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Does Applying for Financial Aid Affect Admissions Decisions?

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



Why Does Financial Need Matter in Admissions?


When admitting students, colleges are thinking not only about which candidates are the best cultural or personality fit for their school, but also about some key business goals that lead them to consider their applicants’ financial means. Colleges have to juggle distributing limited aid across a plethora of students, and being able to offer financial aid packages that incentivize students to attend their school is key in keeping up their enrollment numbers and matriculation rate. Therefore, admissions officers keep candidates’ financial need in the back of their minds when considering candidates.


Need-Blind vs. Need-Aware Colleges 


There are two types of colleges, need-blind and need-aware. The type of college you’re applying to will influence whether or not financial aid will affect how admissions officers evaluate your application. 


Need-blind colleges 


At need-blind colleges, your application for admission and financial aid are read separately. While there is an admissions officer that reads your application, they actually have no access to your financial aid application. There are about 100 need-blind colleges in the United States, and typically these are selective, private institutions. If you’re interested in learning more and seeing a full list of these schools, check out this complete guide.


However, it’s not completely opaque for admissions officers in the sense that need-blind schools can still see whether an applicant has filled out financial aid forms, such as FAFSA, at all, and use other context clues from extracurriculars and essays to determine a student’s financial status.


Need-aware colleges 


The majority of U.S. colleges, however, are need-aware. This means your application for admission and your application for financial aid are read concurrently by the admissions office. This means when the admissions officer is sitting down to judge your application, they can also see your financial aid application and glean some insight into your family’s financial situation. Though the admissions committee can get a sense of how much financial need you have, your financial aid award is still finally determined by a separate financial aid office.


How Does Financial Need Affect Admissions?


Colleges evaluate financial need along with other admissions factors like profile strength, demographic background, and high school rank. But each college weighs these factors slightly differently, meaning the proportion of how each factor influences your admissions chances varies at each school. This means financial need will barely make a dent in your decision at some schools, or it could be a substantial factor that causes you to be rejected at others. 


Need-awareness also impacts students differently based on overall profile strength. Strong candidates for the school will typically be accepted regardless of their ability to pay for the school based on their demonstrated grades, course rigor, and test scores. Weaker applicants or those on the borderline of acceptance may find that their financial need hinders them, as colleges are likely to choose students with less need when deliberating amongst these candidates. 


Should You Apply for Financial Aid?


So with the chances that you may be rejected from a school based on your financial need, you may be wondering if you should forgo applying for financial aid completely – should you even apply for financial aid in the first place? 


In short, the answer is yes, you should probably still apply for financial aid. Colleges are weighting this factor as part of your admissions decision, but it’s mostly for borderline candidates and is a tool for determining how much financial aid to offer you, rather than a premise through which to automatically reject your application. 


More importantly, the benefits of financial aid and the ability to have your college education largely subsidized typically outweigh being able to attend any one particular school. And, as we mentioned before, grades, your extracurriculars, and background also come into play, usually with more weight than this one factor. 


If you’re looking to get started on your financial aid journey or just want a few more tips on navigating the financial side of admissions, check out this guide to the FAFSA.