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Need-Blind Admissions? Really?

Sure, I understand that correlation is not causality, but still, the below figures do make one pause. Why do students not needing financial aid stand a much higher chance of getting into the College than people who can’t pay full freight? Are they smarter? Does the supposedly need-blind Admissions Office peek at the financials just a teensy bit when deciding between two similar candidates whom to admit?

A loyal reader asked these questions when he noted that the College had boasted this year that 70% of all applicants had requested financial aid; then, a few weeks later, Dean of Admissions Maria Laskaris ‘84 revealed that only 45% of admitted students were to receive aid (actually the link says 46%, but Dean Laskaris kindly updated the figure for me). Using the College’s numbers, let’s do the math on this past admissions season’s figures:

Applicants for admission: 19,235
Applicants asking for aid (70%): 13,465
Applicants not asking for aid (30%): 5,770
Admitted students receiving aid (45%): 999
Admitted students not receiving aid (55%): 1,221

Chances a student requesting aid will be accepted (999/13,465): 7.4%
Chances a student not requesting aid will be accepted (1,221/5,770): 21.2%

Hmmm. If you don’t need financial aid, you have almost three times the chance of being admitted to the College as compared to a student requesting aid.

Addendum: An alumnus has a question:

I’m not good with math, but aren’t you missing something in your stats in today’s entry? Surely you need to discover which of the students requesting aid were admitted and which weren’t, and which of the students not requesting aid were admitted and which weren’t. Plenty of people apply and request aid, then get admitted but don’t get aid.

Addendum: An a longtime reader comments:

This is not specific to Dartmouth - but I have heard that admissions offices do not always need to violate their own stated policies by peeking at actual financial disclosures in advance of making their decisions. Seems that one can infer an astonishing amount of information simply by using an applicant’s zip code - particularly in urban areas.

Addendum: As does another active Hanover resident:

… A related question to your illuminating post about “Need-Blind Admissions” statistics would be to separate out the recruited athletes from Dartmouth’s financial aid data and then look at the need-blind numbers again.

My guess is that it would echo what happens with the College’s Early Decision application pool. The bulk of Early Decision admits are actually recruited athletes who received admissions “tips” allocated to their coaches. So the likelihood of getting in Early Decision if you are not among the recruited athletes is much worse than the ED statistics would superficially indicate.

Anyway, I think that if you take the recruited athletes out of Dartmouth’s financial aid allocations, the “Need-Blind” admission statistics will look even less promising than Dartblog’s assessment this morning.

Addendum: Yet another perspective:

Dartmouth is a member of the 568 Presidents’ Group (you can Google it). As such, the College has formally certified that it is “need blind” as it must be under federal law to engage in protected discussions within that Group about financial aid policy as allowed under an antitrust exemption granted by Congress. If Dartmouth were, as you suggest, “peek[ing] at the financials just a teensy bit” the College would be exposing itself to a suit for violation of antitrust law. Are you suggesting that Maria Laskaris or Bob Donan would put the College in that position? Or that she is performing her duties as Dean of Admission in contravention of stated College policy?

More to the point, the no-aid-application pool, by definition, consists of students from wealthier families where education is a priority, where they often have access to the best public and private schools, not to mention that most all legacies are no doubt need blind.

By the way, “Need blind,” for purposes of the antitrust exemption, is defined in federal statute, leaving no ambiguity about what that standard is.

Addendum: All views elicit contrary views!

Time for me to do one of my favorite things - playing the devil’s advocate. One of my nephew’s closest friends during his time at the College was accepted ED. This boy was not a recruited athlete, not a legacy, did not hail from an under-represented state and is a Caucasian Episcopalian to boot — haha. He also comes from an economically challenged background, so needed almost full financial aid. The admissions process may be more mysterious than we know.


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