Need-Blind Colleges – Are They Really?

Need-Blind Colleges – Are They Really?

They’re no apple pie or baseball, but since US universities charge some of the highest tuition fees in the world, need-blind colleges are a particularly American phenomenon.

A need-blind college promises to ignore your family’s ability to pay tuition when making the admissions decision.

It strives to be a meritocracy. 

 

What Is a Need-Blind College? The Good News

If your family doesn’t have the means to pay the full price of tuition, under a need-blind admissions policy, your child’s application is viewed the same as a trust-fund student’s.

Need-blind universities only consider your family’s financial status after an acceptance has been given, and often with an eye to offering a competitive financial aid package. 

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If your family is on the higher end of the socio-economic spectrum, in accordance with a need-blind policy, your child might be rejected for that C they got in Calculus; their slip-ups won’t be blanketed by your potential tuition contribution.

Should your student get admitted, however, you all can credit and celebrate their work—not the fruits of yours.

Not all colleges and universities are need blind, even if many that aren’t wish they could be.

Andrew Belasco, CEO of College Transitions explains on the PrepScholar blog that many colleges and universities with tight budgets are need aware, meaning they will factor in your student’s ability to pay tuition when considering their applications. 

Not all top-tier students are promised an equal shot of getting into a need-aware school. A need-blind college, contrastingly, promises equal admissions opportunity for all high achieving students.

 

What Does Need Blind Mean in Practice? Some Qualifications

Road2College states that need blind and need aware are admissions policies, having nothing to do with whether your student receives aid, or how much aid your family receives.

Need-blind schools do not guarantee a free ride. In some cases, need-aware schools may offer more in the way of financial aid.

PrepScholar identifies three models need-blind schools use to address financial need after acceptance: 

  • Full need, no loans: These schools will make sure your child’s tuition is 100 percent covered by the financial aid package with no outstanding student loans. Once your student graduates, they can focus full steam ahead on the future, without taking years paying back on their education. Under this model, the school will cover the difference between the cost of tuition and what your family can pay. 
  • Full need with loans: These schools cover financial need 100 percent, but the aid package includes student loans.
  • Need blind but no guaranteed financial aid to cover demonstrated financial need: These schools will accept your student with significant financial need, but won’t necessarily put their money where their acceptance is. 

Acceptance into a desirable school you then can’t pay for is disappointing, to say the least. And taking on significant student loans to cover tuition and fees may place an unfair burden on your child’s future. 

On the brighter side, here is a list of ten top-notch colleges and universities promising to be need blind and to meet 100 percent of your demonstrated financial need from PrepScholar’s comprehensive list of need-blind schools:

  • Amherst College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Columbia University
  • Davidson College
  • Harvard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Pomona College
  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • Swarthmore College

 

Are Colleges Really Need Blind,Though? What You Need to See

Some educators and administrators worry that no colleges are fully need blind and pretending otherwise may do more harm than good. 

Ivy Coach calls need-blind admissions a farce, citing the common practice of asking if the student needs financial aid on forms that the admissions officers see, along with the fact that most colleges need tuition dollars to avoid dipping into their endowments.

If your family can afford to pay tuition without financial aid, Ivy Coach states it’s in your best interest to make this clear when filling out application forms—even to a need-blind college.

Reported in Inside Higher Ed, Grinnell’s former president, Raynard S. Kingston, points out that need blindness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway, since the criteria used to evaluate students—test scores, extracurricular activities, and high school quality—puts less wealthy students at a disadvantage for acceptance.

Jon Boeckenstadt, former associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University, agrees. “Ignoring income and ignoring the residual effects of low-income are two entirely different things.” Test scores favor students who have access to expensive test-prep programs and often take multiple tests. Wealthier students in private schools or public schools in richer school districts take more Advanced Placement (AP), Honors, International Baccalaureate (IB), and other advanced courses. They get more help with essays and are more likely to have college-educated parents guiding them through the admissions process (or paying someone else to do the guiding).

Adam F. Falk, former President of Williams College and President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation believes that just as not seeing color won’t eliminate institutionalized racism, not seeing need does little to provide equal educational opportunities across the socioeconomic spectrum.

To rectify this, Williams College practices aggressive need seeking by identifying and helping high-achieving, low-income students as part of its recruitment process.

Strategies to truly make the admissions process fair, Falk says, include providing paid visits to high-achieving, low-income prospective and admitted students and offering them alumni mentorship and support.

Williams also partners with organizations such as I’m First, which focuses on college access for first-generation and low-income students. 

 

Parents, Be Aware of What You Need and What the School Can Give You

  • Check each school’s net price calculator to see what you can expect to pay out of pocket.
  • Stay alert to changes in need-blind policy, since some schools opt-in or out over time. 
  • Don’t dismiss need-aware schools; some may have policies in place whereby tuition paid by wealthier students allows more financial aid resources for those who need them.
  • Ron Lieber, writing for The New York Times also advises checking a school’s Common Data Set form online to gauge a school’s diversity. 
  • For information on merit scholarships check out Road2College’s College Insights tool

Understanding the different policies at need-blind and need-aware colleges can help you and your child make the best decision about where to apply.

However, it’s best not to dismiss either outright and compare each financial aid package carefully before choosing where to enroll.

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Karen Sosnoski

Karen Sosnoski is a mother of teens and a writer based in northern Virginia. Her writing has appeared in literary and mainstream publications, including, most recently The New York Times, Healthline, and The Temper She loves telling (and reading) stories about resilience found through facing limitations.
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