The scholarship review process is crucial in matching the right students for suitable financial aid awards. In a perfect world, the selection process would be completely unbiased and based on merit. But scholarship reviewers are human. Like any other human, they are naturally prone to biases in their decision-making processes.

One of these biases is implicit bias, which can have far-reaching consequences in the scholarship review process. 

What is Implicit Bias? 

An implicit bias influences our judgment of others, basing it on our own background experiences. Our knowledge, values, education, and environment contribute to our worldview, which clouds our opinions about others. Implicit biases often disguise themselves as gut feelings or instincts. So, we must be aware of them and how they affect our everyday choices. 

Implicit bias is present in virtually all aspects of our lives, and they often relate to age, race, gender, and sexual orientation. For example, people may believe that they are open-minded about gender quality, but their actions may show the opposite. 

They may distrust members of the opposite sex, ignore their advice, or blame them for mistakes instead of genuinely being objective. Implicit biases are a perfectly normal function of our minds since we prefer something familiar and predictable. However, these biases can confirm stereotypes and lead to unfairness and discrimination. 

How can Implicit Bias Skew Your Scholarship Results?

Scholarship reviewers have a hard time selecting suitable candidates for scholarships and grants. It’s hard enough to sift through hundreds, sometimes thousands of applications to choose a handful of recipients. 

Typically, the review process involves several steps such as;

  • Following strict guidelines about the transcripts
  • Reviewing resumes
  • Reviewing application essays
  • Reviewing letters of recommendation for each student 

Since applicants come from various backgrounds, implicit biases will likely happen without the reviewer’s conscious knowledge. 

For example, a scholarship reviewer might make an implicit bias against applicants who have unusual names. To them, such names signal their racial or ethnic backgrounds. 

Implicit bias can also discriminate positively and favor certain groups of people. For example, more Asian applicants may receive a more significant share of STEM scholarships based on the belief that they’re gifted in math. A possible argument is that positive biases have an even more damaging effect on scholarship results. This is because they are harder to spot or change. 

These biases are subconscious, so the reviewer may unwittingly overlook other qualifications such as the education, leadership experience, special recognitions, and other objective qualities of the applicant. 

Only an unbiased scholarship review can offer both students and donors the best possible outcomes. 

How Can A Scholarship Review Process Become Unbiased? 

Implicit biases are inevitable, but they are manageable. There are several ways to address unconscious bias in scholarship management. These include: 

Anonymous Reviews

An anonymous or blind review means that a scholarship reviewer cannot access sensitive or non-essential information about the applicant. Reviewers cannot see details such as the name, gender, location, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation of the applicant, depending on the type of scholarship. 

They can then base their reviews on objective information such as GPA, awards, and applicant achievements. Anonymous reviews give students an equal chance at the scholarship opportunity. Consequently, they keep the reviewer relatively free of implicit biases. 

Randomized Assignments 

Reviewers can randomly review scholarship applications without necessarily choosing which students to evaluate. Implicit bias may drive reviewers to select applicants from backgrounds similar to theirs. 

In the case of a positive implicit bias, reviewers who are open to diversity may be objective with their judgment. Either way, randomized assignments take the choice of applicants away from reviewers and reduce implicit bias.

Using a Scholarship Application Management Software

Scholarship application management is often tedious, even for the most experienced review teams. The solution is scholarship application management software. This software automates key processes to save on the overall scholarship review process. It can;

  • Randomize assignments
  • Anonymize applicant information
  • Compile peer review comments, and 
  • Keep all the relevant documents on one platform

Reviewers can also use the software’s search feature to find applicants with specific qualities. It is much easier to find more information about;

  • Bilingual students
  • Those who participated in exchange programs, or 
  • Those who have received particular awards relevant to the scholarship

This takes the attention away from any bias-triggering elements of each application for more objective results. 


Implicit bias is a pervasive and controversial issue in scholarship management today. Review teams need to be aware of their own positive or negative implicit biases and how they may affect the outcomes of their evaluations. 

With Scholar’s App, review teams select pre-qualified applicants and collaborate on their feedback on an intuitive platform. Scholarship donors can rest assured that their resources reach the right students through the Scholar’s App review process. Learn more about the Scholar’s App here

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