Is Your Admission Office Bias-Aware?

By Maryanna Phipps posted 09-11-2019 15:32


Is Your Admission Office Bias-Aware?

By Maryanna Phipps, Director of Admission and Enrollment Management, The Hockaday School, AISAP Board of Director

School has started and our Admission offices are in full swing. The start of the new admission cycle means we all have a lot on our to-do list and everything feels essential. I want to offer information that I feel is both necessary and important in our work—training around bias.

Discussing and acknowledging bias in the admission process is challenging. We work hard to assemble a group of admission professionals who are skilled in their work and objective in their evaluation of students. Likewise, we carefully select admission tour guides, interviewers and committees who are committed to open-minded fairness in their interactions and assessments of candidates. Yet, as hard as we work and as honorable as we are, the truth of the matter is that we all have cognitive biases, even if we aren’t immediately aware of them.

According to bias is defined as, “a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned.” Perception Institute defines implicit bias as, “…having an attitude toward people or associating stereotypes to them without conscious knowledge.”

It’s important to educate ourselves and our teams to recognize bias when possible, and to identify points in our processes when we are more likely to allow bias to affect our prospective students and families, as well as our own decision-making. Does our admission committee fall prey to “Groupthink?” Do some applicants benefit from the “Halo Effect?” How can we be more equitable? Where can we identify and remove or decrease bias in our admission process?

The first place to do the work, of course, is within our own teams. Have we—as the first contact, those who craft all elements of the admission process, from the events to the application, interview, file reading, and committee work—had discussions and training about bias? If not, there’s still time before the year really gets underway.

Ultimately, recognizing the biases we have, holding each other accountable, and looking for ways to make our practices consistent will bring more equity and fairness to our processes and our decision-making.

If you’re looking for a place to start, Kira Talent,, a group that works primarily with college admission offices, offers some great content on the nine areas of bias commonly associated with admissions in “Breaking Down Bias in Admissions: The How-to Guide to Reducing Bias at Your School.” For more information, specifically related to Implicit Bias, Perception Institute ( offers resources and training opportunities.

Science tells us that we can never eliminate bias altogether, but taking steps to reduce bias will open our conversations and create a more level playing field for our prospective students.

[* AISAP wishes to acknowledge the work of Lisa Shambaugh, Director of Enrollment Management, St. Andrew's Episcopal School, Potomac, MD who has been noted as the individual who coined the term “bias aware” in an article that she wrote for NAIS Independent School Magazine last year. In addition to this article, she has presented the framework in a podcast for NAES. ]