Going to college in the United States can be a costly process, but sizeable financial aid is available. To make sure students use this to the full extent, it helps to completely understand the four different types of financial aid schools offer.
Most universities operate ‘needs aware’ admissions, meaning that the university considers each student’s financial need, and weighs the student’s need against how much they want to admit the student. If they really want the student they will be more likely to offer sufficient financial support to enable the student to attend the institution.
With ‘needs aware’ admissions the simple fact is that being wealthier means you are more likely to be offered a place; if the university will not have to offer you as much financial aid, you are a more attractive candidate.
Some universities offer ‘needs blind’ applications in which when considering applications the university disregards whether each student needs financial aid. The problem here is that a student may be given an offer, but then might not be able to afford to take up the offer.
Full needs met
Some universities offer ‘full needs met’ applications (full list here), in which the university meets the full need that a student requires to pay the tuition (i.e. if a student could only afford $20k a year, the university would offer to pay the rest if the student is offered admission).
Most of these operate ‘needs aware’ applications - so they take into account each student’s need before making an offer, but they commit to meeting the student’s full financial need if the student does take up the offered place.
Needs blind and Full needs met
Only 5 schools offer both ‘needs blind’ and ‘full-needs met’ to all students (including international ones): Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Amherst and MIT. Each of these prestigious institutions will meet the entire needs of the admitted student, regardless of what those needs may be.
It’s worth remembering that ‘full needs met’ does not mean free - firstly the needs may be met in a combination of not only grants, but also work-study (part-time jobs on campus to help pay for undergraduate education) and loans - and secondly depending on the student’s financial circumstances there is likely to still be a bill to pay.
Mariana Espinosa is a Venezuelan student who has lived in the United States, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. She currently attends the Schreyer Honors College at Pennsylvania State University. She applied and was accepted to 8 universities.
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