Guide to Need-Blind Admission at US Universities | Top Universities

Guide to Need-Blind Admission at US Universities

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Laura Bridgestock

Updated Aug 21, 2023



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If you want to study in the US, you’ll know it doesn’t come cheap – US universities charge some of the highest tuition fees in the world, especially those prestigious colleges with strong global reputations. However, while tuition fees at top US universities can easily amount to $US40-50,000 per year (not including accommodation, health insurance and other costs), there are lots of scholarships and other types of financial aid on offer.

One form of financial aid which is particularly distinctive to the US is associated with “need-blind admission”. This term means an institution has an official policy of not considering applicants’ financial resources when deciding whether to offer them a place. This policy may be extended to all students, including internationals, or it may be limited to US nationals only. In some (not all) cases, US universities accompany need-blind admission policies with “full-need” pledges, which means they promise to provide sufficient financial aid to enable all accepted students to attend.

What does need-blind admission really mean?

The implications of need-blind admission policies vary depending on the institution. The common element is that US universities promising need-blind admission do not consider applicants’ ability to pay when deciding whether to offer them a place on a program. This may only apply to applicants from within the US, or it may be extended to international students as well.

Some US universities have need-blind admission policies, but do not promise any connected financial aid. This means students offered a place may not be able to accept it, if they’re unable to meet the costs of attendance.

However, other US universities accompany their need-blind admission policies with a pledge to meet the full financial need of all those offered a place. Most often, this pledge only applies to US nationals, but there are currently six elite institutions (see below) which also promise the same level of financial assistance for international students.

Will need-blind admission mean your tuition fees are fully paid?

In short, no. Even if the institution in question has pledged to help all students meet the costs of attendance, this does not mean a totally free ride. You’ll be expected to make some financial contribution, which is usually calculated based on an assessment of your parents’ income and other resources. You may also be expected to take out student loans to cover part of the costs, and/or participate in a “work-study” program, which means working part-time alongside your studies.

However, most students admitted via a need-blind and full-need admission policy do also benefit from substantial amounts of scholarship or grant funding.

Which US universities offer need-blind admission?

Lots of US universities have some form of need-blind admission policy, but – as mentioned above – this does not always extend to international applicants, and does not always mean admissions offers are accompanied by financial aid. Currently, only five US universities offer need-blind admission and full-need financial aid to all students, including international applicants. These are:

As you’ll probably know, these are not just any five US universities – they’re five of the most prestigious colleges in the US, and indeed the world. MIT is currently at the very top of the QS World University Rankings®, with Harvard coming in third the world, Princeton 13th and Yale 15th. Amherst is too small and specialized to feature in the international rankings – but it rates highly in assessments dedicated to liberal arts education. The Curtis Institute of Music, which was ranked eighth for performing arts in the most recent QS World University Rankings by Subject, is also need-blind to all students.

These are some of the toughest US universities at which to gain admittance, but if you are successful, each institution promises to provide sufficient financial aid to make it possible for you to attend, regardless of your financial situation or nationality.

Many other US universities also offer generous scholarships and other forms of funding. So even if you don’t see a need-blind admission or full-need policy indicated, don’t let the high tuition fees and other costs deter you from applying. All US universities are required to offer a “net price calculator” on their websites, which allows prospective students to get an estimate of how much it would actually cost them to study in the US at the institution in question. This is based on individual students’ financial circumstances, available grants and scholarships, and estimated living costs.

This article was originally published in January 2015. It was last updated on June 2018 to reflect the latest QS World University Rankings® results.

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