Need-blind Vs Need-aware schools

Need-blind Vs Need-aware schools

by George Jankiewicz on Sep 1, 2017

Matthew Jankiewicz | Friday, September 1, 2017

While providing students a quality education is a top priority for colleges and universities, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, colleges operate like corporations. And just as a corporation looks after its assets and investment shares, colleges also make decisions that will benefit their bottom line.

While each college’s admissions office handles their process uniquely, you can expect your child’s acceptance to a particular school to boil down to a calculated business decision that will always lean in the school’s favor.

Read on to learn the different ways universities weigh your family’s financial status into their decision-making process and how it can affect your child’s collegiate and economic future.

What is a Need-Blind Admission Policy?

Schools that implement a need-blind admission policy accepts students without regards to the applicant’s financial need. In theory, this means that students from higher-income families (those who can afford to pay the full admissions price tag out of pocket) are on equal admissions footing with student from relatively lower-income families.

Currently, 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.

What is a Need-Aware Admission Policy?

Schools that implement a need-aware (sometimes called need-sensitive) admissions policy do examine an applicant’s financial need when considering their acceptance or rejection. Typically, this policy won’t kick in until the admission’s office has filled a majority of their allotted acceptance slots. For the top performing students, financial need is not a concern to the college, and these students will most likely receive aid to cover 100% of their need.

For the marginal students (those falling in the bottom 30% of the applicant pool), their financial need will factor heavily in the college’s decision to accept them or not. Students in this category who come from wealthier families have a better chance at being accepted than those who qualify as marginal students AND financially needy.

What Lies Beneath the Need-Blind Façade?

Many critics of the need-blind programs contend that schools do not play as deferential of a role as they claim. While it is true the financial aid office and the admissions office may not communicate during the acceptance process, there are certain clues on the standard application form that can be easily detected by the discerning eye as to whether the applicant comes from a poor background. For starters, on the application, you will be asked whether or not you will also be applying for financial aid. Your answer to that question can affect the way the university will view the application. If you say yes, you may become disqualified for acceptance. My advice would be to leave the question blank.

Keep in mind, there is a reason many schools will try to eliminate marginal candidates with a high financial need. Lately, the difficulties of the current economy have caused endowments to shrink, making need blind policies difficult to maintain, or even—at times—economically unsustainable.

This results in what’s known as “gapping:” the practice of purposefully admitting a financially needy student without offering enough aid for such students to cover the full cost of tuition. Imagine you’re a student who has one parent working a minimum-wage job and another parent on permanent disability. You qualify as needing extreme financial assistance. To your amazement, you are accepted to an illustrious university that you only dreamed you would ever be able to attend. Your entire family is brimming with pride; it seems that all of that hard work and dedication has paid off. But, upon reviewing the financial aid award letter, you realize that you have unmet need, a gap between the excessive tuition costs and the financial aid the college is willing to offer you. In this heartbreaking scenario, you are unable to raise the money on your own to cover the out-of-pocket expenses, leaving you no choice but to forfeit your acceptance. It’s time to move on to the “next best” offer.

The Takeaway:

  1. Almost all families underestimate their eligibility for need-based aid. Unless your family is so rich that they can simply write out a check for your tuition (and all the associated expenses that come with going to college), you should always apply for financial aid.
  2. Find out if the schools you are considering applying to have need-blind or other need-based admissions policies. Keep these policies in mind when you receive your acceptance letters.
  3. Make sure you understand how to read the financial aid award letter. If the award letter from your top school doesn’t help to cover tuition and other associated expenses, look for additional aid in the form of gift aid, which doesn’t need to be repaid. If the amount of gift aid is insufficient, compare student loans to choose the one with the best repayment policy and lowest interest rates.
  4. When you visit your top schools, arrange an in-person meeting with a financial aid officer to discuss their financial aid policies and explain your financial needs and academic qualifications.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was written by Matthew Jankiewicz. Matthew Jankiewicz is not affiliated with United Planners Financial Services of America. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 Matthew Jankiewicz.


Matthew Jankiewicz is a freelance copywriter, blogger, and founder of Finance Crusader. When not busy writing, you can find him biking along Lake Shore Drive, reading at your favorite local bookstore, or attending open-mic comedy shows. His online residence can be found at