Need-blind admission is a term used in the United States denoting a college admission policy in which the admitting institution does not consider an applicant's financial situation when deciding admission. Generally, an increase in students admitted under a need-blind policy and needing financial aid requires the institution to back the policy with an ample endowment or source of funding. Being need-blind is a statutory requirement for institutions to participate in an antitrust exemption granted by Congress which remains in effect until September 30, 2022. An institution may be need-blind in any given year by policy (de jure) or by circumstances (de facto).
Most colleges and universities cannot afford to offer financial aid to all admitted students and many will admit all students on a need-blind basis but cannot offer them sufficient aid to meet need. Many schools who admit all U.S. citizens or resident aliens without regard to need do not extend this policy to international students or to transfer students. Therefore, schools, especially private ones, which are need-blind and full-need for all applicants, including internationals, tend to be much more selective as they have relatively more applicants than other similar schools.
Need-blind admission does not necessarily mean a "full-need" financial aid policy--where the school agrees to meet the full demonstrated financial need of all its admitted students. Indeed, the two policies can be in tension because need-blind admissions and full-need financial aid together commit the school to spend an undetermined amount of money regardless of other budgetary constraints. Thus, some need-blind schools will admit students who will nonetheless not be able to attend because of deficient financial aid awards.
Institutions self-define their definition of meeting full demonstrated need. There is no U.S. standard that an institution must abide by to claim that they meet fully demonstrated need. Therefore, an applicant's financial aid package can vary significantly at various schools, even if all of these institutions claim to meet fully demonstrated need.
A number of U.S. institutions of higher learning both offer need-blind admissions and meet the full demonstrated need for all domestic students, but are need-aware when it comes to international student admissions. However, all admitted students will have their demonstrated need met. The following schools fall into this category:
Many reputable US institutions that once championed "need-blind" policies in the past have modified their policies due to rising tuition and financial aid costs, as well as less-than-ideal returns on endowments. This largely affects prestigious institutions with vulnerable resources that do not offer merit-based aid but base their financial aid entirely on need and promise to deliver 100% of financial need (composed mostly of grants). These stated institutions refer to themselves as "need-aware" or "need-sensitive," policies that somewhat contradict their call to admit and provide education for all qualified candidates regardless of economic status but allow them to fully fund the needs of all accepted students.
For instance, at Macalester College, Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, at least 95% of students are admitted without their financial aid need being a factor (i.e., "need-blind"), but a slim percentage (1%–5%), generally students wait-listed or with borderline qualifications, are reviewed in modest consideration of the college's projected financial resources. All of these aforementioned colleges grant all admitted students full financial aid packages meeting 100% need. At Wesleyan University, attempted shifts to a "need-aware" admission policy have resulted in protests by the school's student body.
Some schools have a need-blind admissions policy, but do not guarantee to meet the full demonstrated financial need of the students they admit. The following schools fall under this category:
The following institutions are need-aware and do not meet full need for the students they admit:
As of 2014, Phillips Academy is the only USA boarding high school that has a clearly stated need-blind admission policy and is committed to meeting the full demonstrated need of its admitted students. St. Andrew's School ended its policy in 2013. Phillips Exeter Academy was "effectively need-blind" prior to the 2009 admission season but stopped the practice because of the economic pressures. Roxbury Latin School, a day school located in West Roxbury, a neighborhood within Boston, is also need-blind.