The Edge Our college admission blog

Need-Blind & Need-Aware Admissions Policies

by Katie Z, Ph.D March 8, 2016


If you browsed through Admitster’s Glossary of Important College Admissions Terms, you may have noticed two similar items listed that made you scratch your head and think, “Huh?” Those terms are Need-Aware Admission and Need-Blind Admission. Both are policies related to how colleges and universities use applicants’ financial circumstances in making admissions decisions. What are the differences between the two?  Well…

Need-Aware Admission, also known as Need-Sensitive Admission, is an admissions policy through which schools consider the amount of financial aid a prospective student would require in order to attend, factoring this information into admissions decisions.

Test-Blind AdmissionsNeed-Blind Admission, on the other hand, is an admissions policy through which schools do not consider prospective students’ financial circumstances when making admissions decisions. Know, however, that there are various shades of need-blind policies. Need-blind schools can either meet the full financial need of applicants, meet only some of that need, or meet the need of only American applicants (meaning that the college/university is need-aware for international students) and/or applicants who have not been wait-listed (i.e. being need-aware for those on their waiting list). Also, some schools are need-blind for a given percentage of their incoming class (e.g. 90%) and then need-aware for the rest.

These two little terms are making some big waves in the world of college admissions. Regarding future trends, some argue that while schools with larger endowments can afford to implement need-blind admissions policies, colleges with increasing financial struggles may turn to need-aware policies in increasing numbers, which could negatively impact the admissions chances of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and, in turn, negatively impact diversity at those schools. For more on this, see this article from The Wesleyan Argus, Wesleyan University’s college newspaper.

Others believe that need-blind admissions are a farce, writing that there is no such thing as a true need-blind college or university. Those in this camp make the point that, at the end of the day, colleges need tuition to operate, so could never truly turn a blind eye to the financial ramifications associated with admissions acceptances and rejections. To do so would be to “defy logic“.

Along these lines, some take a much broader definition of need-blind admission, making the point that even if college admissions officials are not spending hours combing through paperwork on prospective students’ financial situations, that socioeconomic status plays itself out in many ways on the applications, making true need-blind admission impossible. From test scores to advanced courses, from recommendation letters to application essays, from extracurricular activities to legacy status – wealthier students have many distinct advantages in the application process! For more on the unlevel college admissions playing field, click here.

Whatever your thoughts on need-blind and need-aware admissions policies may be, do be aware that they exist. Click here for a list of need-blind colleges and universities and, as ever, do your own research on those schools that you’re interested in applying to!

Making Sense Of Your Financial Aid Award Letters

by Katie Z, Ph.D March 3, 2016


Financial aid award letters, overflowing with crucial financial information you’ll receive from the schools that have accepted you, are the subject of today’s post. The letters will be full of juicy details, allowing you to compare the true cost of attending the various colleges that you’re considering for your undergraduate adventures.  OK, perhaps I erred in describing the letters as being full of “juicy details”. I admit that it may well be more accurate to describe the financial aid award letters as being full of “confusing specifics”, “befuddling facts”, or “mystifying particulars.” Why is it all so complicated? How can you make sense of your financial aid award letters?



Well, I want to share with you a gem of a YouTube video from U.S. News & World Report. I recommend that you watch the entire clip (click here to access it), but if you don’t have 15 minutes to spare at the moment, allow me to give you a quick rundown of the key points:

  • The basic components of a financial aid award letter are: 1) Grants and scholarships (the free money!) – know where they’re from and why they were awarded. 2) Work Study – this represents the most that a student can earn working on campus in a year. 3) Loans – look to see if they’re for the student or for the parents, and also be sure to understand their terms.
  • There are a number of important phrases that are commonly used in an award letter. Two examples are: 1) Cost of attendance – this is NOT the bill, but rather is an estimate of what the college thinks it will cost the student to attend for a given enrollment period. 2) Family contribution – this is also NOT a bill, but is how much parents could look to contribute to the overall cost.
  • Another thing that may be confusing is that some colleges package parent financing into the financial aid award – as a result, it may at first glance appear that the entire cost of attending is covered. However, upon closer inspection it may well be the case that it’s actually parent financing (sometimes called a Federal Direct Plus Loan).
  • Work study and loans help you to finance your undergraduate education, but they don’t change what you’re going to pay – they only have an impact on when you’re going to pay what you owe.
  • If you have more than one award letter and are trying to compare them, proceed with caution, as they may look very different from each other, making a side-by-side comparison challenging (i.e. apples to oranges). Here’s a useful tool for comparing aid awards at up to four different schools – click here!
  • You typically receive single year awards in these letters – for a family to predict what they’ll need to borrow over all four (or more) years, they should know what the criteria are for the renewal of scholarships and grants (if applicable).  Also, be sure to read the fine print for needs-based grants.
  • As ever, be sure to focus on the net price!

