College Advising Blog

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  • Admission Process
  • College Search

This week our blog is guest authored by Janessa Dunn who serves as Assistant Director of Admissions at Vanderbilt University. Janessa shares valuable tips on how to be a competitive applicant for college admission beyond just your GPA and test score.

As you progress through your college search and begin solidifying the schools that are the best fit for you, you may be wondering:

“What do I need to do go get into my top choice school?”

“Should I focus on highlighting my academic achievements or extracurricular activities that are of most interest to me on my application?”

“What are colleges looking for?”

“What if I don’t sound as interesting as other applicants who applying to the same school?”

Well, I have some good news for you.  As admissions counselors, we care about all of these questions! 

Having lived in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, I discovered that the college application process is less overwhelming and more intuitive when summarized into a metaphor of one of my favorite foods—pie. Yes—the pie that seems to find its way to every dinner table during family gatherings, or even on March 14, for those of you who love math just as much as I do.  My recipe for the best pie to be the most competitive applicant is broadly defined below:

Pie Crust:  Academic Achievement & Standardized Test Scores.

Pie Filling:  Extracurricular Engagement, Letters of Recommendation, and Personal Essay.

The pie crust is a foundation for every applicant.  Academic achievement and standardized test scores are not evaluated in isolation, just as flour and shortening are not isolated when making a pie crust.  Along with a few other “pie crust” ingredients—rigor of curriculum and grade trend, for example—your academic achievement and standardized test scores must be “kneaded” together to make a supportive foundation for your pie.  The pie crust supports your overall application in a competitive applicant pool.

It is also important to know that your “pie filling” allows colleges to know who you are, in the same way that apple pie is defined by apples, chicken pot pie is defined by chicken and vegetables, and so on.  The “filling” of your pie completes your application by giving it an identity, depth, and personality. 

The “filling” of your application also gives permission for colleges to review your application holistically.  Holistic admissions simply means multiple variables, such as standardized test scores, GPA, extracurricular engagement, family background, personal essay, among other attributes, may be considered to evaluate your academic and community fit for an institution.  Every student will develop their own “pie filling” recipe.  It is up to you as the student to ensure that your “filling” represents you wholly and authentically.

Here are 5 tips for developing a strong “pie filling” recipe:

  • Do not hesitate to brag on yourself in your application.  I know--the term “brag” seems a bit brash.  But, it is important to know that colleges that practice a holistic admissions process care how you spend your time inside AND outside of the classroom.  The “extracurricular activities” section of your application is not limited to in-school activities; it can also include part-time work, community service, significant home responsibilities as a care-giver, among other levels of engagement.


  • Choose teachers to write your letters of recommendation who know you well and can speak to your academic strengths beyond grades.  As admissions counselors, we are able to evaluate your teacher letters of recommendation along with your high school transcript.  Your teachers provide depth beyond quantitative measures, such as grades, to help us identify your fit for an academic program or department.


  • Always stay true to yourself when writing your essay.  This is the part of your application that best articulates your particular written voice—let your personality come through.


  • View your admissions counselor(s) as your advocate(s).  If you are unsure about how a piece of information will be conveyed to the institution to which you are applying, whether positive or negative, feel free to contact your counselor. We are happy to provide insight.  Your college counselors are excellent resources, too. This also leads to Tip #5.


  • If there is information that you feel admissions counselors should know about you and you feel comfortable sharing this information, feel free to use the “additional information” section of your application for this purpose.  For some students, circumstances outside of school may hinder their performance inside of school.  Although this information does not “make or break” a student’s application, sharing this information allows admissions counselors to better advocate for students with this additional context in mind.

So, how can you be the most competitive applicant?

Every institution employs different methods of evaluating students based on the institutional needs of the institution.  A student may present the best “apple pie” recipe, but it’s possible that the college may be looking to enroll more “peach pies” for this year’s enrolling class.  In this case, the “apple pie” may be a violin player applying to the school’s music program, but the program is strongly looking for a bassoonist to fill a void in the orchestra. The same analogy can be applied to academic programs, geographic context, among other attributes.  Institutional needs are out of your control as a student, but you ARE in control of your pie recipe.  The pie crust and the pie filling are BOTH important components to making a whole pie.

I truly hope this information is helpful to you as you progress through your college search process and begin applying to colleges! 

  • College Search

This week our blog is guest authored by Amber Hunter who serves as Assistant Director of Admissions at UC - Blue Ash College. Amber shares insights on why students should consider the benefits that branch/regional campuses offer.

There are numerous pathways to earning a quality college education. One great option is starting your first couple years at a regional college campus. For example, most students are aware of the main campus of University of Cincinnati that is located in Clifton, but UC actually has two smaller regional (or branch) campuses located in Blue Ash and Clermont. UC’s regional campuses at UC Blue Ash and UC Clermont offer a variety of degrees that could be a great fit for your educational future! 

