When universities go through admissions applications, they take many factors into consideration, like your grades, your extracurriculars, and even your personality!
But many college applicants don't realize that some universities also consider you—and your family's—ability to pay tuition as well. The hard truth is that some universities use an applicant's ability to pay tuition without financial aid as a factor in the admissions process. This became the subject of a 2015 article from Time Magazine, which explains that many universities consider how students can contribute to their institution financially when they make admissions decisions.
This sounds like scary news. But don't worry! Many schools are addressing the issue by transitioning to need-blind admissions policies, which remove economic status as an admissions criteria.
In this guide, we'll give you a complete list of need-blind colleges in the United States and answer all of your burning questions, including:
- What is need-blind admission?
- How do need-blind policies affect tuition costs?
- What should you look for in a need-blind school?
So let's get started!
What Are Need-Blind Colleges and Universities?
Simply put, need-blind colleges are schools where a student's ability to pay tuition costs is not factored into the admissions decision. Yes, it's really that simple! These universities only consider the non-financial parts of your application—like your essays, transcript, and letters of recommendation—when deciding whether to offer you admission.
But just because a university uses need-blind admissions processes doesn't mean the school won't ask you about your family's finances. You will still have to submit your financial information through documents like the FAFSA, the College Board's CSS profile, or university-specific forms. At a need-blind college, this information will only be used to calculate your aid package after you've been admitted. (More on that later.)
Through need-blind admission, colleges are trying to level the playing field. The idea is that the admittance system becomes more merit-based: each student stands on their own achievement in high school, not on the wealth (or lack thereof) of their parents.
For example, let's say that Emma graduates in the top 5% of her class, serves as the student body treasurer, and scores a 34 on her ACT. But Emma also comes from a single-parent household where finances are tight. A need-blind university would only consider Emma's stellar academics—not her family's income—when deciding whether to accept her. In other words, need-blind policies help admissions counselors evaluate each applicant on the basis of merit rather than economic class. As a result, need-blind policies tend make the admissions process a little more competitive.
But Aren't All Colleges Need-Blind?
While it's true that all universities are looking for excellent candidates that are good academic, intellectual, and cultural fits for their institutions, many universities weigh whether a student can pay for tuition during the application process.
"Reduced appropriations, rising costs and budget crunches have forced many institutions to increasingly rely on tuition revenue to meet expenses… [and] in the case of two students with similar credentials, many colleges are likely to give preference to the student who is able to pay more out-of-pocket."
That is not to say that most universities only consider your financial ability to pay, or that it is even a top-tier consideration! But when it comes to making decisions on students who are on the borderline, familial finances can made the difference between an acceptance and a rejection letter.
How Do Need-Blind Policies Affect Tuition Costs?
There is a common misconception that colleges that are need blind also offer students who cannot pay a full ride. That is not true: just because a university is need-blind does not mean that tuition is free! In other words, just because you get into a need-blind college does not mean you are guaranteed a free ride.
For example, take a look at Brown University's need-blind admissions policy. It starts like this:
Need-blind admission simply means that an applicant's ability to pay for their education will not be a factor in the admission decision. In other words, a candidate's financial need will not be taken into consideration when deciding to admit, wait list, or deny an applicant.
Sounds pretty good, right? Just like any need blind school, Brown does not consider a student's ability to pay when deciding whether to admit them or not.
But the statement doesn't end there. It also clarifies how this affects Brown's financial obligations to admitted students, and vice versa. The rest of the policy says:
Need-blind admission does not require that an applicant with demonstrated financial need be awarded financial aid, nor does it require that 100% of the applicant's demonstrated need be met.
Okay, let's break this second statement down. What Brown is saying is that although they don't look at finances to decide whether to grant a student admission, the school doesn't guarantee that anyone—including lower-income students—will be awarded financial aid. That means you will still be on the hook to cover your tuition costs through grants, scholarships, and loans.
The truth is that most need-blind schools are also top-tier institutions that will offer a financial aid package to students who demonstrate need. But that isn't guaranteed funding, and it certainly isn't a full ride! So be aware that you might have to pay some of your tuition out of pocket even if you are accepted into a need-blind university.
