Are you aware of the bias that might unknowingly seep into the admissions process at your private school?  Everyone has biases. It’s nearly impossible not to. But as an admissions and enrollment professional it’s particularly important that you do everything you can to recognize and reduce your bias to make sure you’re admitting and enrolling a diverse and well-rounded school body.

To give every student a fair and equal chance to find a place at your school, you need to do everything you can to understand what bias looks like in admissions and put practices in place to help you eliminate bias throughout the enrollment process. 

What Does Bias Look Like in Admissions? 

Bias is a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion—especially one that is preconceived or unwarranted or reasoned. Bias pops up all throughout the enrollment process and rears its ugly head in many forms. Having biases in and of itself is not bad. In fact, it’s unavoidable because everyone has biases. The key is to train yourself to recognize bias when it occurs and make sure you have tools in place to counteract those biases. It’s time to hold a magnifying glass up to your admissions process so you can reveal any biases. Since recognizing bias is the first step to reducing, and hopefully, eradicating it we gathered together a list of some of the types of bias that may be present at your institution.

Types of bias in admissions:

  • Stereotyping

Stereotype bias involves making assumptions or an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. Do you view a particular zip code as the “bad part of town”? If you meet a family whose address falls in that zip code, you might stereotype them based on their home address.

  • Groupthink

Do you make admissions decisions in groups and find yourself or a colleague simply going with the flow or agreeing? If you feel your individual thinking is being swayed to conform to the group, you’ve probably experienced groupthink bias. 

  • Halo effect

This is the tendency for positive impressions of a person in one area to positively influence your opinion or feelings in another- it can work for or against a candidate. For example, if a 6th grader is especially well dressed, you might assume they are smarter than they are and perceive their answers to interview questions accordingly. 

  • Ingroup bias

This refers to giving preferential treatment to those considered part of the “ingroup”. It can be referred to as favoritism and describes the tendency you may have to favor a member of your own group over outsiders leading you to give preferential treatments to those perceived as part of your group. This can happen if you are more inclined to set up a 1 on 1 meeting with a family who attends your same church or went to the same college as you. 

  • Confirmation bias

This type of bias happens when you only take in what agrees with your preconceived notions and tend to ignore details that don’t match up. This can make you blind to a downfall of a student if you only remember and acknowledge the traits that agree with your preconceived notion of who they are. It can also cause you to view applicants in an overly positive or negative way based on what you already thought about them going into an interview.

  • Recency bias

Do you find yourself constantly favoring the most recent interviewee or family you’ve met with? If so you may want to self-examine to see if you’re engaging in recency bias (favoring recent events over historical or past ones).

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the kinds of bias that can show up in admissions, but it does reveal just how much bias might slip into an interview or a 1:1 meeting with a family during the admissions process. Once you’ve recognized some of the biases you may have, or that exist within your team or school, you can be more intentional about implementing practices and policies to counteract that bias. Doing so will help you move towards inclusion and make sure that every applicant has a fair chance to be admitted at your school.

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Reducing Bias in Admissions

Here are a few ways we’ve seen schools fight back against bias:

1. Professional development and training

Start offering professional development opportunities and training sessions specific to overcoming biases at your school. Make sure everyone on your team is aware of the different biases that exist and remove obstacles to discussing race. This is especially important for the admissions office. Train everyone on your faculty and staff on language, practices, and approaches they should use. 

professional development and bias training

2. Town halls

This goes beyond classroom discussions, though those are absolutely vital. You need to create space for everyone on your faculty and staff to discuss bias- especially your admissions and enrollment team, review committees, board, and leadership as you will be the ones meeting with families and making decisions on which students are admitted at your school. Create time for team self-reflection. Reflection leads to self-awareness and growth which we all need to reduce our own individual bias.

3. Hold multiple interviews for families

Reduce the chance that a student is rejected or accepted based on bias by ensuring families get to meet with more than one person. Have them meet with a member of your team, your head of school, or a teacher. If you didn’t hit it off, they might hit it off with someone else. Don’t let your own cognitive bias decide a family’s fate or get in the way of admitting an excellent addition to your school. 

4. Use multiple readers in the review process

Make sure each student is reviewed by more than one person in your office and more than one teacher or faculty member. Ideally, your reviewers will be diverse themselves. You want to gather collective feedback and analysis of applicants. 

5. Blind reviewing

Consider implementing practices to help you reduce bias in the review process. You can do things like cover up student names, addresses, or income levels. Make sure reviewers can’t see one another’s comments and have no outside interference. Some schools have even chosen not to accept letters of recommendation. Go out of your way to ensure you aren’t letting bias influence your decision making. 

6. Drill into the data to find bias points

Break down your data to pinpoint areas of bias. Look at your admissions for 6th-grade boys and then your admission for 6th-grade girls. Figure out where the numbers don’t make sense. Are you admitting a disproportionate amount of students by gender, race, or socioeconomic background? Find specific groups that are made up of a significant majority and put practices in place to heighten your awareness for those age groups during the admission process. 

You want to be more than fair at your private school, you want to be anti-bias. The first step is to have an ACTIVE process. Be willing to change your systems, practices, and policies so that every student gets a fair assessment. You’ll also want to make sure your student enrollment management system has the capability to help you achieve your goals by offering options like blind-reviewing. By paying extra attention to fighting bias, you can offer every student the same opportunity and access to your school. As a result, you can move forward with a stronger class, community, and admissions process.