College Advising Blog

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  • Admission Process

"Test Optional" is a trend in college admission that is gaining more attention. We are grateful to have Abi Perdue Moore from Ball State University share insight on how institutions that consider themselves test optional evaluate an admission application.

For a college applicant, the materials submitted to an institution are obviously important. With the time and effort individuals and institutions put into the preparation for and evaluation of standardized test scores such as the SAT and ACT, it would seem to be one of the more important elements of an application. However, many higher education institutions have chosen to make this requirement optional. Navigating the decision to submit or omit test scores can add uncertainty to the process of submitting an application without proper guidance.

As an admissions counselor at an institution that has recently moved to test-optional admissions, my first piece of advice is to put the time and effort into practicing for a standardized test. Many schools—ours included—accept both the SAT and ACT and will create a superscore based on the highest subsection scores. It is only with the best possible score that you can make a sound decision about submitting.

Secondly, pay attention to the average GPA and test scores for the school and/or program to which you apply. If you are at or above these averages, test score submission can show additional competency in core subjects. If you find that your GPA is lower than the averages published by an institution, higher test scores can add weight to your application.

The decision to omit test scores may be beneficial if high school performance is excellent and test scores do not correspond to this high performance. Scholarship calculators add another level of assistance; if a college allows you to calculate your eligibility for merit-based awards, take advantage of this tool before making a decision.

Adopting test-optional admissions policy does not indicate an apathy towards standardized test scores, but rather a prioritization of access for all students. Both the SAT and ACT report consistently higher scores for white, male test takers. This does not mean that students who do not identify in this way are unable to score highly but that the test loses credibility as an impartial marker for college preparedness.

Ball State University found that high school GPA was the highest predictor of college success regarding retention and graduation; standardized test scores did not have near the same level of reliability in this prediction. We are much more concerned as admissions officers with the rigor and performance shown throughout years of study than with performance in a single-sitting exam.

Finally, the most important element of compiling a college application is taking advantage of the resources you have available. Guidance counselors and admissions officers are prepared to talk through your application and provide the best source of advice. Building a relationship with an admissions representative can give you confidence in moving through the application process and ensure that you are making informed decisions throughout your college search.

  • College Search

We are excited to welcome Danielle Schiestle, Admission Counselor at Saint Michael's College, to the College Advising Blog.  Danielle answers a popular question: "What exactly is a Liberal Arts College?"

Hello St. Xavier High School community! My name is Danielle Schiestle and I am an Admission Counselor at Saint Michael’s College in the beautiful state of Vermont and a proud Midwesterner. St. Mike’s is a private, Catholic, residential, liberal arts and sciences college.

So what exactly does liberal arts and sciences mean and why is it something that you should consider during your college search? Great question - those of us who work for liberal arts and sciences colleges get asked this all the time. Liberal arts schools believe in a holistic, well rounded approach to education. Colleges and universities with a liberal arts curriculum tend to be a great fit for all types of students, and especially for students who are unsure what they want to major in when they begin their undergraduate journey. In addition to your major(s) you will be expected to complete a liberal arts common core of courses. Think of this like your classes in high school - you are required to take a certain number of credits in English, history, math, etc.

I’ll use myself as an example. When I was in college I majored in Biomedical Sciences but since I went to a university with a liberal arts core curriculum I was also able to minor in Spanish. I also had the opportunity to take philosophy and history courses, literature and theology courses, sociology and psychology courses in addition to all the science and math courses required for my degree. As a science major I was able to study abroad. I was able to have the flexibility in my schedule to take courses unrelated to my major that challenged me to think in different ways and develop different skills that have been important to me in the workplace. It’s important to be an informed citizen and to be able to communicate with others across disciplines and fields. This is exactly what a liberal arts education prepares you to do! Often employers seek out future employees with a liberal arts background since they are able to communicate well due to their educational background. Liberal arts graduates are well written with a broad educational foundation spanning across many fields and concepts. Being able to creatively think and critically problem solve are both hallmarks of a valuable employee and a liberal arts graduate.

At St. Mike’s, we believe that our liberal arts background allows our graduates to go out into the world equipped to do well and driven to do good. Our core curriculum pushes our students to search for truth and expand their viewpoints. We are able to do this by matching our passion for learning with academic opportunities and mentors that push us even further, enhanced by experiences outside of the traditional classroom setting. Our well rounded liberal arts and sciences core curriculum allows our students to explore, grow, and challenge both themselves, their peers, and our entire campus community. You will find other liberal arts schools with similar passions, with each school having its own unique approach to a holistic education with real world application.


  • College Search

This week our blog is guest authored by Nate Haveman who serves as Associate Director of Admissions at Hope College. Nate shares tips for parents as they assist their students in the college search process.

The advice you’ll read below has been  gathered from my experiences listening, observing and being involved with parents and students in their college-decision process. I’ll be honest with you: This process can be stressful at times, but that’s not a bad thing. This is a big investment, not only in financial resources but in time and emotions too. Taking care of that investment is what I hope help you do.