The 3 Types of Need-Blind Financial Aid Policies
So what kind of financial aid can you expect from a need-blind university?
As with most things, it changes from case to case. While every need-blind university has its own policies on financial aid—check with each individual school to get the details!—we have found that in general, need-blind universities fall into one of three categories when it comes to financial aid.
Category 1: Full Need, No Loans Schools
So what exactly does it mean for a school to be "full need, no loans"? Full need schools are universities that promise to make sure that a student's demonstrated financial need will be covered through financial aid opportunities without requiring student loans. Put another way, a full need, no loans school will offer a 100% financial aid package that does not include loans!
This is awesome, especially since many students graduate with considerable amounts of debt. In 2018, researchers found that the average college student graduates with $37,172 in student debt. Unfortunately, tuition costs continue to rise, which means the average amount of student debt will go up, too.
Need-blind schools with no loans policies are committed to helping provide students with excellent educations without burdening them with loan repayments after graduation. This is really important for moderate- to low-income students whose loan burdens might be disproportionately large compared to their more affluent counterparts.
The one caveat to full need, no loans schools is that they only guarantee to cover a student's "demonstrated financial need," which refers to the difference between the cost of tuition and what your family can pay.
So let's look at Emma once again. She has been admitted to a full need, no loans school that costs $48,000 a year in tuition. After looking Emma's FAFSA form, the school calculates that Emma's family should be able to contribute $5,000 a year to her education. That means that Emma's demonstrated financial need is the difference between those two numbers, or $42,000 a year. Because Emma's school is full need, they provide a financial aid package that covers every penny of that $42,000 through a combination of scholarships, grants, and work study opportunities with no federal or private loans!
As you can imagine, full need, no loans schools are pretty rare. In fact, as of 2017 there are only 18 universities in the U.S. that meet full financial need for each student with a no-loans policy. We've bolded their names in our master list of need-blind universities below, so be sure to check whether your dream school offers this opportunity.
Category 2: Full Need With Loans Schools
A need-blind university that is full need with loans is very similar to their "no loans" counterparts. These schools also guarantee to cover 100% of a student's demonstrated financial need through a financial aid package—the only difference is that this package might include loans alongside grant, scholarship, and work opportunities.
Let's see how this might affect Emma, who has also been accepted into a "full need with loans" school with an annual tuition rate of $43,000. Since this university also uses the FAFSA to determine a student's demonstrated financial need, they also calculate that Emma's family can contribute $5,000 a year to her education. That means Emma's demonstrated financial need comes to $38,000 a year. The school offers Emma a financial aid package that covers the full $38,000...only unlike the first school, this financial aid package contains a Stafford Loan, too.
That means when Emma graduates from a full need with loans university, she will have a small amount of student debt to repay unlike at a no loans school.
Category 3: No Guaranteed Financial Aid Schools
The third category of need-blind universities are schools that use need-blind policies for admissions but offer no guarantee for financial aid. As we mentioned before, most students can expect to receive some amount of financial aid from a need-blind university.
But in this case, the financial aid is not guaranteed to cover a student's demonstrated financial need, and it will often leave a gap that a student will have to fill beyond their already-determined family contribution.
We know this sounds complicated, so let's try to simplify it a bit. Take Cody for example. He has been accepted to a need-blind school that is not full need. The yearly tuition is $40,000 a year, and the school calculates that Cody's family can contribute $15,000 a year to his education. That makes Cody's demonstrated financial need $25,000. The school also offers Cody a financial aid package upon admission made up of scholarships and loans that covers $20,000, or 80%, of his demonstrated financial need. That leaves $5,000 uncovered, so Cody will have to find another way to make up that cost, such as private loans or outside employment.
Like we mentioned earlier, your need-blind school might have a financial aid policy that differs slightly from the three we've talked about above. That's why it's important to check with your school's admissions and financial aid offices to understand what options are available to you!
What Should You Look for in a Need-Blind College?
Now that you understand what a need-blind university is and how that translates to your pocketbook, here are three things you should look for when considering a need-blind college.
