central College Yes No Yes  
Northeastern University Yes No    
Northwestern University Yes No Yes  
Olin College of Engineering Yes No Yes  
Penn State Yes No Yes
Pomona College Yes Yes Yes  
Princeton University Yes Yes Yes  
Providence College Yes No Yes  
Randolph College Yes ? ?  
Rice University Yes No Yes  
Salem College Yes No Yes  
San Jose State University (SJSU)  Yes No Yes  
Semester at Sea Yes Yes NA
Soka University of America Yes ? Yes  
St. John’s College Yes Yes Yes  
St. Olaf College Yes No ?  
Stanford University Yes No Yes  
State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry Yes No Yes  
Swarthmore College Yes No Yes  
Syracuse University Yes No Yes  
The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) Yes No Yes  
Thomas Aquinas College Yes Yes Yes  
Trinity University Yes No Yes  
Tufts University Yes No    
Tulane University Yes Yes Yes  
University of Chicago Yes No Yes
University of Illinois at Chicago Yes Yes Yes  
University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business Yes ? Yes  
University of Miami Yes Yes Yes
University of New Hampshire Yes Yes Yes  
University of North Carolina Yes Yes Yes  
University of Notre Dame  Yes No Yes  
University of Pennsylvania Yes No Yes  
University of Richmond Yes Yes Yes  
University of Rochester Yes No    
University of Southern California (USC) Yes Yes Yes  
University of Vermont Yes Yes Yes  
University of Virginia Yes No Yes  
University of Washington Yes Yes Yes  
Ursuline College Yes Yes ?  
Vanderbilt University Yes No Yes  
Vassar College  Yes No Yes  
Wabash College Yes No Yes  
Wake Forest School of Medicine Yes No NA  
Washington University Yes No Yes  
Wellesley College Yes No Yes Yes
Wesleyan University Yes No Yes  
Williams College Yes No Yes  
Yale University Yes Yes Yes  
Yeshiva University Yes Yes    

Recommendations

  1. Almost all families underestimate their eligibility for need-based aid. So, unless your family can flat-out write a check for your tuition (and all the other college expenses!), you should apply for admission and financial aid.
  2. Find out if the schools you are applying to have need-blind or other need-based admissions policies. Keep these policies in mind as you get those acceptance letters.
  3. Before you accept admission to a school, make sure it is a good financial fit, not just a good academic fit.
The Student Survival Guide: The perfect tool for navigating high school & college!
Try it!