11/26/2012 08:54 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2013

Need-Blind Colleges

While most college-bound students are aware that there are academic requirements for admission, many don't know that some schools also base their admission acceptance policies on a student's financial ability to afford their tuition and fees. In an attempt to make a college education attainable for all, including those who with financial needs, some colleges and universities have adopted a need-blind status. Those institutions evaluate applicants and base acceptances on merit, not income or an ability to pay.

Need-blind colleges don't actually provide a free college education for the students they accept under their policy. They do, however, accept students on the basis of applications, essays, test scores, and extracurricular activities, as well as other criteria, without consideration for the ability to pay. For that reason, they can be quite selective, choosing students who have high academic achievements or other attractive assets that will contribute favorably to their institution. To pay for the student's education, the college or university offers a financial aid package, which may include scholarships, grants, or other forms of funding.

Because universities need to provide some measure of funding for need-blind admissions, the institutions who accept students on this basis are usually the most financially stable. Among those are elite colleges and universities, like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton. These are wealthy and competitive schools that can afford to accept students who might not be able to afford to pay for their education.

It should be noted that need-blind does not mean that the institution will provide assistance for the full cost of attending their college. It simply means that the institution will accept students without evaluating their ability to pay. After the student is accepted, the financial aid office then determines how much the student can pay, and an assistance program is offered to pay the remainder.

To qualify as a need-blind institution, a college or university cannot restrict the number of students that it accepts under this practice. In order to accomplish this, these institutions might rely on outside funding to reduce tuition and fees. Some colleges or universities might have endowments or possess substantial wealth, both of which can enable them to accept students who cannot afford their tuition and fees. Still others might already have an open admissions policy, meaning they accept all or most of the applicants they receive.

While it is difficult for all colleges to fully implement a need-blind practice for all students, some institutions have similar practices. In those cases, they may implement a need-blind policy for a percentage of students, or they may offer generous financial assistance packages for students who have the greatest need for full or partial assistance.

Both financial and ethical concerns have caused some colleges to discontinue their need-blind admissions practice, opting instead to use need-blind funding to increase financial aid offerings for all students. Some of these institutions are finding it difficult to fund the full need of all students, if necessary, which is a criteria in order to truly qualify as a need-blind college or university.