Financial need and US colleges

Most of the top US colleges are so rich that they can accept applicants who cannot pay a single dollar for their education, room, board, health insurance or plane ticket. Many of them have a “need-blind’ admission policy, i.e. they make admissions decisions without looking at any information about an applicant’s financial situation.

Need-blind colleges will accept you if you are an eligible applicant without money, but that does not necessarily mean they will meet your full financial need. Some will, and some won’t. Need-blind admission and meeting your full financial need are not the same thing. Sometimes they go together, and sometimes they don’t.

There is another type of colleges, which define themselves as “need-aware” or “need-conscious”. Their admissions officers take into consideration your financial situation when making admissions decisions. Thus you might be an eligible applicant and get rejected for lack of money.

However, you can get a really generous financial-aid package from a need-aware college. How come? Well, money matters more for applicants who are eligible but not among the best. It works inevitably for applicants who are at the bottom of the list of eligible ones. If you are not quite special AND you don’t have money, you’ll lose your place to an equally not special student who has the money.

If you are a very strong applicant, schools will be competing for you, and they might offer you scholarship even if you don’t need it. It’s called “merit scholarship”. (That does not mean you have to be rich to get a merit scholarship. It just means that it is given NOT because you need it, but ONLY because you deserve it.)

I don’t think you should care sooooo much about your financial situation and college admission policies. If you are really good, you’ll be admitted and offered generous financial aid. If you want colleges to compete for a poor kid like you, rather that you compete for them, focus on becoming a strong applicant, rather than think whether it’s a good idea to tell colleges that you can contribute $1-5,000 you don’t actually have.

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