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Need-blind US universities for international students

interstride logo by Interstride
April 4, 2023

Higher education in the United States is expensive. For international students, attending a US. university can be even more costly, as some colleges charge a higher tuition for nonresidents, and expenses like travel and visa fees can add up. However, as an international student you should not be discouraged from applying to US universities.

Some schools offer financial assistance to partially alleviate these costs. Other schools implement “need-blind” or “need-aware” admission policies. Need-blind admissions indicate that the university does not take a student’s financial ability into account when making an admissions decision. Keep reading to learn more about why you should research need-blind admissions policies.

What is need-blind admissions?

Need-blind admissions is a policy that essentially levels the playing field for applicants, in terms of financial ability. This is important for international students, as schools do not review your ability to pay tuition when making an admissions decision. Need-blind admissions allow international students to be considered for admission based on merit and academic achievement. Given that costs for international students (tuition, visa fees, travel, etc.) tend to be higher, need-blind admissions can make a significant impact on your ability to pursue higher education in the US. However, there are few need-blind schools in the US. These schools are an exception and often very wealthy schools.

Difference between need-blind vs. need-aware admissions

Need-blind schools do not consider students’ financial ability when making an admission decision. While need-aware schools can also make admission decisions without considering financial ability, they do reserve admission spots for students who can pay the full tuition without needing financial aid. Therefore, need-aware schools can take financial ability into account when making admissions decisions as opposed to need-blind schools.

Whether a school is need-blind or need-aware, it’s worth noting that admissions officers can always infer or guess your financial ability when admitting students regardless of their school’s admissions policy. One way is through factual information submitted by students such as bank statements, financial proof, fee waivers, and financial aid forms. Another way is making assumptions based on demographic information such as your address, high school, and zip code.

  • Equal Opportunity: All students have an equal chance of admission, regardless of financial background.
  • Diversity and Inclusivity: Need-blind admissions can help promote diversity and inclusivity within the student body, creating a more well-rounded education experience for students.
  • Merit-Based: This is based purely on merit and academic achievement and recognizes students who have worked hard to achieve academic success.
  • More Financial Aid: Many need-aware schools have the financial ability to offer a larger financial aid package, if accepted.
  • Priority for Full-Tuition Students: For students who have the resources to pay full tuition, this could be beneficial. For those who do not have the ability to pay full tuition, this could unfortunately be a disadvantage.
  • Admissions ≠ Full-Need Met: This does not guarantee that the university will meet the full financial need of the student. Only a handful of universities commit to both need-blind admissions and meeting full financial need.
  • Financial Disadvantage: Financial ability could affect admission. Some need-aware universities may prioritize students who can fully pay their tuition without financial assistance.

Key considerations when applying to need-blind universities

When applying to need-blind universities, there are several things to consider as an international student.

  • Is the school the right fit? Consider all aspects of the school, such as the campus culture, school location, financial aid policies, academic standards, programs offered, etc. Be sure that your profile aligns you as an ideal candidate for the university.
  • Review the school’s admissions website and policies thoroughly. Make sure you know all details of the school’s admissions policies, as well as their level of commitment to financial aid packages. Most schools have admissions and financial aid officers willing and ready to answer questions from potential international students.
  • Utilize the school’s financial need and tuition calculator. Most, if not all, schools have tuition calculators on their university website for public use. You should utilize these calculators to calculate the estimated cost of attending the school as an international student.
  • Stay alert to changes in need-blind policies. Universities are constantly making decisions and adding or removing policies as needed for financial planning. Some schools may choose to change their admissions policies, so it is important to always review the admissions website.
  • Compare financial aid packages from BOTH need-blind and need-aware schools. Compare the financial aid packages you receive at each type of school to see which school would be the best option for you academically and financially. Not all need-blind schools will be cheaper to attend than need-aware schools!

Types of need-blind financial aid policies

While need-blind schools do not take financial ability into account, not all need-blind schools guarantee meeting 100% of a student’s financial need. At most colleges and universities, there are typically three policies used to determine financial aid:

  • Full-Need, No Loans: Full need schools are exactly as they sound. The school commits to meeting 100% of the student’s demonstrated financial need, with no need for student loans. Schools cover the difference between what you and your family can afford, and the cost of attendance. This policy allows you to graduate without any loans to pay back.
  • Full-Need, Some Loans: Some schools advertise that they meet the full financial need of students, but your financial aid package could include student loans that you have to pay back down the line.
  • No Guarantee: These colleges and universities offer you admission to the school based on merit and academic achievement, but will not guarantee meeting your full financial need.

Top need-blind universities for international students

Here are a handful of universities that are need-blind for all students, regardless of citizenship or immigration status:

Amherst CollegeHarvard University
Bowdoin CollegeMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Brown University

(*beginning in 2025)

Princeton University
Dartmouth CollegeYale University

Final thoughts

Need-blind admissions policies are important for international students to consider, as these policies provide an equal opportunity for admission, regardless of a student’s ability to pay. Even though colleges and universities in the US are particularly expensive, international students should not be discouraged from applying.

If you are in need of financial aid, keep in mind that you are not limited to the small number of need-blind, full-need schools. There are many other need-blind and need-aware schools that can offer strong financial aid packages and be great alternatives to consider. Additionally, there are multiple ways to finance an education in the US. Think through what your financial needs are as an international student and consider the advantages and disadvantages of applying to need-blind vs. need-aware schools, as well as the admissions and financial aid policies of each school.