Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships & Awards

Mitigating Bias in Scholarship Review Processes

We often get asked about scholarship processes, strategies, resources, rubrics, etc. from people inside and outside the University of Washington (UW) working hard to support students. Those requests, along with conversations with students and colleagues, highlight the deep “hidden curriculum” of scholarship processes and the potential negative impacts on students who could most benefit from the opportunities scholarships offer. 

As a result, OMSFA and Mary Gates Endowment for Students team members are working through each of the scholarship processes we play a role in to identify opportunities for increased transparency, clarity, and mitigation of biases. This is a work-in-progress, and we continue to learn along the way.  

Every scholarship has a unique purpose, mission, history and goals that influence eligibility requirements, application materials, advertising strategies, applicants and selection committees. This collection of resources, strategies, and questions are simply considerations that might be helpful as you build new programs, rethink existing processes, and/or participate in reviewing applications. 

Starting Points:

Join the conversation

Whether you are involved with 1 cycle/year or 25 cycles/year, have been doing this for decades, or are new to this endeavor, we hope to share useful resources here and welcome you to contribute to them. Send your contributions to improve this collection of resources:

This is a work in progress

We are working intentionally to shift our own scholarship processes to be more transparent, inclusive, and to mitigate the impacts of biases. In our self-education, we have drawn perspectives and insights from colleagues, students, and scholarship programs large and small, at UW, locally, nationally, and internationally.

Humans do this work

Scholarship selection processes are ultimately very subjective, but our goal is to employ strategies and build tools to help level the playing field and promote inclusive, equitable application and selection processes with diverse participation to support students. 

We all play a role

Stakeholders from scholars and applicants to reviewers, administrators and funders, are all involved, and have an opportunity to learn and implement more equitable scholarship processes.

Defining "equity"

For the purposes of these materials and our work with scholarships, we use the definition of equity shared in the College on the Environment’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Glossary: “The fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically underserved and underrepresented populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is necessary to provide equal opportunities to all groups.”

In this section:

Bias Mitigation Ideas & Strategies for Scholarship Application Reviewers
Bias Mitigation Ideas & Strategies for Scholarship Administrators/Managers
Common Biases in Scholarship Selection Processes

Acknowledgements: This work was partially supported by the UW Diversity and Inclusion Seed Grant Program (awarded Fall 2021) and undertaken as a collaboration between current and former team members from the Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships & Awards and the Mary Gates Endowment for Students. We benefitted greatly from consulting with Kyana Wheeler, along with colleagues and students across UW (Angelica Amezcua, Ruby Barone, Zoe Chau, Robyn Davis, Nell Gross, Sophie Pierszalowski, Sala Sataraka, Michelle Sutton), and members of the National Association of Fellowships Advisors (NAFA), who provided valuable input, insights, and resources.

Interested in our mission and values that inform the perspective we’re sharing here? Learn more about OMSFA.