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Financial Aid 101: Need Blind vs Need Aware Colleges

April 08, 2019

When it comes to financial aid, need blind colleges and need aware colleges approach admissions differently. Find out which type of college will be more affordable for you.


If you’ve started looking into financial aid for college, you’ve most likely seen the terms need blind colleges and need aware colleges. If you’re not sure what they mean, we’re here to help! 

What’s the Difference Between Need Blind and Need Aware Colleges?  

“Need blind” and “need aware” are different financial aid admissions policies. The terms refer to whether the college considers a student’s ability to pay for college when making admissions decisions.


As the name indicates, need blind admissions policies do not take into account a student’s socioeconomic status. Some schools with need blind admissions policies are Boston College, Brown University, Dartmouth College, and Duke University.


On the other hand, need aware admissions policies do factor a student’s ability to pay for college into admissions decisions. According to college admissions counselor Kat Cohen in the Huffington Post, this doesn’t mean that socioeconomic status is the first thing need aware universities consider when making admissions decisions. It simply means that  a student’s ability to pay is considered at some point in the admissions process. As Cohen explains, colleges have a finite amount of financial aid to give, and must make sure they stay within their budget when admitting students.


Most colleges are need aware; some examples are Drexel University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Scripps Research Institute, and Washington University in St. Louis.


It can be difficult to tell when a college isn’t need blind, as most schools don’t explicitly spell out their need blind or need aware financial aid need policies on their websites. For example, Washington University’s website indicates that they have eliminated student loans as a form of financial aid for some families, but states nothing about whether the college is need blind or need aware. If a school doesn’t advertise that it’s need blind, it probably isn’t, and will instead advertise other positives about its financial aid program, making it difficult to run comparisons. 

Not All Need Blind and Need Aware Admissions Policies are Created Equal

At first glance, it seems that need blind admissions policies are better than need aware policies. Not taking into account a family’s need to pay is a good thing, right?


Like all things higher ed, however, it’s not so simple. The term “meets full demonstrated need” makes things complicated. While many need blind schools will proudly advertise their admissions policies on their website, they may not guarantee to meet admitted students’ full demonstrated need.


For example, Carnegie Mellon University explains they are a need blind school that doesn’t admit students based on their financial status. However, nowhere on their website do they guarantee that they will meet the full demonstrated need of all students admitted. This means that Carnegie Mellon won’t necessarily give students the financial aid they truly need to attend.


Conversely, Tufts University is a need aware university that guarantees to meet 100 percent of financial need for students who are accepted. In theory, by admitting students on a need aware basis, Tufts can make sure it has the budget to cover as much of these students’ financial need as possible. (Full disclosure: I’m a Tufts student myself.)


When comparing financial aid programs between schools, families should be aware that there are only 19 universities in the United States that are both need blind and meet 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated need. So in most cases, you’ll want to have realistic conversations with a given college’s financial aid counselors regarding how they approach financial need and affordability.


It becomes even more complicated for international students: CollegeVine found that only Amherst College, Harvard University, MIT,  Princeton University, and Yale University are need blind and meet full demonstrated need for both domestic and international students. 

How Can Families Compare Financial Aid Policies?

 It’s important to keep in mind that just because a school isn’t need blind or pledges to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need doesn’t mean that you won’t receive a decent financial aid package.


One way to get an idea of what a university’s financial aid policy will look like is to speak to a financial aid officer at the school. Ask them about their school’s financial aid budget, the percentage of students that are on financial aid, and whether they pledge to meet a student’s full demonstrated need. Most often, they will be helpful in explaining what their particular school’s policy is.


Financial aid calculators, or net price calculators can be incredibly helpful in determining what your financial aid package is likely to look like from different colleges.


Many universities have their own financial aid calculators on their websites that use your financial information to estimate your package. We also have our own at Edmit that incorporates not only financial information, but also a student profile. The purpose of these calculators is to help families better understand the investment they are making in terms of a particular university or college.


Ultimately, the most important thing is to do your research! If you use the resources that are available to you, you’ll be able to maximize your financial aid offer.


Kenia French is a rising junior at Tufts University majoring in International Relations and Environmental Studies. She became interested in education through writing an Investigative article on college affordability for the Tufts Daily.