Getting Beyond the Numbers to Get into College

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

I strive to create preliminary college lists that are well-matched to a student’s overall academic and extracurricular profiles as well as other factors of importance to the student and their parents.

With such a list in hand, students must explore each college further to narrow the list down to those they plan to send applications. To accomplish this, one important task is to review each college’s mission statement.

A college’s mission statement points to certain values that are intrinsic to that school. The college uses it to move well beyond GPAs and test scores and select students who demonstrate those values that support a school’s central purpose. Colleges seek out students who help them create, build and maintain their reasons for being. That is one reason why colleges look closely at how you spend your time.

Examination of a college’s mission statement will help you to apply to schools that fit your shared values; if you do a good job of it, the college is more likely to recognize you as a good fit for their campus and offer you admission. One exercise is to read the mission statements of your schools and highlight the key words that let you know what each college values most. Using engineering as an example, Santa Clara University’s (SCU) is, first and foremost, grounded in the Jesuit approach to education; it seeks to “develop engineering leaders of competence, conscience and compassion…who will build a more just, humane and sustainable world.”

Harvey Mudd College (HMC) speaks to educating students in engineering, the sciences and mathematics with immersion in “the humanities and social sciences so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clear understanding of the impact…on society.” Both schools stress a desire to tackle global and societal issues. However, SCU as a Jesuit institution specifically highlights developing engineering leaders with a firm commitment to Jesuit values and HMC seeks to educate engineers, scientists and mathematicians who are also “well versed in the social sciences and humanities.”

If you reviewed the mission statements of Purdue, University of Michigan and Cal Tech (California Institute of Technology) you would notice the emphasis on creativity and innovation. Students interested in SCU would note the university’s firm commitment to compassionate service. Students interested in SCU would emphasize their service activities throughout their high school years and those students interested in HMC and SCU would highlight leadership positions they have held and their involvement in interdisciplinary extracurricular activities that integrate STEM with social sciences and humanities. Cal Tech, Purdue and University of Michigan applicants would demonstrate the match between themselves and the schools by pointing to their creative and innovative endeavors in the STEM fields.

When selecting schools for your final college list and when writing the application essays and choosing what activities to highlight, an understanding of each college’s mission will serve you well—first to increase the probability of admission and, most importantly, to enjoy being part of the fabric of a campus that embraces the same values you do.