#1: Make Sure the School Is the Right Fit for You
Need-blind colleges are great institutions that often offer generous financial packages to qualified students. But it is most important that you choose a school that's a good fit for you. A need-blind college might sound great on paper, but if it doesn't offer the major or opportunity you have your heart set on, it's probably worth applying to other institutions as well.
#2: Check the School's Financial Need Calculator
Every school has its own tuition calculator to help you understand what the actual cost of tuition will be. Here are the tuition calculators for two need-blind schools: Yale University and Tulane University. While these will not predict the exact makeup of your potential financial aid package, a tuition calculator will clarify what you will have to pay out of pocket to attend.
It is critical that you use the tuition calculator for each university when trying to determine your financial need. Your FAFSA will give you a general idea of your financial contribution, but many schools—especially elite institutions—use their own proprietary formula to calculate your demonstrated financial need. The only way to get an accurate idea is to type your numbers into each calculator and see what comes out.
#3: Don't Let the Potential Aid Package Keep You From Applying to Your Dream School
Remember: your FAFSA and a tuition calculator do not a financial aid package make! Don't get discouraged if the number the forms spit out is higher than you can pay. Universities look at student need on a case-by-case basis, so your financial aid package might be more generous than you would think! Also keep in mind that the calculators don't account for outside scholarship money, so additional awards can help bring down costs.
A Complete List of Need-Blind Colleges in the United States
Here is a complete list of need-blind universities in the United States in 2019. We've also bolded the names of full-need-met, no-loans schools to help you in your decision-making process.
|Adrian College||Harvey Mudd College||Stanford University|
|Amherst College||Haverford College||SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry|
|Babson College||Hiram College||Swarthmore College|
|Barnard College||Ithaca College||Syracuse University|
|Baylor University||Jewish Theological Seminary||Texas Christian University (TCU)|
|Biola University||Johns Hopkins University||The College of New Jersey|
|Boston College||Julliard||Thomas Aquinas College|
|Boston University||Kenyon College||Trinity University|
|Bowdoin College||Lawrence University||Tufts University|
|Brandeis University||Lehigh University||Tulane University|
|Brown University||Lewis & Clark College||University of Chicago|
|Cal Poly San Luis Obispo||Marist College||University of Illinois at Chicago|
|California Institute of Technology (Caltech)||Marlboro College||University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business|
|Carnegie Mellon University||Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)||University of Miami|
|Chapman University||Middlebury College||University of New Hampshire|
|Claremont McKenna College||Mills College||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill|
|Columbia University||Mount St. Mary’s College||University of Notre Dame|
|Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art||New York University (NYU)||University of Pennsylvania|
|Cornell College||North Carolina State University (NCSU)||University of Richmond|
|Cornell University||North Central College||University of Rochester|
|Curtis Institute of Music||Northeastern University||University of San Diego|
|Dartmouth College||Northwestern University||University of Southern California (USC)|
|Davidson College||Penn State||University of Vermont|
|Denison University||Pomona College||University of Virginia|
|DePaul University||Princeton University||University of Washington|
|Duke University||Providence College||Ursuline College|
|Elon University||Randolph College||Vanderbilt University|
|Emory University||Rice University||Vassar College|
|Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU)||Salem College||Wabash College|
|Florida State University||Saint Louis University||Wake Forest University School of Medicine|
|Fordham University||San Jose State University||Washington University in St. Louis (WashU)|
|Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering||Santa Clara University||Wellesley College|
|Georgetown University||Southern Methodist University (SMU)||Wesleyan University|
|Grinnell College||Soka University of America||Williams College|
|Hamilton College||St. John’s College||Yale University|
|Harvard University||St. Olaf College||Yeshiva University|
The idea behind need-blind admissions is that it focuses on merit rather than financial status. This is a great thing, but it also makes getting admitted a little more competitive. Get the inside scoop on the people who will be reading your essay, and learn what admissions officers are looking for in top applications.Regardless of whether your top university is on the need-blind admissions list, most students need to know how much financial aid they qualify for before they commit to a school. Here’s our comprehensive list of every college that offers 100% financial aid.
Many financial aid packages offer students work study opportunities. Learn more aboutwork study and how it can help you pay for your education.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.