One more time: “Need-blind admission” does not exist


The teaser in email from the New York times was promising:

ScreenHunter_01 Apr. 13 10.34

It’s generally a good article, pointing out the arbitrary definition of need and how it varies from one college to another.  It demonstrates how out-of pocket costs for any student can swing wildly, even among the institutions that claim to meet full need (do loans count?) But the article falls short in one important area: While there is at least one expert who casts some doubt on the concept of “need-blind admissions,” the premise largely survives the article unscathed.

I’ve said before, and will say it again: There is no such thing as need blind admissions.

There are two big reasons for this:

  • First, at the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities, enrolling the overwhelming majority of college students, there is no full-pay student waiting in line to take the spot of a poor student who is denied. Most colleges and universities accept the majority of applications they receive; it’s even more pronounced than that visual might suggest, because many colleges use “Fast Apps/Snap Apps/VIP Apps” and other mechanisms to artificially inflate application numbers from students who have almost zero percent chance of enrolling.  Others recruit students who have almost no chance of being admitted.  Rejected students are grist for the mill in the industry.  But in essence, most colleges have to accept low-income students if they expect to make the class. Thus, they are effectively need blind, but not on the basis of some moral principle; they really have no choice.
  • But at that very small sliver of universities that claim to be need-blind and that could swap a poor student for a wealthy one–the ones who wear “need-blind” as badge of honor–the term is fairly ridiculous on its face.  It’s probably true, of course, that the admissions officer does not look at family income or FAFSA results while reviewing the file.  But ignoring income, and ignoring the residual effects of low-income are two entirely different things. The way our current admissions process works, virtually every other factor considered favors wealthier students, and/or students from wealthier high schools. Don’t believe me?  Consider:
Admissions Factor Wealthier Students and/or from Wealthier Schools Poorer Students and/or from Poorer Schools Advantage
Test Scores Wealthier students come from schools with access to expensive test-prep and can take the tests multiple time May not know how tests work, what the differences are Wealthy students
Advanced Courses/Rigor Wealthier students come from private schools or higher-income public schools with greater access to AP, Honors, IB and other courses  Likely to come from schools with fewer options for advanced courses; especially if prerequisites require planning from freshman year Wealthy students
Essays Essays may be written, edited, groomed, and polished, sometimes over a year’s time Unless the importance of the essay is clearly understood, there may be little or no editing or reviewing by adults Wealthy students
Letters of Recommendation Counselors and teachers are expected to write letters designed to give the student every advantage in the process Letters may be written by counselors or teachers who do not understand the game, or may not even know the student well Wealthy students
Activities Resumes are carefully designed to highlight leadership, volunteer activities, and activities tied to school and campus culture More likely to include jobs that detract from school activity options, but may be financially necessary  Wealthy students
Legacy Status More likely to have college-educated parents Less likely to have college educated parents Wealthy students
Diversity Less likely to be from an underrepresented group More likely to be from an underrepresented group Poorer students

With odds like that, how can anyone say that need is not a factor in admissions?  And if you still need some more evidence, take a look at how this plays out even at public institutions.

So, can we please stop using this term?

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8 thoughts on “One more time: “Need-blind admission” does not exist

  1. And don’t forget Counselor Assistance. Few school counselors receive any meaningful training in college advising, and those that learn it well on the job are usually scooped up by higher-paying public school districts in the suburbs. Since urban and rural districts also have fewer counselors to begin with, this leaves well-meaning, caring counselors with neither the time nor the training to help students make good college choices.

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