How Blind is Need Blind?
If you have applied to college or are applying soon, you have heard of need-blind and need-aware admissions. Need blind means that a student’s ability to pay the college’s tuition won’t be a factor in whether he or she gains admission, while need-aware means that a student’s ability to pay will be a factor in their admission decision.
Need blind has become increasingly popular in recent years as a general upward trend has been seen in most colleges’ endowments - that is up until COVID hit. There are many myths and misconceptions about what need-blind really means out there, so I’ll start by debunking those myths. Many people think that if a college is need-blind, they are guaranteeing to come up with 100% of the money the student needs. In reality, it means that a college cannot deny a student admission solely because of the amount of money they need. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the student needing financial aid will be able to afford the need-blind college even after being admitted.
Some people are also under the impression that any student can qualify for financial aid. In fact, a student can only qualify if their family’s yearly income is lower than a certain number. This poses many issues in the financial aid part of the admissions process because there are many unique family situations that aren’t accounted for when there is a cut-off number for qualifying for financial aid.
Admissions officers will tell you that their college is need-blind without really explaining what it means or how it ends up working during the admissions process. It’s definitely worth questioning how much need-blind truly means. If colleges were truly need-blind, then why is there a question on every applicant’s supplement asking if the student needs financial aid? Why wouldn’t this question be on a separate document that admissions officers cannot see when evaluating an applicant’s file? Wouldn’t that be a fairer definition of need-blind?
“Don’t apply for aid. It will significantly hurt your child’s case for admission.”
In addition, parents report that when they asked college counselors or admissions officers directly how to maximize their child’s chance of acceptance, they got answers along the lines of “Don’t apply for aid. It will significantly hurt your child’s case for admission.” If need-blind doesn’t change the fact that kids who are able to pay full tuition are at an advantage, what’s the point of need-blind?
As I stated earlier, colleges suffered a tremendous budget crunch due to the pandemic. The question is: are colleges now favoring students who can pay full tuition even more because of their new financial constraints? While no specific research has been conducted—it’s hard to gauge what truly happens when officers review applications until you can interview a former admissions officer—it can be assumed that the pandemic has exacerbated the issue of colleges favoring full tuition-paying students.
Even if need blind’s possible issues have not been worsened by the pandemic, the favoring of more wealthy students has escalated without question. Donations, especially large ones that can put a family name on a building, are a huge source of money for colleges. In a year where college budgets were decreasing rapidly, donations surely matter more and more. So if an alumnus donated a large amount to a university and wanted to send his or her child to that university, the child’s chances of getting in would be increased.
Wealthier students are also more likely to have legacy at the more prestigious institutions because it is more likely that their parents had enough family money to attend prestigious universities. This topic causes a lot of tension among students applying to college, as many believe that advantages such as legacy and donations are unfair and should not influence a student’s admission decision. Many would argue that legacy at a school does not reflect a student’s academic or personal strength, while others believe it shows a student’s dedication and connection to the school.
Colleges try to avoid explicitly addressing such topics due to their divisiveness. However, it’s non-negotiable that regardless of colleges’ need-blind admission policy, the less wealthy are still placed at a disadvantage.