The Truth About Need Blind vs. Need Aware Schools

College is a popular path for many students after high school, but the road to the first lecture hall can be long and winding. Understanding the realities, and differences, between “need-blind” and “need-aware” schools, will help bring you one step closer to making an informed decision about which colleges to apply to, and ultimately attend.

What does “Need Blind” Mean?

In short, need-blind colleges do not take your family’s financial situation into consideration during the application process, need-aware ones do. So if for instance, you need 50% of your total tuition covered, in theory, a need-blind college like USC will not hold that against you, need-aware ones like Northeastern and Brandeis might.

Once you are accepted, need-blind colleges will generally create an aid package to meet your “demonstrated financial needs” based on your FAFSA®. These usually include a mix of loans, grants, and scholarships, which don’t necessarily amount to 100% of your tuition. Some colleges tend to provide more aid than others, and some students receive more depending on how much the college wants them to enroll. Need-aware colleges, on the other hand, don’t always offer the same aid services, even if students have already been accepted.

How it Affects You

College is a popular path for many students after high school, but the road to the first lecture hall can be long and winding. Understanding the realities, and differences, between “need-blind” and “need-aware” schools will help bring you one step closer to making an informed decision about which colleges to apply to, and ultimately attend.

What does “Need Blind” Mean?

In short, need-blind colleges do not take your family’s financial situation into consideration during the application process, need-aware ones do. So if for instance, you need 50% of your total tuition covered, in theory, a need-blind college like USC will not hold that against you, need-aware ones like Northeastern and Brandeis might. 

Once you are accepted, need-blind colleges will generally create an aid package to meet your “demonstrated financial needs” based on your FAFSA®. These usually include a mix of loans, grants, and scholarships, which don’t necessarily amount to 100% of your tuition. Some colleges tend to provide more aid than others, and some students receive more depending on how much the college wants them to enroll.

Need-aware colleges, on the other hand, don’t always offer the same aid services, even if students have already been accepted.

How it Affects You

Does that mean if you require financial aid then you shouldn’t apply to need-aware colleges? Not at all. Those colleges, like all others, take a wide variety of factors into account when looking at an application, needing aid will be one among them. That being said, the distinction is made for a reason, so keep it in mind when it comes to which colleges you apply to and choose to attend. 

Your finances should be an important factor you take into consideration when making this decision. Many students take on loads of debt and then find themselves being unable to pay it. You might as well lean towards colleges that give more aid if that’s what you need given your financial situation.

The colleges aren’t necessarily better or worse, they’re just in a position that allows them to help students out a little more, and you can take advantage of that.

Controversy

The degree to which colleges who say they are need-blind actually follow that policy is debated. Many don’t extend that privilege to international students, those on waitlists, or transfer students, and a number even require some kind of “proof of funds” along the application process which seems eerily suspicious. Some have even gone as far as to argue that need-blind is an outright lie. If colleges were genuinely blind to the financial needs of their applicants and prospective students, they would run the risk of a fluctuating tuition revenue every year. There is no way to plan for future projects and budgets without a predictable tuition inflow, so it makes no sense colleges wouldn’t take finances into account. It’s just not a sustainable model.

Conclusion

In the end, it’s up to you to decide where you apply and attend, but financial aid should be a major consideration in that decision. The difference between need-blind and need-aware, if you choose to hold colleges to their word, can mean the difference between an acceptance and rejection letter. It can also influence financial position during and after college. Take a look at the list of need-blind and need-aware colleges to get a good idea of what kind of college best fits your needs.

List of Need Blind Schools:

