The Ivy Coach Daily

May 11, 2024

Debunking the Need-Blind College Admissions Myth

Harvard Yard is featured after a snowfall.
Like the Tooth Fairy, need-blind admissions is a myth (photo credit: Chensiyuan).

Previously Published on April 4, 2014:

So many of America’s elite colleges love to tout how they’re “need-blind.” In other words, they claim they don’t factor in a student’s ability to pay when weighing their case for admission. They say as much at official information sessions when prospective students and their parents visit college campuses. They say as much on their websites.

But it likely would not surprise Ivy Coach’s loyal readers to know that need-blind admissions is a farce — a total, absolute lie perpetuated by admissions officers to make the admissions process to highly selective universities seem more meritocratic than the reality.

3 Reasons Need-Blind Admissions Is a Myth

Over the many years we at Ivy Coach have been asserting that need-blind admissions is a myth, we’ve taken some heat. “But, Ivy Coach, how could you suggest that admissions officers are lying to students and parents?” It’s a fair question. So, let’s answer it as simply as possible.

  1. They Ask, Students Tell. If admissions officers were truly blind to a student’s financial need, many of America’s elite colleges would not ask applicants if they need financial aid on the documents that admissions officers can see with their own eyes. After all, on most supplements to The Common Application, colleges ask a yes or no question: “Do you intend to pursue need-based financial aid?” If these schools were genuinely need-blind, the answer to this question would be on a separate financial aid document that the people weighing a student’s case for admission were not privy to.
  2. The Assumption of Enormous Risk. If America’s elite colleges were genuinely need-blind, they’d risk admitting an incoming class in which so many students required financial aid to attend. Ultimately, America’s elite colleges depend on tuition dollars. Sure, they have sizable endowments, but their goal is for these funds to grow annually. It’s not their goal to take substantial draws.
  3. They Paid Up. As of April 2024, 10 of America’s 17 elite universities have settled a class-action lawsuit against them for allegedly violating federal antitrust laws by acting as a price-fixing cartel to determine students’ financial aid awards. In our experience, institutions that are honest about their financial aid policies don’t settle lawsuits to the collective tune of over $184 million.

Admissions Officers Don’t Intend to Mislead, But They Do

It’s not that admissions officers are bad people. They’re simply university employees tasked with marketing their institutions to high school students and their parents. As such, they repeat the marketing jargon they learn in their admissions training from their higher-ups. Even if they were to think critically about why they’re privy to a student’s ability to pay if the institution were truly need-blind, they’re paid to market their schools as instructed.

So, students and parents, the next time an admissions officer tells you that an elite university is need-blind, smile and nod, but don’t correct them. And know that you’ve just been told a big, fat lie.

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