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WU financial aid may be on the “Honor Roll,” but need-blind admissions should be a priority

The Princeton Review recently ranked Washington University fourth in the nation for financial aid, making it one of 13 universities in the nation that belong to the “financial aid honor roll.”

We feel that this ranking, for what it’s worth, is appropriate—Washington University has demonstrated a real commitment to ensuring that students from modest backgrounds are able to attend the University and has gone above and beyond its peer institutions by taking changes in family circumstances into account upon students’ requests and offering several merit scholarships of its own design.

Even in these tough economic times, the University has been successful in maintaining its high level of financial aid. However, the administration must not became complacent and should continue to strive for an ultimate goal of need-blind admissions.

Currently, Washington University is very public about the fact that it meets 100 percent of all students’ demonstrated need. That is, the demonstrated need of all of the students it admits. Wash. U., though it may be stellar in providing financial aid to those students it takes, still takes need into account when admitting first-year students.

What this means in practice is that the University fills the first part of each freshman class—the most talented, desirable applicants—without regard to their ability to pay. As the class begins to fill up, however, the admissions officers make decisions at the margin and are more likely to admit a student who has not applied for financial aid over an equally qualified student who has.

We feel that not having a need-blind admissions policy enhances an already-unfair divide between students of privilege and those who come from modest means—the former group has access to better schools and test prep services, and the latter group must often struggle to make themselves shine as applicants given their circumstances.

The recent actions of WU/FUSED have demonstrated that the student body both wants and needs more socioeconomic diversity—the diversity that comes when students are admitted without regard to their ability to pay. The University can, and should, make the adoption of a need-blind admissions policy a long-term policy goal.

When asked about financial aid, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton maintained that the University will continue to do what it sees as best for its general well-being, saying, “We have an aspiration to do the best we can to become the highest-quality, highest-impact university.” We urge the chancellor and the administration to acknowledge that, on principle, a high-quality university should admit students on their ability to contribute to the University, with no recognition of financial need.

Although the economy is turbulent, we feel that a need-blind admissions policy should be a stated long-term goal of the administration, announcing the University’s commitment to fair opportunity for all and its recognition that socioeconomic diversity enhances the character of our experiences here.

While we are proud of the Princeton Review ranking, we feel that there is still much to be done with Wash. U.’s financial aid policies before our University truly deserves to be on an honor roll. In our minds, the University will not deserve to be at the top of the rankings for the quality of its financial aid until it is need-blind.

  • Will

    need blind is total BS… well not total, but its really not need blind. I know for a fact that if you’re waitlisted at Stanford (need blind school) applications are split into two piles depending on if you applied for fin aid.

  • Why don’t we adopt a potlatch system, in which our wealthy applicants would compete for the honor of paying the most tuition, so that more low income students could attend? The Jains use this method to fund their temples. Conspicuous donation works very well for them. It could work for us too.

  • A friend sent me this link, to Amherst’s policy of need blind admission and replacement of loans with scholarships for low income students:

  • If we had mostly poor students, perhaps we could appeal to the noblesse oblige of the rich, and get them to come here and pay tuition. That would be incentive enough for them, wouldn’t it?

    Yes, I believe economic diversity enriches campus life, and adds value to a WashU education.

  • Anonymous

    I personally am here largely on financial aid, and could care less about whether or not we are need blind. The best students, rich or poor, are the students we should accept. Economic diversity for the sake of economic diversity is a futile and useless thing to have. For example, imagine a scenario, where the majority of WUSTL students were poor (like lets say 90%). Would you diversity arguers be arguing for more diversity in such a situation? Would you say we need to be need blind so we can get more rich people? Would you say that rich people need another advantage?

  • I still say “YES!!!” to economic diversity, by whatever means necessary, and I will read any constructive proposal with interest.

    By the way, Student Life has run a number of stories over the years about what “need blind” actually means, not included in the robotic “related posts” list. A bibliography would be helpful to those of us trying to understand these issues.