At each of the regional campuses, you will experience dedicated faculty and advisors, personalized attention with small class sizes, and support services designed to assist you and strengthen your academic skills. The goal is to provide students with a pathway to earning a nationally recognized college degree at a tuition rate that is half the cost of most other colleges. The coursework offered through a regional college campus combined with the dedication of the faculty and staff will position you to seamlessly transition to the main campus (ex. UC Uptown) to continue on your path to earning your bachelor’s degree. Regional campus students have the same university accesses as students who start on the main campus (ex. clubs, athletic games, concerts, and even residence halls). 

The best way to learn about any college campus is to see it for yourself! You wouldn’t buy a car you have never seen or taken for a test drive, right? Then, how can you make such an important decision about where you will attend college if you haven’t checked it out yourself to know if it is a good fit for you? Schedule an official campus visit for each college through their admissions office.

To see for yourself what the UC regional campuses have to offer you, schedule your visit today for UC Blue Ash and UC Clermont.

With Bearcat Pride,

 Amber Hunter, M.A.

Assistant Director of Admissions

University of Cincinnati - Blue Ash College

  • College Search


This week we are joined by Anna Harris, Admission Counselor at Belmont University.  Anna shares more tips for making a campus visit effective.

Ahh…the college visit. A chance for universities across the country to roll out their version of the red carpet and for parents across the country to embarrass their teenagers with endless questions about co-ed dorms and campus security. Seemingly, high school students are visiting more college campuses and doing so earlier in their high school careers than ever before. With so many attractive options available, it’s no surprise that all of the colleges on your list can start to run together. Conversations in the car ride home often end up as tangled webs of information.

“Wasn’t the four-year graduation rate higher at College B, or was that College D?”

“Now didn’t College A superscore on the ACT, or was that only at College C?”

How can you keep all of the information straight in your mind? And how on earth are you supposed to make a decision after spending a grand total of 3-4 hours on a campus? As a college admissions counselor, allow me to give you a few pointers on how to best utilize the campus visit to ultimately help determine what university is the best fit for you.

1. Plan ahead

I list this piece of advice first because it is absolutely key to making the most of your visit. First, take a look at the university’s academic calendar to make sure that classes are in session when you’re planning to visit. Otherwise, you might show up during a school break when no students or faculty are around. I guarantee the campus will feel like a ghost town, which is probably not an accurate representation of the campus culture! Another part of planning ahead is doing research beforehand and having a list of questions to ask. One of our pet peeves as admissions counselors is when a family requests a meeting and then we sit down and they say, “What questions should I ask you?” *face palm*

2. Take advantage of additional opportunities

Most campuses will be happy to accommodate additional requests such as class observations, faculty meetings, and overnight visits. Find out what is offered and how to set up these appointments. Don’t hesitate to ask your admissions counselor for help or suggestions!

3. Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path

Have lunch in the dining hall, strike up conversations with people in the elevator and hallways, pretend to be lost and ask someone for directions. The structured portion of your visit is absolutely necessary to get the information you need, but getting away from the production will allow you to gain an authentic sense of whether or not you like the campus vibe.

4. Allow extra time to experience the city

A lot of students forget that they are not only choosing a college, but also a new city to call home for the next four years. The reality is that you are not going to spend 24/7 on campus, so you want to make sure you actually like the city you’re in and that you can see yourself feeling at home there. Ask for local restaurant suggestions, stay in town for a concert or sporting event, and check out the major neighborhoods around campus.

5. Journal or take notes of reflection immediately after you leave

You’ll thank yourself later! Even if it’s just a few notes about what really stuck out to you (good or bad) during your visit, having all of your thoughts organized from each different campus will allow you to go back and compare. This will be especially helpful if you visit a long list of colleges and find it difficult to differentiate them in your head!

6. Make a list of your personal “Like its, love its, & gotta have its”

For any Cold Stone Creamery fans, you know what I’m talking about! As you learn more about colleges in general, you can start to come up with your very own wish list based on what you want out of your college experience and the things that are most important to you. Your “like its” are things that you would enjoy having at your future college, but are not deal breakers. Examples for you might include new residence halls, yummy dining options, or free parking. Your “love its” are things that you really don’t want to compromise on unless absolutely necessary. An example is a certain club or intramural sport that you are passionate about continuing in college. Lastly, your “gotta have its” are personal deal breakers. These could include things like a strong program in your academic area of interest, internship opportunities, and diversity on campus. As you establish and solidify your wish list, it will be very easy to cross colleges off your list that don’t offer what you’re looking for.

7. Schedule a second visit after you have narrowed your list

Once you’ve visited all of the schools on your list and narrowed your choices down to 2-3 colleges, I highly recommend scheduling a second visit before making your final decision. This second visit is your opportunity to ask any follow up questions in person and schedule any additional appointments that you didn’t have the chance to your first time there. Visiting a second time will also allow you to get a feel for the campus atmosphere during a different time of year!

