In addition, students and families should be aware of a college or university’s stance on evaluating financial need in the admission process. When reviewing an applicant for admission, a college may consider the family’s income and expected contribution in determining admissibility. In other words, the extent to which a family is able to pay for a college or university, without aid, can impact whether a student is admitted. Colleges will adopt a need-blind, need-aware or need-sensitive policy in the admission process, and this determines how much a family’s income matters in gaining admission.
Like the term suggests, a need-blind policy means that a college will not consider financial status in the admission process. Colleges will admit students based solely on academic qualifications. While this can be ideal in certain situations (e.g. for low-income families where financial need could impact admissibility), schools that are need-blind usually cannot afford to meet a family’s need without the student taking on significant debt. Students and families are likely to see need-blind policies for public state schools like University of Maryland.
Need-aware means that an institution will consider the family’s financial need in determining admissibility. Schools that require the CSS profile, for example, often take a deeper dive into the family’s income, assets, and in some instances a non-custodial parent’s income, to determine how much the family could contribute. This is challenging, particularly for families that would require a lot of aid to cover the cost of college. However, schools that are need-aware may be more likely to package students better than need-blind institutions. The college is aware of the family’s financial situation when a decision is made, so there may be more of a commitment to covering the cost.
There is a sweet spot in this, with schools that are need-blind and meet 100% of demonstrated need. Demonstrated need means that a school will take the total cost of attendance and subtract a family’s expected contribution. The remaining amount, often referred to as a gap, would be covered by the institution with grants, scholarships and/or loans. For schools like this, admissibility is based on academic qualifications soley and the institution is committed to covering the student’s gap in the financial award package, often with grants and scholarships. There are a handful of US colleges and universities that do this, and the schools are quite selective. These schools are the exception, as most colleges simply do not have an aid budget that could cover the cost of college for all students.
It’s a tough space to navigate, but it can be done. Families should begin planning for college as early as possible. Students should develop a diverse college list with low cost options, as this is key. The college list should include institutions that would be considered a financial fit for the family. Given the rising cost of college and the nuances of financial need in admission, 2-year colleges, transfer pathways and commuting are additional options for families looking to fund an undergraduate degree without significant debt.