  • bschoolpreschool

    i don’t understand how studlife could do a staff editorial making an ambitious argument without first doing a STORY on need-blind admissions? i would think that a staff editorial would come after some solid, investigative, research-oriented reporting on the issue.

    i spent the past 5 minutes doing quick research (, and found that WUSTL stacks pretty favorably with similar schools in terms of the % of students receiving financial aid:
    Yale: 69%
    Harvard: 62%
    Emory: 62%
    Dartmouth: 62%
    Duke: 59%
    Penn: 59%
    WUSTL: 59%
    Princeton: 56%
    Northwestern: 55%
    Williams: 51%
    Columbia: 51%
    Swarthmore: 48%
    Tufts: 45%

    Also, the average dollar amount of aid received was roughly comparable between WUSTL and the other schools… it’s not like Duke was giving $40,000 on average and we were giving $2,000 on average.

    I belive (not 100% sure) that each of these schools say they are “need-blind”. Is Need-Blind just a misnomer? How can WUSTL still give financial aid to a respectable amount of kids and not be need-blind? This is complete conjecture, but here are my reasonably formulated arguments as to why:

    – other schools may have wealthier applicants who actually apply. While Wash U does have a pretty large East Coast population, we are in the midwest and have lots of people applying from the midwest, where it is less likely that kids who apply will be able to afford $50,000 per year. Yale/Penn/etc are on the east coast and more likely to have wealthier kids apply because they’re right in their back yard.
    -“need blind” schools might not know exactly how much you need when applying, but may know information like your parents’ jobs and what zip code you live in… its feasible that they could take those general pieces of information into consideration, and just accept people who have a 90210 zip code but reject people who are from less economically-well-off zip codes.

    If anything, not being need-blind allows Wash U to be more conscious of the % of students who receive financial aid. Maybe, if Wash U was need-blind, it might end up accepting a freshmen class where only 25% of the kids need money. OR, maybe it ends up accepting a freshmen class where 90% of the kids need money. It can go either way. Need-blind, to some extent, has gotta be somewhat financially untenable, because it doesn’t allow the university to properly budget resources, AND it might work in the opposite effect…….. where, by not knowing how much a student needs, it ends up (by no fault or purposeful intention) accepting a freshmen class where very few kids need money.

    By looking at financial aid when kids apply, Wash U is able to have a student body where 59% of the kids receive financial aid. Again, while we can always do better, we’re not exactly doing poorly. Princeton (just one school as an example) has a larger endowment and a smaller student body and calls itself “need blind”. even if this fact was true by the literal definition of “need blind”, it would be infinitely easier for Princeton to be need blind than Wash U. It’s on the east coast, likely has wealther applicants who apply, has a larger endowment, and a smaller student body. You can’t possibly use the phrase “need blind” as a blanket comparasion measure between colleges due to so many variables beyond colleges’ control, and the comparative difficulty between schools to get to the point where they are need-blind. It’s an unfair term.

    Perhaps not being need-blind and actually knowing kids’ financial obligations is a good compromise that weighs the many costs/benefits of need blind admissions. do we want to be a school where 100% of kids need money? isn’t that unfair to kids who, by no fault of their own, have rich families that can afford $50,000 per year? by literally being need blind, again, Wash U may have some years where 90% of kids need money, and some years where 20% of kids need money. that isn’t good… we want economic DIVERSITY, don’t we? it’s a very fine line to walk…… what is an appropriate amount of students to receive financial aid? 40%? 60%? 80%? i don’t know the answer, but i think Stud Life’s editorial and lack of relevant research and POINTS to back-up their argument is completely irresponsible.

    While we always can do a better job and give away more money and maybe officially be “need blind”, I think a more thorough story on what “need blind” actually means, how many students WUSTL rejected because they needed money, what specific initiatives is WUSTL undergoing to award more financial aid, quotes from administrators and admissions deans, relevant statistics, etc, would be helpful…. a staff editorial only goes so far. Closing the article with “In our minds, the University will not deserve to be at the top of the rankings for the quality of its financial aid until it is need-blind” is an ambitious argument that is completely out of place and entirely off-base without having done a thorough story with appropriate research before hand.

  • YES!!!