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Need Blind Versus Need Aware and Why You Should Know the Difference

Muhlenberg College

Muhlenberg College

If you’re like most families, you’re concerned with how much four years of college is going to cost you. My boys are two and six years old, and I worry about it already. And while so much of the college search is focused on working through the differences between colleges to find that “right school”, all too often one major difference is overlooked.

That difference is whether a school is need blind or need aware.

Need blind schools don’t consider an applicant’s financial need when making admissions decisions, but many are not able to meet applicants’ full need with their financial aid packages without adding work study (which rarely helps a family pay for college) and unrealistic loan options. Highly selective colleges like Yale and Harvard belong to a very small group of schools who are completely need blind and who meet full need. Due to massive endowments, they have unlimited financial aid budgets. If a student is admitted to these colleges they will have 100% of their financial need met.

Need aware schools do consider finances in their admissions decisions, but this control can give colleges the ability to meet full need for all accepted applicants. They must manage an annual financial aid budget that has limitations but by paying honoring these limitations, the colleges are trying to make sure that the student can actually attend. While some students would say a need aware policy is unfair and that decisions should not be made due to financial constraints, the reality is that there is only so much money to go around.

Some schools are a combination of both and while neither approach is perfect, you absolutely need to understand how their application review operates. Earlier this month I was visiting colleges in eastern Pennsylvania and several of them indicated that they are need blind until they get to the last 15-20% of their decisions. At that point, an applicant who has a greater ability to pay would get the nod over a student who was going to need significant financial aid in order to attend.

So how can a family best assess its options? Ask the right questions, of course.

When you visit a college or talk to admission counselors at high school visits or college fairs, ask them if they are need blind or need aware. Let them explain how they review applications so that you can fully understand how your ability to pay may affect your college applications.  You may be disappointed by what you hear, especially if you feel your family’s financial situation may affect your chances at a need aware college, but without knowing how a college will treat you, you run the risk of greater disappointment when the financial aid award doesn’t come close to making the school affordable.

In the college search and application process, information is everything.

If you would like some assistance with your college search, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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