“Need-blind" admissions. We have often seen these three words pop up frequently in college information websites, chat rooms, promotional articles about college access, and discussions about college destinations (especially from annoying counselors). When you read these words you feel "all is good and right about admissions”. But do we really know what these words mean?   

By definition, if a college has a need-blind admissions policy, then applicants’ financial resources have no impact on their acceptance or rejection. It’s commonly assumed that schools favor students who can afford college tuition without recourse to financial aid. Need-blind admission was instituted (at least in part) to refute that belief. Students would be considered without regard for a family's financial circumstances. Basically, colleges that make the claim to "need-blind" status seem to be saying, "We look at the academic record, not the bank record, in evaluating candidates."

In the US, only six colleges and universities extend need-blind admission to international applicants. That’s less than 1% of America’s higher education institutions, but the good news is, these eight are also among America’s most elite:

  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • Yale University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Amherst College

Something’s fishy eh? The correlation is not accidental. Need-blind admission is possible only when an institution is well funded enough to support it. 

But the bad news is that need-blind admission is rarely offered to international students. Why? Well, part of the reason is simple math: the majority of applicants are U.S citizens, so they’re typically the prime beneficiaries of college funding.

More complicated factors – endowments, operating budgets, tax regulations – restrict the number and kinds of students eligible for need-blind review.

Some schools offer need-sensitive admission for international students. This means that applicants are accepted blindly until the school meets its budget, at which time remaining applicants are evaluated with financial aid in mind. Examples of institutions practicing need-sensitive admission include:

  • Bucknell University
  • Brandeis University
  • Brown University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University (As of July 2009, Cornell University states they are need blind for international students. But I’m not sure of this information.)
  • Northwestern University
  • Stanford University
  • Wellesley College

But hey, if your college or university doesn’t offer need-blind admission, and you require financial assistance, don’t worry. Most schools still base admission on grades, transcripts, essays and letters of recommendation.

In addition, be sure to search for organizations and foundations that offer scholarships specifically for international students. The international student services office at the school where you are applying may even be able to provide you with a directory of such sources. Before you apply with any university, inquire about its admissions policy. Talk to someone directly, and ask lots and lots of questions. Take control of your education!

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