No Need to Know: Students React to Dartmouth’s Universal Need-Blind Admissions Policy

While many students were overjoyed by the news, others were skeptical of the College’s intentions and commitment to the policy.

by Arielle Feuerstein and Adriana James-Rodil | 1/26/22 2:35am

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by Elizabeth Janowski / The Dartmouth

Dartmouth announced on Wednesday, Jan. 12 that it would extend its need-blind admissions policy to international students — beginning with the Class of 2026 — following an anonymous $40 million dollar donation to the Call to Lead campaign. This made Dartmouth the sixth institution to offer need-blind admissions to international students while meeting 100% of demonstrated financial need, along with Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Amherst College. 

Many students have also expressed excitement over the College’s new policy. Chukwuka Odigbo ’25, an international student from Nigeria, described the news as “joyful,” and said he was excited to share it with his friends from home. 

“And as soon as I heard [the decision], I spread the news to all my friends who I knew were interested in applying to Dartmouth,” Odigbo said. “I was very happy when I realized that Dartmouth’s decision to go need-blind for international students covered the Class of 2026 onwards, because it means that even those internationals who had applied would get need-blind admissions, which I think is great.”

Odigbo added that he believes that Dartmouth’s decision will lead to more international students applying. Beatriz Da Silva Falcão ’25, an international student from Brazil, echoed Ogbido’s sentiment. She applied early decision to Dartmouth; however, its need-aware policy for international students almost convinced her to apply early elsewhere. Now, she predicts that more international students will feel comfortable applying to Dartmouth in the early round.

“My best friend intended to apply here early but she didn’t because at the time, it was need-aware,” Falcão said. “I know other people who’ve been through that and everyone was always insecure, so I felt like it was great that they turned admissions need-blind for international students because I feel like now we are going to have more people applying and then probably a more representative cohort of new students.”

While every student interviewed expressed support for the College’s decision to extend need-blind admissions to international students, some raised concerns about the College’s motivations for making the change, along with their intent to faithfully apply the policy.

Matt Capone ’24, a domestic student, expressed frustration that the announcement of universal need-blind admissions immediately followed news that the College was involved in a federal antitrust lawsuit concerning the legitimacy of its existing need-blind admissions process.

He explained that while he’s “hesitant” to say that the lawsuit is the “primary motivator” in Dartmouth’s decision, he “feels like those two things can’t be uncorrelated.” He believes that the timing of the announcement is reflective of a larger problem with Dartmouth’s unwillingness to implement positive change on its own, without external coercion.

“What really stood out was just the fact that, once again, it has seemingly become a pattern in which Dartmouth only enacts change following the threat or the existence of legal action.”

“What really stood out was just the fact that, once again, it has seemingly become a pattern in which Dartmouth only enacts change following the threat or the existence of legal action,” Capone said.

Although Ana Sumbo ’22, an international student from Angola and a leader of the African Students Association, said she was initially “elated” when she first heard that the College was extending their need-blind policy to international students, she now has similar doubts about the College’s intentions.

“Right now, Dartmouth can’t really afford to look bad in any way, shape or form,” Sumbo said. “So they’re grasping at straws for whatever they can do to paint themselves in a great light.” 

Not every student had concerns with the timing of Dartmouth’s new policy. Falcão said she didn’t think that the announcement of need-blind admissions shortly after news of the lawsuit was intentional.

“I feel like these kinds of decisions have to be thought out carefully and with time, so I feel like many things were adding up to that decision,” Falcão said. “And [the lawsuit] was not necessarily what triggered it or what triggered its announcement. At least I feel like that would have happened one way or another.” 

According to director of admissions Paul Sunde, implementing need-blind admissions for all students has been a campaign goal since Dartmouth launched the Call to Lead campaign four years ago. 

Dartmouth’s peer institutions, such as Amherst College, which practice universal need-blind admission are “excited” about the College’s announcement, said Amherst College dean of admissions and financial aid Matthew McGann. 

“I think that most people in the admission profession would prefer to be in a situation where we can evaluate and admit all students just on the basis of fit with the institutional mission and the institutional goals rather than needing to think about a student’s financial need and the impact on the budget,” McGann said. “So that Dartmouth has now made that institutional commitment to be need-blind for all students, regardless of citizenship status, I think is really exciting.”

Beyond fears that the College’s announcement was partly a reaction to the lawsuit, Sumbo expressed that the promise of need-blind admissions still may not lead to any tangible change. First, she expressed concern that there would be few ways to hold the Admissions Office accountable for adhering to the need-blind policy, so there will be no assurance that the College is abiding by it.

“We can’t guarantee that the need-blind is actually extended. There’s no verification process,” Sumbo said. “While we can take the administration’s word for it, ultimately people who are going to be in charge of these admissions are still the same people. So I’m assuming the trends are going to follow as they normally do, which means that it won’t translate to any actionable change.” 

Even once international students are admitted to Dartmouth, Sumbo does not believe that Dartmouth currently provides all of them with enough support to thrive. Although Dartmouth promises to meet 100% of admitted students’ demonstrated need, including international students, Sumbo said that many students find themselves struggling financially once they arrive on campus. 

“A lot of international students who need that full support often get here and can’t get financial support from the school,” Sumbo said. “I guess I’m questioning what [need-blind admissions] really means for international students’ ability to be here and be actually worried about education and not other financial concerns that they may have.”

Despite concerns, most students are still optimistic about the policy change, and are hopeful it will attract more international applicants to Dartmouth.

“I think the best thing I can say is I’m excited to see how it goes moving forward. I expect that more international students will apply and I encourage more international students to apply because I found a vibrant, loving international community,” Odigbo said.

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