GWU Campus Front

Need-Blind vs. Need-Aware Colleges: Why You Should Apply Regardless

Recently the labels “need-blind” and “need-aware” were thrust into the spotlight.  After years of promoting themselves as a need-blind college, George Washington University admits they generally adopt need-aware practices.

In fact, about 10% of prospective students falling outside the top-achieving admissions migrate from “admitted” to “waitlisted” at GWU each year due to financial need consideration.  The lies surrounding their admission office’s reports caused GWU’s elimination from U.S. News & World Report’s best university list, along with a public uproar of need-blind versus need-aware practices.

Defining the Terms

With these two seemingly opposite expressions being thrown around, many confused students and their families scratch their heads and propose the glaring question, “What exactly is the difference?”

In black-and-white terms, “need-blind” simply means that the college leaves financial need completely out of the equation during their admission process.  When a school is “need-aware”, they may take the student’s ability to pay for fees into consideration at one point or another.

Of course, there’s always a grey area.  A college may ignore financial need for the main bulk of applications and only factor it into their decision for students on the border of qualification;  GWU is one of them.

However, there are truly need-blind schools out there, including these top-ranking institutions: MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth and Amherst.

As for public colleges, a good majority of them practice need-blind admissions.  A study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in 2008 tallied that a whopping 93% of public colleges utilize need-blind admission and 81% of private colleges do the same.  A mere 2% of public and 10% of private colleges indicate they were entirely need-aware.

Will You Be Affected?

Keep in mind that applicants within the top 20 or 25% bracket need not distress.

If you clearly demonstrated your credibility—high marks, strong letters of recommendation, a well-crafted admissions essay and extracurricular activities—you’re already a proven hard worker.

Thus, even if you require financial aid, it is likely even schools with the need-aware policy will automatically accept you without even glancing at your financial eligibility.

Your best bet is to piece together your expected financial aid per year and apply to as many colleges as you’d like.

Can’t afford the application fees?  The FAFSA is free!  And the CSS Profile application, that grants financial aid for some private colleges, offers a large number of students application fee waivers.

Don’t Question. Apply!

Whether or not a college distinguishes themselves as need-blind or need-aware, your record and application will speak for itself.  If you shy away from applying for financial aid and are stuck with the first-year bills you know you can’t pay, you’ll end up in a far worse situation.

Also, be vigilant of upcoming deadlines.  One of the biggest mistakes that families make is thinking they can wait until after the college has accepted the student to start the financial aid application process.

If you don’t apply for financial aid and the cut-off date passes, you will consequently miss out on grant money available and likely receive an aid offer with only loans.

So don’t be afraid to apply for financial aid, if you want the chance to pay less and could use help paying for college.

Westface College Planning can help you navigate the financial aid process from start to finish. To learn how we can help you call us at 650-587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.

Photo Credit: ProPublica

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