The Ins and Outs of Need-Blind Admissions: What You Need to Know

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

transfer student

Figuring out the college admissions and financial aid processes can be stressful and complicated for both students and parents. It can be especially difficult if you’re afraid your financial situation puts a college education out of reach. After all, some schools take financial aid needs into consideration when evaluating applicants.

However, many colleges offer “need-blind” admissions that give students from all economic backgrounds a chance to further their education. In this article, we’ll explore what need-blind admissions means and how it may impact your chances of admission.

What Are Need-Blind Admissions? 

What does it mean when a college has a need-blind admission policy? It means that the student’s ability to pay tuition is not factored into the college’s admission decision. Need-blind schools typically admit more students who need financial aid than colleges that don’t have this policy. However, some schools have limits to this policy and may not offer need-blind admissions to transfer or international students.

What Is the Difference Between Need-Blind and Need-Based? 

As we explained, a need-blind admissions policy means that a student’s financial need won’t put them at a disadvantage in the admissions process. Need-based refers to a type of financial aid—the type you are requesting when you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many college students apply for need-based aid, regardless of whether the school they apply to has a need-blind admissions policy.

The Need for Economic Diversity on College Campuses 

So, why are need-blind admissions policies important? Need-blind admissions can be helpful in expanding access to college for talented students with limited financial means by giving them an equal chance for admission. This increases overall diversity on campus, not just economic diversity. This is important because studies show that economic diversity enhances learning—students are introduced to new ideas and perspectives from peers with different backgrounds and experiences.

How Need-Blind Admissions Work 

When a student applies to a need-blind college, the admissions decision is based on the strength of their academic achievements, test scores, extracurriculars, college admissions essay, letters of recommendation, and other merit-based criteria. The school’s decision to offer, defer, or deny admission or place them on a waitlist is not based on the student’s financial need.

If the student is admitted, the school may then review their financial aid application and award financial assistance in the form of student loans, grants, work-study opportunities, or need-based scholarships. It’s then up to the student to decide which parts of the financial aid package to accept or reject.

Pros and Cons of Need-Blind Admissions 

Need-blind admissions policies have their pros, as we’ve mentioned, including allowing greater access to college for low-income students, and enhancing the college experience for everyone by increasing diversity on campus. However, many schools with this policy cannot provide all the financial aid that many students need to enroll.

Additionally, the policy has been criticized because it doesn’t address the unfair advantage wealthy students have, such as being able to afford test prep, tutoring, participation in extracurriculars, and other opportunities that make them desirable candidates for college admissions. Low-income students are less likely to have access to these resources and opportunities. There is also some skepticism that any school is truly need-blind since the student’s application provides details that hint at their economic status.

Examples of Colleges with Need-Blind Admissions Policies 

More than 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. have need-blind admissions policies. While this is a small number, it includes several prestigious colleges. Since need-blind admissions policies can vary by school, you will want to research what each school offers.

Schools that meet 100% of each admitted student’s demonstrated need include:

  • Columbia University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Yale University
  • Harvard University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Princeton University
  • Brown University
  • University of Chicago


Some schools—such as Amherst College, Stanford University, and Swarthmore College—do not guarantee they will cover a student’s full demonstrated need. But they generally offer generous financial aid packages to students with demonstrated need that often include scholarships, grants, and work-study. Amherst and Swarthmore do not offer student loans.

Are MIT, Harvard, or Princeton Truly Need-Blind Admissions for International Applicants? 

While international students are excluded from need-blind admissions at some schools, it is true that these elite institutions will accept international applicants on a need-blind basis. In fact, MITHarvard University, and Princeton University have financial aid policies that allow them to meet the full demonstrated need of all admitted students, including international students.

Learn how to get into MIT.

Which Ivy League Schools Provide the Best Financial Aid for International Students?   

Private schools, such as Ivy League institutions, can be an attractive option for international students who need financial aid. In general, public colleges and universities—because they are funded partially by the government—prefer to award financial aid to applicants who reside nearby. According to recent survey from Peterson’s Data, these Ivy League schools offered the best financial aid to international students:

  • Dartmouth College: $64,516 on average
  • Brown University: $62,935 on average
  • Cornell University: $62,170 on average
  • Yale University: $62,089 on average
  • Harvard University: $61,703 on average


The Future of Need-Blind Admissions 

Need-blind admissions policies are meant to foster equity and inclusion. As colleges and universities continue to focus on attracting a more diverse applicant pool, they will need to look at their admissions policies as part of that effort. Schools that currently have need-blind policies have had success admitting high-achieving students from more diverse backgrounds, and these policies also help with their fundraising efforts. Need-blind admissions is not a perfect solution, but many feel it is a step in the right direction.

Even if your best-fit schools don’t have need-blind admissions policies, you can learn how to use financial aid leveraging when deciding where to enroll. For expert guidance on all aspects of your college admissions journey, schedule an Initial Consultation with an IvyWise counselor. We will work with you on a strategy that can help you reach your academic goals.


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