Reducing Bias in Private School Admissions

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Ravenna Team

October 28, 2021

    Your school community should be made up of a well-rounded, diverse student makeup. Everyone benefits when your student makeup mirrors your community.  

    And while it is nearly impossible to eliminate all biases in admissions, it’s nevertheless important to recognize them and give every individual student a fair chance of being admitted to your school.  

    What Does Bias in Private School Admissions Look Like? 

    All of us make our first impression of someone within seconds. Perceived trustworthiness, personality, general capabilities, and more are ascertained in less time than the average YouTube ad. 

    Implicit bias in admissions is something that cannot go unchecked. Implicit biases are unconscious stereotypes and attitudes we all have. They are unfortunately heavily influenced by unfair media portrayal and narrow experiences. Implicit biases affect the lens with which we view different races, genders, and sexualities. And, they inform our viewpoint to the extent that we all tend to lean into the groups with which we already identify.  

    There are data-driven facts that fully demonstrate there is regular preferential treatment given based solely on race and lack of disability in educational settings. It is proven time and again that everyone benefits when narrow-minded thinking in education is addressed and overhauled; everyone, from staff to students to families, benefits.  

    The actions we take on those true implicit biases are rarely overt. Add data-driven tools that enable objectivity and assist reviewers in your admissions and enrollment process. Shed light on implicit bias within your admissions and enrollment process, and it will make your school better.    

    How Does Bias Affect Children? 

    It is utterly obvious to say that how we are treated affects us. Of course it does. And, those effects can be far-reaching.  

    A child who is mistreated in one interaction will carry that beyond that moment. These moments affect self-esteem, aspirations, and sense of self.  

    Mis-aligned, unnecessarily punitive discipline is long-term detrimental and isn’t always viewed that way until it is reviewed and deliberately changed for the better.  

    Content that doesn’t offer a full, accurate history and acknowledge valid, inexcusable past bad behavior is doing everyone a disservice and certainly doesn’t lift up any disadvantaged students who align themselves with those marginalized groups.  

    Modern families are looking at these realities and asking direct, tough questions. They have quickly formed first impressions, too. Schools that are interested in being future-focused and make and act on a plan to be and do better will long-term thrive. Seek the tools that help you do those things, from the beginning of any student’s journey with your school.   

     

    Types of Bias Affecting School Admissions 

    Confirmation 

    Subconsciously performing confirmation bias is easy to do in admissions. If you are interviewing someone you know your colleague liked or who you had a great conversation with at an open house, you are more likely to dismiss any misgivings that you otherwise would have. The same concept can be applied to every step of the admissions process – from application to test results.  

    To try to prevent this preferential treatment, find an admissions tool that helps you take and record, but hide notes from other interviewers. That way, everyone has the same stepping-off point.    

    Groupthink 

    Every one of us gravitates toward harmony. Discord need not apply. So, when one of your fellow reviewers makes a statement that leans into implicit bias, it can be HARD to disagree or call it out. Very hard.  

    That groupthink mentality – if we all agree and move along without friction even when you know there is something not right  – will not benefit your team or school in the long run. Addressing implicit bias at the beginning of any review period, and reminding yourselves of it, will help with neutrality. And, the right tools and data will make that bias explicit.  

    Halo Effect 

    A student’s perfect test score or another shining experience can unfairly influence the rest of your interactions with that student and family. In admissions, this can disproportionately mean that your team admits students based on a narrow scope, and unfairly rejects students who don’t fit into that scope. A platform that gives you regional data, increases the odds that you are comparing the whole student to his/her/their peers.  

    Ingroup 

    This bias can really influence admissions and perpetuate bad generational patterns. It essentially says that you favor someone, automatically, because their parents are alumni of the same university you went to or cheer for your favorite sports team.

    Some deserving families don’t have a parent who went to university at all or aren’t into sports. Actively acknowledging these and other biases can expose bias in admissions, which is a necessary step to take. 

    Stereotyping 

    Perpetuating stereotypes is the most obvious form of bias. It is making assumptions and acting on them solely based on how you group an applicant by race, gender, religion, and more.  

    And, diversity training will not solve your problems. It is a great start. Diversity in your admissions team and administration is a better way to go about the necessary systemic change. And, a gut check with the data from not only your applicant pool but that of other schools in your region will help your whole team see the facts.   

    Recency 

    This is a phenomenon that we favor more recent interactions as opposed to those that happened previously. There is an empirical way to ensure this isn’t happening. Take a glance at your calendar and then your scoring to see if you are disproportionately favoring those you met with more recently.   

     

    Strategies to Reduce Admissions Bias 

    We’ve shared some ideas for reducing bias, like using the school and regional data your admissions system gives you to pinpoint biases. And, training your professionals  – administrators, staff, and faculty about confronting their biases is a great start. Consider what other actions you can take. 

    Change up interview structures 

    If you are not already, make some small talk with your interviewees. Ask them about what makes them happy, what they enjoy, what they are learning about, etc. Building a bit of reporrapport. 

    Evaluate the type of questions you ask. While open-ended questions are the fallback, consider asking some with a bit more structure. For example: 

    “Think of a recent problem you had with a classmate? What did you do to solve it?” 

    As opposed to:  

    “How do you approach problems?”  

    Giving everyone the same, starting point allows for similarly structured responses, as opposed to a hodgepodge that cannot really be compared. 

    Use multiple interviewers and reviewers 

    You’re a unique person, who will connect with and perceive everyone differently. Make sure to have multiple interviewers to uncover the biases and reduce preferential treatment. Just like any team, make sure everyone has different strengths and dominant personality traits.  

    For example, introverts make great students and add to your school.  Introverts are also far more likely to make a bad first impression because they take more time and are deliberate. Seconds aren’t enough. Make sure to have interviewers who inherently recognize not only this but other blind spots.  

    Conduct blind reviews with multiple reviewers 

    And, the review process should mirror the interview process, in that a new set of diverse reviewers should be involved. Their collective, honest feedback will best inform your decision process.  

    Limiting the view of names, zip codes, and more identifying information can help. And, when your team takes notes in your admissions system, hide them from other reviewers, so everyone’s opinions are as independent as possible.  

     

    Using Technology to Manage the Admission Review 

    The right technology allows your administrators, counselors, and enrollment staff to best collaborate. Look for scheduling tools that enable accurate, transparent, and automated scheduling as well as help you facilitate family communication. Your tools should help you move students along in the decision process, not get in the way.  

    And, a system that provides regional data for you to compare your applicant pool to other local schools gives you an edge. Depending on those insights, you can tailor your communication strategy to increase visibility with target groups.  

     

    Learn More About Our School Admission Management System 

    Ravenna is the premier enrollment experience designed with families in mind. From the dynamic interview process and efficiencies to the complete online file reading and review and workflows, Ravenna is the admissions management solution for your school.   

    Get started with Ravenna today. 

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