Sorting out the finances for college can seem confusing and overwhelming, but if you stay calm and arm yourself with the information you need to make the right monetary decisions given your personal situation, you’ll get through the process!

Soka University of America

by Katie Z, Ph.D February 28, 2016


A few days ago I stumbled across an eye-catching article from U.S. News & World Report entitled, “Colleges With The Most Students Who Study Abroad.” Having studied abroad in France as an undergraduate, an experience I can’t write enough good things about, I read on with great interest. Which college was tied for first, having had 100% of its 2014 graduates study abroad? Why, it was California’s Soka University of America!

100% of the school’s graduates studied abroad?! Now that is impressive!



After this small taste of what Soka University has to offer, along with the discovery that “Soka” is a Japanese word meaning “to create value”, I was determined the learn more. Readers, welcome back to the 3026 Series!

To begin with, study abroad (and “in a country in which the student’s language of study at SUA is the principle language spoken“) – how do they do it? Exploring the university’s website, I came across this: “A unique aspect of the curriculum at SUA requires that all students participate in a semester studying abroad during their junior year. The cost of study abroad is included in tuition.” Cool! But it doesn’t end there. Reading on, I came across another gem of a fact – “About 60% of our students come from the US and 40% have come from more than 40 other countries.” Imagine sitting in such a diverse classroom! I consider this a great attribute of the school.

The campus itself is located about one hour north of San Diego and one hour south of Los Angeles and, as is pointed out on the school’s website, is “surrounded on 85% of its border by the 4,000 acre Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park“, has architecture “reminiscent of Tuscany, Italy”, has “more than 50% of the campus devoted to natural and landscaped open space”, and is located only three miles from the beach – idyllic!

What else? Well, how about this? Soka University was recently ranked very highly by US News & World Report for “best value, diversity, and happy freshmen”, along with ranking first for “Foreign Student Factor” and “Faculty Resources.” The university can also boast of an impressive 8:1 student/faculty ratio. More? Well, Soka University offers free tuition to students whose families earn $60,000 or less. Further, the school shines at (in particular, earning an A+ mark for housing, diversity, and weather), and also has some noteworthy achievements on the College Scorecard. Of what do I speak?  A below average annual cost for federal financial aid recipients ($10,450), an above average graduation rate (88%), and 96% of students returning after their first year (the national average is 67%), to name but a few examples.

And, of course, academics. Undergraduates at Soka University of America earn a B.A. in Liberal Arts (there is only one major!) and have a concentration in either Social & Behavioral Sciences, Environmental Studies, International Studies, or Humanities. As seniors, SUA students also do a Capstone Project, the goal of which is to “gain in-depth knowledge about a topic within your field of concentration, drawing upon all the skills and knowledge you have developed during your career at Soka.” To learn more about academic life at Soka, check out the Soka University of America Catalog. Finally, if what you’ve just read has piqued your interest, then a visit to the school’s admissions page is a must. A value-creating educational experience, including a fantastic study abroad experience, may well be in your future!

Homeschooling And The College Admissions Journey

by Katie Z, Ph.D February 24, 2016


It was not so very long ago that I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to pay, when a headline on a nearby magazine caught my eye. It read: “Homeschool Got Me Into Harvard – Why The New Road To The Ivy League Just Might Lead Through Your Living Room.”  Really! See?



Here’s the article. From it, we learn that the girl on the magazine’s cover is named Claire Dickson. She was homeschooled throughout her childhood and, you guessed it, is now a member of an elite university’s freshmen class (Cough! Harvard! Cough!). The article also informs us that about 2.2 million students in the United States are homeschooled (i.e. about 3.4% of the American student body), and that this number is steadily growing. Further:

“To find out what elite academic institutions think, I call Matt McGann, director of admissions at MIT. He’s entirely optimistic: “The homeschooled students in our population are a great addition to the MIT community. They are students who are more likely to have designed their own education curriculum, and they may be more independently motivated to learn,” he says. “I think as the nature of homeschooling has evolved, colleges are seeing more and more homeschooling applicants who are appropriate for this environment.””

