Attending a U.S. university can be expensive for international students. Many colleges charge higher tuition for nonresidents, and costs can really add up when considering spending for travel, visas and other necessities. But such costs should not dissuade international students from applying, experts say, since some schools provide need-based financial aid, and a select few offer need-blind admission.
“In a need-blind admissions process, applicants are evaluated without any consideration of their families’ ability to pay tuition and fees,” says Christine Chu, a college admissions counselor at IvyWise, a New York-based education consulting firm, and former assistant director of undergraduate admissions at both Yale University in Connecticut and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Only five U.S. colleges — Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University in Massachusetts, Princeton University in New Jersey and Amherst College in Massachusetts — offer need-blind admission as well as full-need financial aid to all students, including international applicants. Chu says Georgetown is also need-blind for international students, but the university does not guarantee to meet an international student’s full financial need if accepted.
Here are answers to common questions prospective international students may have.
What Is the Difference Between Need-Blind and Need-Based?
International students applying to study in the U.S. should understand the basic difference between need-blind admissions and need-based aid.
Need-blind admissions means students will not be disadvantaged in the undergraduate admissions process due to their financial need. Meanwhile, need-based refers to the type of aid that is offered based on a student’s financial circumstances, experts say.
On its admissions website, Yale’s undergraduate college describes need-blind as admitting students “on the basis of academic and personal promise, without regard to their ability to pay.” The school says need-based refers to financial aid packages determined by an assessment of individual needs that takes into consideration differences between the U.S. economy and the economy of a student’s home country.
“MIT is completely need-blind for all students,” says Stuart Schmill, the university’s dean of admissions and student financial services. “We offer only need-based financial aid, and we meet the full financial need of all students, U.S. and international, something that only five schools in the U.S. are able to say.”
Harvard’s undergraduate college similarly bases aid awards on need rather than merit. The school meets 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need, and “is more affordable than public universities for 90 percent of Americans–and international students receive exactly the same financial aid as American students,” per Harvard’s website.
How Can I Find Schools That Offer Need-Blind Admission or Need-Based Aid?
Prospective international students should begin by doing their research on U.S. colleges and universities, experts say.
“The best place to find out if a college or university is need-blind or need-based is to carefully read through its admissions office’s and financial aid office’s webpages on the school’s financial aid policy during the admissions process. If an applicant has any question, they should reach out directly to the admissions office,” Chu says.
Matthew McGann, dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst College, notes that while his school is need-blind, very few American colleges and universities have a need-blind admission policy, regardless of students’ citizenship.
“We meet every student’s financial need without including loans in aid packages, allowing most students to graduate with low or no debt,” McGann says. “In the 2020-2021 academic year, 82% of our international students received financial aid, totaling more than $9 million in grant aid from Amherst for an average scholarship of more than $68,000 per year.” He says 10% of the school’s student body is international, representing 58 countries.
How Can I Get Into a Need-Blind School?
Prospective international students do not have to do anything different when applying to need-blind schools, experts say.
“Generally speaking, colleges evaluate international students with the same process and criteria that they use for all their applicants, determining the academic and personal fit with their institution,” Schmill says.
But international students should keep in mind that the U.S. universities that offer need-blind admission are extremely competitive and have low acceptance rates.
“Many of the need-blind colleges and universities tend to be very selective in their admissions process. As a counselor, I always recommend students to apply to a balanced list of colleges that fall into the reach, target and likely categories,” Chu says, including need-aware schools, meaning those that do take into account a student’s ability to pay for college in the admissions process.
“As there are more universities with need-aware admissions policies, students should explore and research both need-blind and need-aware schools to find good-fit potential options. Also, just because a university has a need-aware policy, if the student is competitive, they may be admitted and receive a generous financial aid package,” Chu says.
Chu says the most important factor in the admissions process is the student’s academic record. This means students should take the most challenging courses in high school; have good SAT or ACT scores, even if a college has a test-optional policy; and build a strong extracurricular profile. Extracurricular examples, she says, include being involved in a student’s school and local community, taking advantage of leadership opportunities and pursuing academic experiences with distinction.
“For the most selective universities, their admissions processes are holistic,” so she says it is a combination of those academic and extracurricular factors that will inform the ultimate admissions decisions.
Even when applicants possess those achievements, many international students mistakenly believe that asking for large amounts of financial aid will lower their admission chances at need-blind schools, according to Karan Gupta, CEO of Karan Gupta Consulting in India.
But, Chu says, among the few schools that offer need-blind admission to international students, an applicant’s financial aid information is not factored into their admissions decision.
Per the website of Princeton’s undergraduate admissions office, “applying for aid is not in any way a disadvantage in the admission process, ensuring equality of opportunity for low- and middle-income students.”
However, McGann says since many need-aware schools still provide considerable aid to international students, applicants should not restrict their choices to the few need-blind schools.
“Affordability should be one important factor for all students as a part of researching colleges and creating a list of schools to apply to,” McGann says.
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What Does Need-Blind Admission Mean for International Students? originally appeared on usnews.com