Admissions departments are biased

Recently Kira Talent, a group that designs holistic application processes for universities, conducted its annual bias survey of over 100 departments. Their conclusion probably won't be a surprise: the average score for working against bias is a "C+." What does that mean?

 * They found that 97% of schools believe that avoiding bias is important.

  * However, they found that 48% of schools talk talk infrequently about bias when doing their job.

  * While 47% of responders believe that bias could be a problem at their own school, 70% feel it's a problem at other schools. What's more, 71% of departments with no program to address bias plan to implement one any time soon.

So, if you're applying to college any time soon, then bias may be a part of that process.

What kinds of bias does Kira mean? It may not be what you're thinking. The types of bias they're dealing with have little to do--at least explicitly--with race, socio-economics, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. In fact, Kira listed and explained nine types of bias just a few months ago: groupthink, the halo effect, in-group bias, stereotype, confirmation bias, belief revision, bizarreness effect, recency bias, and status quo bias. You can read more about them here.

What does this mean for you? Probably nothing. For one, there's no way to tell if your particular application was subject to any of the biases Kira lists. And what's more, you don't know if the bias worked in your favor or against you. 

I think what this really means is that there's survey data to back up your feeling that sometimes the application process involves a bit of luck. You may indeed be the victim of having your application reviewed in the morning instead of the afternoon. You may indeed get a little bit of bias thrown your way for a memorable line in an essay that shouldn't affect your overall application but does. But the truth is that you have no way of predicting or steering the bias, and you have no way of knowing if and how you were affected by it. So there's really not much to do. If you get accepted, don't get too cocky about it. And if you don't get accepted, don't get too down about it.

These types of bias and admissions departments' seeming slowness to address them are major problems for the school admissions departments, because they may be missing out on really great students. But it's not a problem that high school students need to worry about. If you're doing your part right, the odds are against every single school you apply to having some sort of unconscious bias against your application. The best thing to do is focus on being a good high school student.

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