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What Are Need-Blind Colleges and Do They Really Exist?

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What Are Need-Blind Colleges and Do They Really Exist?

In today’s highly competitive college admissions market, colleges and students are looking for ways to manipulate the odds. For some students, financial aid is a necessity if they are to attend college. For other students, financial aid is not a consideration. As you can imagine, those students are looked at in a different light than those who need college financial assistance.

In order to understand why these two groups of applicants are reviewed differently, you should understand the definition of a need-blind college.

What does it mean when a college claims to be need-blind?

Need-blind admissions is the concept that colleges do not take into consideration an applicant’s financial need when weighing whether or not to admit the applicant. It might seem like a simple definition, but in reality the term is complex. “The term ‘need-blind admission’has no official definition,” said Rachel Fishman, an education policy analyst at the New America Foundation. “It’s not in law anywhere. It’s just a mantle that the schools put on themselves.”

According to a recent article in the New York Times:

Some colleges prefer the term “need-sensitive,” to indicate they decide on most of their admissions offers need-blind. If the numbers add up to a healthy financial year, they will admit more students need-blind; if not, they will consider need when filling remaining slots. A need-aware college might actually admit more students without considering financials than one that is need-blind.

Why do colleges like to claim need-blind status?

Elite colleges are proud to claim this label because it shows them to be fair—elite but not elitists. It’s a badge of honor. Colleges don’t give up the title willingly, and when they do it’s usually because of financial realities. George Washington University recently stopped calling itself need-blind, admitting that it had not been for several years, unwilling to give up the need-blind title. In addition, most private colleges that claim to be need-blind do not adhere to the policy when accepting international students, transfer students, and applicants on their waiting lists.

What about those financial aid questions on the Common App?

In the “Profile”section of the Common Application it asks students if they require a fee waiver for the application. This is a tip-off that the student is in need of aid. Then, further down on the application, a question reads “Financial Aid: Yes or No”. College admissions officers are only human and it’s impossible for them to ignore that checked box. The question is, does this cause them to keep an open mind for the remainder of the application or do they immediately discount the applicant, knowing they will need financial aid?

Some independent admission consultants advise students not to check either box. They advise students to wait until they are admitted before giving the college any hint they will ask for aid. In order to decide whether or not to check the box, go to a college’s net price calculator and find out if you even qualify for aid. If you don’t qualify, don’t check the box. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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Do need-blind colleges exist?

This term is highly criticized among college admissions counselors. They spout statistics, charts and graphs that prove the opposite. Truth is, it’s difficult for a college to be truly need-blind. Colleges are more than institutions of higher learning; they are a business that needs to generate income to survive. While many colleges rely heavily on endowments, if every student they admitted needed financial aid they would not be able to keep their doors open for very long.

Victoria Goldman, an author and education consultant based in Manhattan, explained it simply. “If you’re in that big pile of applications from kids who aren’t truly needy, who aren’t going to improve their socioeconomic diversity, who don’t have a particular talent they want, then, yeah, I think it can hinder your application to check that box [on the Common App].”

Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally recognized expert on college financing and publisher of Edvisors, is skeptical when colleges claim to be need-blind in choosing from waiting lists. “For some of them, I strongly suspect, from anecdotal information, that it isn’t really true, but it’s very hard to prove. A lot of these schools are just a lot less need-blind than they claim to be. I think there’s a lot of dishonesty in using that term.”

Does need-blind admission favor wealthier students?

Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a college expert and financial aid advisor says, “Ignoring income, and ignoring the residual effects of low-income are two entirely different things. The way our current admissions process works, virtually every other factor considered favors wealthier students, and/or students from wealthier high schools.” To prove her point, she takes a look at the weight of various admission factors and how they favor wealthier students. She created a flow chart to prove her point.

Whether or not a college is need-blind should not affect your college choices. However, the fact that most of the elite institutions in this country favor wealthier students should cause you to evaluate your college choices if financial need is a factor. The simple truth in today’s college market is that money talks. Colleges who claim to be need-blind weigh that factor into their decision. It’s impossible not to do so.

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