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.

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.
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