Eva Blanco Masias is the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Santa Clara, leading all recruitment and admission efforts for the university. Although her parents didn’t graduate elementary school, Eva attended Yale and worked in Latin American and Hispanic media before pivoting to the admissions department at Santa Clara. Eva spends her free time with her young daughter, DJ’ing and doing yoga.
In this conversation, I got an inside view into the admissions process, what Santa Clara looks for in incoming students, and how Eva thinks about stress, competition and common mistakes students make on their applications.
Gavin Cosgrave: What was your journey to college like?
Eva Blanco Masias: Going to college was a really big deal for me, being a first-generation student. My parents didn’t graduate from elementary school. At a very young age, they impressed upon us how important education was. I’m one of six siblings, and going to college became part of my focus from a young age.
When I got to my senior year, I realized I wanted to be an engineer, that was my calling at the time. I had figured out what colleges I was going to apply to, but at the end of the day, I didn’t end up going to any of them. I ended up going to Yale, and that was simply on the sheer luck that an alum came to talk to me about it.
Of course my life was dramatically changed from that decision. It’s a powerful thing to be able to share information. When I got to a point where I wanted to go into a career, I thought about my college process and how my trajectory was changed by one person. I decided to pivot and change careers, and I relocated here from Florida.
I got to know a lot of alums from Santa Clara and spent time on the campus. When I saw an opening, I applied for it but didn’t get the job offer. The admissions office called saying they had a different position, and that was 15 years ago.
GC: What’s your favorite part of your job?
EBM: When we think about admissions, there is a cycle, and a goal. We’re enrolling a class of students. I enjoy meeting students, speaking about opportunities Santa Clara offers. I enjoy reading their stories and what they’re passionate about. I also love working with my staff, we have an incredible group at the admissions team. Working collectively on what we’re trying to do by the end of the season is a lot of fun.
We do everything from coordinating visits. This past year, about 30,000 students came through our office. We read thousands of applications, but at the same time we’re trying to get the word out about Santa Clara. Every year we need to make a choice about what our efforts are. I enjoy making decisions about what we’re going to do at any given time.
GC: As more students apply to more universities, and the competition increases, the application process is getting more stressful for students. What do you think about this new stress?
EBM: We are aware of that, and certainly our interest isn’t more stress. I like to tell students to be authentic, take risks and try things. When it comes to reading an application, a class isn’t uniform. It’s all variations of students from different countries, different socio-economic statuses, different majors. It’s all those variations that allow students to have their learning experience further enhanced.
We certainly have an academic baseline, but we do that review contextually. Students who get good grades will have more options, but there is no formula or perfect test scores that will get you into the college of your choice.
For every college experience, it’s what you make of it. If you start taking risks and talking to people who don’t think the same way, you can grow in so many new directions.
GC: As Santa Clara becomes more popular, a lower percentage of students can be accepted. How do you think about balancing opportunity for everyone versus making Santa Clara more selective?
EBM: I’ve been here for 15 years, so I’ve seen how our GPA’s and test scores are higher. But at the end of the day, it’s still about the students. Santa Clara has gained more recognition, and we’ve seen applications rise up to a high of 16,000 this year.
Yes, we want students to be academically prepared to be here. But we want students with varied experiences, and we have this mission that is clear. When the talents of students are brought to life, it’s for the reward of our communities, our societies and our world. We look for that potential in students.
Out of our applicant pool, a good 80% are prepared academically to be here. Being at a place with a clear mission drives how we review. It’s not just scores, but it’s what they’ve done with the opportunities and challenges and how that’s moved them to make the world a better place.
GC: From the student perspective, you hit submit online and wait six months, and don’t have any idea what goes on in between. What actually happens, and how do you make difficult discussions about accepting students?
EBM: We organize ourselves in the office so that every person is responsible for a region or country and know the area the best that they can. Each counselor is responsible for reviewing applications, but we’re doing it in more of a committee format. We review all parts of the application, and we hope to come to consensus about an application. Some are easy to review, but some aren’t. The challenge is always the time. When I started here we had 6,000 applications and now we have 16,000. There are tough decisions, more and more now. It is painful to make a denied decision or a waitlist decision for a student who is prepared to come here.
GC: Are there any common mistakes students make on their applications?
EBM: Sometimes students really stress that they have to figure out what the admissions office wants to hear about. But it’s not any one thing. The story you want to tell is your story because it’s unique. Be authentic and say it your way. All the parts of the application are reviewed, and each piece is corroborated.