Need Aware vs. Need Blind Colleges? What’s the Difference?

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Need Aware vs. Need Blind Colleges? What’s the Difference?

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When your student applies to school, you hope they will be evaluated based on their academic merits.


The good news is, they will be! On the other hand, most schools will also look at your family’s ability to pay before making an admissions decision.


Here’s what you need to know about need-aware vs. need-blind colleges.



What Is a Need-Blind College? What Is a Need -Aware College?

There are many schools that will consider your family’s financial situation as part of their admissions decision.


These schools are known as “need-aware” schools. Generally, the financial situation of your family isn’t the first or even the most important thing considered. However, these schools budget carefully and don’t want to admit too many students who cannot afford to attend without significant aid from the university.


Other schools are known as “need-blind” schools. They admit students without looking at financial needs at all. As a result, though, some students are admitted despite the fact that there will be a significant gap between how much the family can pay and the aid package offered.


If your student gets into a need-blind school, that’s great! However, keep in mind that if that school doesn’t offer your student enough aid, you may have to take out significant private student loans or have your child choose another, more affordable school.


Keep in mind that need blind and need aware are admissions policies. They have nothing to do with whether your student receives aid, or how much aid your family receives.


Unfortunately a school that changes from a need-blind to a need-aware policy may face a lot of heat in the media. This is what happened when Haverford College announced they had to shift their policy away from need-blind admissions.


In order to preserve their endowment for future years, Haverford College announced a move to a so-called need-aware model, admitting most applicants without looking at financial need while reserving the option of admitting a handful of students with the aid budget in mind.


The reality is very few schools can afford to be need blind and give significant aid to all students. Schools such as Amherst, MIT, and Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale  claim to be need-blind schools.



Are Schools Really Need Blind?

Need-blind schools tend to get the positive press, and they use their need-blind admission policy as a way to market their school.


But what does it really mean for your family?


Benefits of Need-Blind Schools

Because students are admitted without regard to socio-economic standing or need, need-blind schools may be more diverse than other types of colleges. Admitting a wide array of students allows a school to benefit from a variety of experiences and perspectives despite low income.


In addition, you can rest assured that your student’s admission decision is made entirely based on academics and other activities, and is not related to your family’s economic status.


Drawbacks to Need-Blind Schools

It’s important to note that very few need blind schools are also committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need.


Very simply, very few schools are wealthy enough to offer generous aid packages for EVERY student. As a result, a need-blind school that can’t meet 100% of demonstrated need, may end up admitting students but not being able to offer enough aid. This leads to your student either taking out significant private loans or being disappointed to have to turn down the admission offer.


This can mean that the attempt to bring in diversity doesn’t work, as many low-income students won’t be able to accept an admission offer without significant school-based aid.



Pros and Cons of Need-Aware Schools

If a school is need aware, it means that at least some of the applicants are evaluated based on their academics and their financial standing.


Sometimes this affects only a small percentage of applicants, and other times this standard is applied to everyone.


Benefits of Need-Aware Schools

Need-aware schools are much more likely to offer to meet 100% of demonstrated need. While this doesn’t mean your student attends for free, it does mean that if your child is admitted and you are lower-income, you’ll be more likely to get a good financial aid package from the school.


Even if they don’t meet 100% of need, you are far less likely to have a huge funding gap. These schools point out that admission without proper financial support is not the same as giving lower-income students access.


You can find need-aware schools with a lot of socioeconomic diversity by checking to see what percentage of students are on need-based aid. You might be surprised that you find some need-blind schools have more rich applicants and are less diverse than other need-aware ones!


Drawbacks of Need-Aware Schools

Of course, the primary drawback to a need-aware school is that your student may not be admitted because of their financial situation. The school simply believes that they cannot offer enough financial support to make attending sensible for your family.


If you’re unsure if a college is need blind or need aware, there’s nothing wrong with asking the admissions office what their policy is. You can also ask what percent of their applications are affected by the school’s need-aware policy. 


If you are a family that is willing to pay the full sticker price or has other resources to cover any potential financial gap between the total school cost and your financial aid offer, you may want to be strategic about where your student applies and make sure there are schools on the list where your financial status is an advantage. In this case, have your student focus on schools where the need test affects only a small percentage of students.


If your family can’t pay in full (which many, many families can’t), then focus on positioning your student to be attractive academically to the school, by applying to colleges where your child is in the top 25% of the freshman class in terms of grades and test scores. Students receiving merit scholarships are most often in the top 25th academic percentile of students accepted. 




Finding the Right School for Your Student

Both need-aware and need-blind schools have pros and cons. The key is to do your research and discover how it affects your family!


Interested in schools that offer significant merit aid as well? Check out our College Free Money Finder today!
















Anna Spooner

Anna Spooner has been writing professionally since 2011. She's a professional writer and blogger specializing in finance and insurance.