University Designation Demonstrated Needs met U.S. Student International  Student
National University of Singapore Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
New York University, Abu Dhabi Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
University of Richmond Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Yale-NUS College, Singapore Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Amherst College Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Cornell University Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Georgetown University Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Harvard College Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Minerva Schools at KGI Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Pomona College Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Princeton University Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Thomas Aquinas College Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
University of Southern California Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Yale University Needs Blind 100% Yes Yes
Barnard College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Boston College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Bowdoin College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Brown University Needs Blind 100% Yes No
California Institute of Technology Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Claremont McKenna College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
College of the Holy Cross Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Columbia College, Columbia University Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Dartmouth College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Davidson College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Duke University Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Grinnell College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Hamilton College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Harvey Mudd College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Haverford College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Johns Hopkins University Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Middlebury College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Northwestern University Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Olin College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Rice University Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Soka University of America Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Stanford University Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Swarthmore College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
University of Chicago Needs Blind 100% Yes No
University of Michigan Needs Blind 100% Yes No
University of Notre Dame Needs Blind 100% Yes No
University of Pennsylvania Needs Blind 100% Yes No
University of Virginia Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Vanderbilt University Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Vassar College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Wellesley College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Williams College Needs Blind 100% Yes No
Cooper Union Needs Blind 50% of tuition Yes No
New York University Needs Blind 60% of demonstrated need on average Yes No
Baylor University Needs Blind 65% of demonstrated need on average Yes Yes
Texas Christian University Needs Blind 66% of demonstrated need on average Yes No
University of San Diego Needs Blind 71% of demonstrated need on average Yes No
Boston University Needs Blind 85% of demonstrated need on average Yes No
Carnegie Mellon University Needs Blind 85% of demonstrated need on average Yes No
Southern Methodist University Needs Blind 85% of demonstrated need on average Yes No
University of Miami Needs Blind 89% of demonstrated need on average Yes Yes
Denison University Needs Blind 90% of demonstrated need on average Yes No
Bucknell University Needs Blind 91% of demonstrated need on average Yes No
Syracuse University Needs Blind 93% of demonstrated need on average Yes No
Tulane University Needs Blind 96% of demonstrated need on average Yes Yes
Babson College Needs Blind 97% of demonstrated need on average Yes Yes
Adrian College Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
Chapman University Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
Fairleigh Dickinson University Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
University of Illinois at Chicago Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
University of New Hampshire Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
University of Vermont Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
University of Washington Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
Ursuline College Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
Yeshiva University Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
St. John’s College (Annapolis/Santa Fe) Needs Blind Unknown Yes Yes
Earlham College Needs Blind Unknown Yes No
Fordham University Needs Blind Unknown Yes No
Hampshire College Needs Blind Unknown Yes No
Ithaca College Needs Blind Unknown Yes No
Saint Louis University Needs Blind Unknown Yes No
Santa Clara University Needs Blind Unknown Yes No
St. John’s University Needs Blind Unknown Yes No
St. Lawrence University Needs Blind Unknown Yes No

List of Need Aware Schools:

University Designation Demonstrated Needs met U.S. Student International  Student
Bates College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Bryn Mawr College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Carleton College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Case Western Reserve University Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Colby College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Colgate University Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Colorado College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Connecticut College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Franklin and Marshall College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Kenyon College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Lafayette College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Macalester College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Mount Holyoke College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Oberlin College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Occidental College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Reed College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Scripps College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Skidmore College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Smith College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Trinity College Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Tufts University Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Union College (Schenectady, New York) Needs Aware 100% Yes No
University of Rochester Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Washington University in St. Louis Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Wesleyan University Needs Aware 100% Yes No
Trinity University Needs Aware 93% of demonstrated need on average Yes Unknown
Whitman College Needs Aware 93% of demonstrated need on average Yes Unknown
Lehigh University Needs Aware 97% of demonstrated need on average Yes Unknown
St. Olaf College Needs Aware 98% of demonstrated need on average Yes Unknown
Abilene Christian University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Agnes Scott College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
American University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Auburn University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Bard College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Beloit College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Bennington College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Berklee College of Music Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Berry College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Bradley University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Brandeis University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Centre College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Clark University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Clemson University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
College of Wooster Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Creighton University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
DePaul University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
DePauw University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Furman University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
George Washington University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Gettysburg College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Hampton University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Hofstra University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Howard University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Johnson & Wales University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Loma Linda University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Loyola Marymount University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Loyola University Chicago Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Loyola University New Orleans Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Marquette University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Northeastern University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Pepperdine University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Quinnipiac University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Rhode Island School of Design Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Rhodes College (meets 93% of need) Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Rochester Institute of Technology Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Rollins College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Sarah Lawrence College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Seton Hall University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Sewanee: The University of the South Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Southwestern University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Spelman College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
The Catholic University of America Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
The New School Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
University of California, San Diego Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
University of Dayton Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
University of Denver Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
University of Puget Sound Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
University of San Francisco Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
University of St. Thomas Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
University of Tulsa Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Villanova University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Wabash College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Wheaton College Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Willamette University Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown
Worcester Polytechnic Institute Needs Aware Unknown Yes Unknown