job applications

Why Bias Begins Long Before University Applications

How much applicant information do you need to remove before university admissions lose all bias?

Trick question. There’s always some sort of bias.

Anything attempting to level the playing field is better than nothing, but inequalities cannot be removed as easily as removing a name, or grades, or an institution.

As with Deloitte’s decision to ignore which university applicants studied at, the removal of names from UCAS forms is positive, but there is more to consider.

As Vikki Boliver says in The Conversation:

“Admissions selectors will still see each applicant’s home address, the school they attended, what they have written about themselves in their personal statement and what their teacher has written about them in their reference. All of this may provide subliminal clues as to an applicant’s ethnic and social background. Where applicants are interviewed as part of the selection process, the scope for unconscious bias becomes wider still.”

Social background can make a huge difference to applications. Lauren Rivera, author of “Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs“, explains:

“Whether intentionally or not, elite parents expose their children to different experiences and styles of interacting that are useful for getting ahead in society.” – [SOURCE]

In exactly the areas where people are meant to stand out, some find it easier to do than others. Inequality starts early and may not even be deliberate. People want to do the best they can for their children with the resources they have access to.

Those with a disadvantaged upbringing in some way are less likely to succeed in using the systems in place to build an impressive personal statement. And if they do manage to attend their university of choice and graduate, there are further hurdles to cross in creating CVs and making job applications.

For example, extra-curricular activities are often dropped in favour of getting the academic work done. Rivera has studied this too and she believes there should be “less weight [given] to extracurricular activities” as they are “a huge source of class inequality whether it’s in university admissions or in interviews”.

Striving for a First gets in the way of making do with a 2:1 while building up other achievements and industry experience. Yet these differences are what employers differentiate on.

When it comes to making name- and qualification-blind decisions, it may appear over time that the same people as before are getting the university places and job offers.

The danger here is that some people may see this as proof that some people are naturally more accomplished than others. They will conclude that the cream really does rise to the top.

If a lack of change is apparent, that doesn’t mean these new approaches to university and job applications will have failed. But it will show that applications are not the original source of inequality. Bias begins long before university applications. There are many variables, which begin much earlier in life and can be difficult to overcome.

Jobs, Time, and Shifting Expectations

How many job applications will you have to send off before you land a job as a graduate?

While sixth form students expect to fill out 17 job applications after they graduate from university, those already studying in higher education expect to apply for 26 jobs before finding success.

These findings come from a YouGov report on first jobs.

I wonder if students much closer to graduating are more acutely aware of what is to come. For a sixth former, there is still a lot of time stretching before them. A graduate job seems far removed from their current position. They aren’t even at university. Expectations can be more casual, even when taken seriously.

clock (photo by fiddle oak)

Photo by fiddle oak via Compfight (cc)

Would a fresher expect to fill out a slightly higher number of applications and a final year student consider the number higher still? As the clock ticks ever closer to your time, the reality (and worry) is bound to kick in.

Look at the question of potential salary. Again, sixth form students believe, on average, that earnings will be around £23,000. Compare that with those at university and the figure drops to £20,250.

Then you have work experience. Not quite two thirds (64%) of sixth formers surveyed were concerned about a lack of work experience. On the other hand, more than three quarters (76%) of university students thought that no experience would get in the way of working in their preferred field.

The results read as if expectations drop the closer students get to graduation. Students are considering their future from a different viewpoint. That future is no longer so distant. There is less time to be casual.

As perspective changes, so can expectation.

Here are some ideas of what might cause university students to be less positive in their expectations:

  • More understanding of expected salaries based on increasing research as graduation approaches;
  • Fear of being let down;
  • Fear of letting themselves down with a lower salary;
  • Realism trumping hope.

That’s not to say the majority of soon-to-be graduates aren’t hopeful and willing to engage. But it does highlight how many people alter their position as things are imminent. For better or for worse, concepts of time–and time left remaining–can shift our thoughts.

What do you expect of the future? Do you prefer to convey a realistic, possibly even understated, projection? Or do you continue to confidently anticipate quick job success and good earnings to boot?