One other piece of advice I’d like to include is specifically for students who may not be able to visit all of the colleges on their list (after all, you don’t have an unlimited number of excused absences and travel can be expensive!). If that’s the case for you, try to check out any virtual tours available online, set up a phone call or email with a current student to hear their perspective, or visit the institution’s website and social media to get an idea for some of their events and traditions. Even if you can’t see the campus in person, you can still do a lot to educate yourself.

That’s it, folks! If you are just beginning your college search, don’t let it overwhelm you. The campus visit is arguably the most fun part of the whole process and should be enjoyed. At the end of the day, it’s true what they say – you will definitely have that “feeling” everyone talks about when you visit a college campus you love. Take note of these suggestions and, above all, trust your gut!


  • College Search

Tay Wierenga, Admissions Counselor at Calvin College, guest authors this week's blog.  Tay shares tips for a productive and meaningful campus visit.

College and university visits are often filled with class visits, meetings with professors, Q&A panels, and financial aid sessions. These are all helpful and I highly encourage you to make the most of them, but I’ve compiled a list of 5 simple things that you can do to truly make the most of your college visit.

Find Your “Thing”

There are two things that can get me through a tough day: coffee in the morning and Diet Coke in the afternoon. Because I know this about myself, whenever I leave home for vacation, a work trip, or visiting family, the first thing I do in my new location is find the nearest Starbucks and McDonald’s. You probably have one or two things that you need to get through a rough day. Whatever it is, FIND IT! Part of the joy of visiting a new campus is imagining all the new, fun things you will try if you live there, but don’t neglect the things in your life that will be added comforts, if not necessities, throughout the semester. If you are a huge coffee drinker, try the on-campus coffee shop and/or locate the nearest Starbucks (or Biggby if that’s your thing). Is Chipotle your lucky dinner before the night of an exam? Better make sure there is a Chipotle nearby! Find your “thing” and know that along with the many changes that come along with your first college semester, you will always have the comfort of your favorite things to fall back to.

Look For Students

As a college admissions counselor, I cringe when a high school student steps onto our campus during Spring Break week. “I promise our campus is normally full of students hanging out on the campus lawn, climbing the rock-wall, walking to and from classes, eating in the dining halls…” tends to be one of the first things I say. When you visit a campus, look for the students! Take note of where they spend their time. Is it the dining hall? The library? The athletic fieldhouse? Do the students on campus seem active and social or are they seemingly hiding in their dorms? If you love practicing your instrument, visit the rehearsal rooms to see if there are any students there. If you love working out, visit the school’s fitness center. Where students tend to spend their time can give you a strong glimpse into the campus’s culture and whether it is a good fit for you or not.

Take your name tag off

When you visit a campus, it is likely that one of the first things you will receive is a name tag. Name tags are great for learning names, and it’s probably best to wear them for the majority of the day, but a fun tip is to take your name tag off for a few minutes. Sit in the commons area, walk across the campus, or strike up a conversation with a student or professor. See how they act when they don’t recognize you as a visitor. Let a student talk to you as though you were another student. Let a professor talk to you without the thought of having to “sell the college” in the back of their mind.

Go to a game

…or a choir concert, or a campus-wide talent show, or a chapel service, or an exhibit at the art gallery. Find an event on campus that interests you that isn’t a part of the visit program and go! (Pro tip: at many colleges, your admissions counselor can help score you a ticket if one is required to attend!) Do something that you can imagine yourself doing as a student. Take note of student attendance, the atmosphere of the event, and have fun

Ask questions

This tip doesn’t seem very surprising. The first thing I tell students when they visit campus is to ask a lot of questions! No college or university wants its visiting students to leave campus with any unanswered questions. I encourage you to take it one step further than asking about study abroad programs and scholarship opportunities (both great questions!). Ask people for directions on campus. Ask professors questions about the coursework when you visit their classes. Ask a student what they recommend ordering for lunch. Even if you know the answers to some of these questions, this will give you a look into the general personality of the campus – how helpful, considerate, and kind the community is. Ask questions that will actually help answer the question “Will I be cared about and cared for here?”

I encourage you to try out these fun tips the next time you visit a college or university! Your college search is about more than visit brochures, information sessions, and admissions presentations. It’s about discovering what God has in store for you, and where you can envision yourself thriving academically, socially, and spiritually!

  • College Majors


Last month, Bowling Green State University unveiled the new Cedar Fair Resort and Attraction Management Program. The major prepares students for a multibillion dollar industry in which Cedar Fair — parent company of Cedar Point and King's Island — is a widely recognized leader. 

Coursework, taught by BGSU faculty, will focus in several areas, including revenue management, supply chain management, managing public safety and operations planning. Plus, students will get to experience co-ops at Cedar Fair’s 11 parks across North America. Afterward, students will be ready to seek gainful employment anywhere they want in the resort and attraction management industry.

If you have an interest in this program, they can apply for an upcoming term or join BGSU's mailing list. It's a program offered through both Bowling Green State University and BGSU Firelands with opportunities for all types of students. Excitedly, Cedar Fair broke ground on a new facility for the major in downtown Sandusky on April 25.