Another recent article, this one from NBC News, states, “While the percentage of homeschooled applicants is still tiny, admissions officers say their applications often stand out.” Let us not forget “that uniqueness is kind of the hidden currency of college admissions“! Indeed, more and more colleges, on their admissions websites, have information aimed specifically at homeschooled teens, as they work to further diversify their student bodies. See, for instance:

It is clear from these examples, and many more, that when homeschooled students apply to college they generally must comply with some additional requests, such as scores from SAT Subject Tests, a school-specific homeschooled information form (for instance, this one from Wheaton College), an additional application essay, and/or additional letters of reference. Admissions officers, of course, also expect to see applicants’ high school transcripts. Homeschooled students can meet this demand in different ways, for instance, in the manner suggested by Hillsdale College:

“Official high school transcripts come from a homeschool clearinghouse, guild, or association. If transcripts are unavailable, we encourage you to consider, offered in concert with the Home School Legal Defense Association.”

Furthermore, as Amherst College points out on their admissions website, “The Common Application also provides students with the Home School Supplement to the Secondary School Report. We highly recommend that homeschooled candidates submit the Home School Supplement in addition to the Secondary School Report and other required forms in the Common Application.” Curious to learn more about the Home School Supplement, I reached out to The Common Application for more information. They responded, “Once the home school counselor is assigned and ‘home school’ is noted in their account, they will then be required to answer a supplement in the Secondary School Report that is to be submitted with their transcripts, testing, etc.” Nice!

Also of note:

  • Admissions committees are oftentimes curious to learn more about why the decision was made to homeschool the prospective candidate – the college application essay can be a great opportunity to elaborate on these experiences!
  • Colleges will likely ask prospective students who have been homeschooled for a guide to the curriculum that the student used. Some schools, such as Vanderbilt University, will provide homeschooled applicants the option of completing a curriculum summary, such as this one, which they helpfully provide.
  • Some schools, such as Bowdoin College, will strongly recommend that the prospective student, as part of his/her application process, have an interview.
  • Other schools, such as Bucknell University, “encourage home-schooled students to enroll in a college summer program during the summer before their senior year, or enroll in a college course junior or first semester senior year.” Be aware that some colleges ask for these types of experiences, and then plan accordingly!

All in all, colleges will consider applications from homeschooled students on a case-by-case basis, and different schools will have different requirements for these non-traditional applicants. As Dartmouth College states on their admissions website, “Dartmouth receives many applications from home school students, and our holistic review process means we consider each applicant within the context of their educational environment, community, and opportunities.”

While homeschooling alone won’t get a student admitted to college (admissions committees will be looking to see that there was a strong homeschooling environment, one that provided the student with opportunities to excel academically and otherwise, and that the student is motivated and bright), those who have been homeschooled should be aware of the fact that opportunities for higher education abound. Do the research on the admissions policies at different colleges, work hard, and be sure to tell your unique story when the time comes to apply! And, of course, if you need any guidance or support along the way, Admitster can help you to own your journey to college!

How Parents Can Contribute To Their Student-Athlete’s Recruiting Journey

by Admitster February 19, 2016


Here’s another great guest blog post from our friends over at NCSA Athletic Recruiting!

Do you think that recruiting evaluations are just between a student-athlete and a coach?

Think again!

It’s absolutely important that a student-athlete be careful when considering whether a school fits their needs academically, athletically, and socially – which means both that the student-athlete fits the school and that the school fits their needs – but there’s something else that gets added to the mix when college coaches are looking at which players they want to join the rosters.

College Coaches Are Also Evaluating The Parents of Recruits

In a recent Signing Day interview, Coach Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern University shared that a large part of his prospect evaluation is looking at how parents of high school student-athletes act:

“When we talk about our fit, we’re evaluating the parents too. And if the parents don’t fit, then we might punt on the player and not end up offering him a scholarship. That has changed over a decade. Ten years ago, that wasn’t as big of a role. Now it’s a big part of it.”

Check out the rest of Coach Fitzgerald’s comments on how coaches evaluate parents in the video below:


How Parents Can Contribute To Their Student-Athlete’s Recruiting Journey:

When college coaches look at parents, they’re not just looking for warning signs that would make them drop a player. They’re also looking for ways in which parents are supporting their student-athlete:

  • Are they supporting them in keeping a healthy school and sport balance?
  • Are they helping their son or daughter get all of their paperwork in on time – without doing it for them?
  • Are they setting a great example by respecting other players, families, coaches, and refs – no matter how strongly they might disagree with a particular play or call?
  • In recruiting, are they showing that they’ll be there to help their son or daughter in the sometimes difficult transition from high school to college?


Do you want to learn more about what coaches look at? Here’s Sue Enquist talking about ways that parents can make a great impression on college coaches at the ballpark and during official visits!

If you have questions about how you can help your son or daughter to succeed in the recruiting process, we’re here to help. One of the best ways to help him/her get started is with a recruiting profile!

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