Engage in the process but don’t steer the ship.

It’s important to remember that your student is choosing a new home for the next four years. Many conflicting emotions will roll through both of you as you navigate the college-search waters. It’s exciting and scary. Will they be safe there? Will they choose the right major? Will they have fun? Will they make friends? Will they succeed? The list goes on and on. It’s a long process filled with campus visits, online research and hours in the car. The highs will be high – This is the school for me! – and the lows will be low – I didn’t get in to my dream school, what do I do now? As a parent, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of the search process, so do your best to listen and provide feedback, but try not to lecture and direct.

Talk with families who have already been through the college-decision process.

Knowing what to expect throughout this process in regard to deadlines and visit expectations can be readily found on any college website and from your student’s high school counselor. Both are incredible resources for you to explore. Knowing what else there is to consider is another matter altogether. So, ask your friends questions about their experiences. What did they find worked well throughout their search? What missteps did they make? What do they wish they would have done differently? Is their student enjoying their first, second, third year in college? Talking with people whose advice you trust is a good way to feel more comfortable as you move forward.

 Let your student enjoy their final year of high school.

“Where are you going to college next year?” Your student will hear that question too many times in the months ahead. Trust me, they know this is a big decision. They want to answer that question, but they are doing their best to juggle a successful senior year with a productive college search – and it’s a lot! Help them with that stress and pressure by refraining from asking that question too often around the dinner table or in the car on the way to the store. Make these spaces – and others, if you can – “safe” spaces where you won’t discuss the process. Instead, set a time for a future date to talk about the college search so you both know you’ll be having a discussion. That way you’ll both be prepared to talk productively.

 Make it fun.

Buy a sticker at every school you visit.

Find an out-of-the-way local eatery to have dinner after and get a taste (pun intended) of the school’s hometown.

Find students to eat with at the dining hall and grill them (pun intended again) with questions. 

Please refer to this list as you begin and continue your college search. And remember this: It’s all going to work out just fine. Your student will find success as they navigate bumps in the road and a lot of hard work ahead. They will meet some of the best friends of their lives and stay up too late studying. They will eat more pizza over four years than they will eat in the next forty. They will pursue passions in and out of the classroom. They will grow, they will graduate and they will find jobs. And best of all, they will impact a community.

  • College Close-ups
  • College Search

College/university admission representatives have started to visit St. Xavier High School. We are excited to welcome more than 80 college/university admission representatives this Fall.  Visits occur every day from now until late October.  Students and parents can find a list of upcoming visits by checking Twitter, the TV screens within the building, and within the College Advising Office.  All grades are welcome to attend the admission representative visits.  Students that would like to attend a visit during class-time will need to seek permission from their teacher first.














College/Universities Visits Currently Scheduled

Appt Date Time College City State
9/4/2019 9:00am Earlham College Richmond IN
9/4/2019 10:00am Albion College Albion MI
9/4/2019 2:10pm Villanova University Villanova PA
9/5/2019 9:00am Spring Hill College Mobile AL
9/5/2019 10:00am Mount St. Joseph U Cincinnati OH
9/5/2019 2:10pm Transylvania University Lexington KY
9/6/2019 10:00am Lynn University Boca Raton FL
9/9/2019 12:10pm Rensselaer Polytechnic Inst. Troy NY
9/9/2019 1:10pm U of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor MI
9/9/2019 2:10pm Denison University Granville OH
9/10/2019 8:00am Oberlin College Oberlin OH
9/10/2019 9:00am College of Wooster Wooster OH
9/10/2019 10:00am Hillsdale College Hillsdale MI
9/10/2019 12:10pm Brown University Providence RI
9/10/2019 1:10pm DePaul University Chicago IL
9/10/2019 2:10pm High Point University High Point NC
9/11/2019 8:00am Purdue U-Main Campus West Lafayette IN
9/11/2019 8:40am Saint Johns University Collegeville MN
9/11/2019 9:30am Washington U in St. Louis Saint Louis MO
9/11/2019 9:30am George Washington U Washington DC
9/11/2019 10:10am Vanderbilt University Nashville TN
9/11/2019 12:10pm Clemson Clemson SC
9/11/2019 12:10pm Guilford College Greensboro NC
9/11/2019 12:50pm Roanoke College Salem VA
9/11/2019 1:40pm Drexel University Philadelphia PA
9/11/2019 2:10pm University of Georgia Athens GA
9/12/2019 8:00am Worcester Polytechnic Inst. Worcester MA
9/12/2019 8:40am New York University New York NY
9/12/2019 9:30am Elon University Elon NC
9/12/2019 10:10am U of Colorado Boulder Boulder CO
9/12/2019 12:10pm Tulane U of Louisiana New Orleans LA
9/12/2019 12:50pm North Carolina State U Raleigh NC
9/12/2019 1:40pm Salve Regina University Newport RI
9/12/2019 1:40pm U of South Alabama Mobile  
9/12/2019 2:10pm U of Pittsburgh-Main Campus Pittsburgh PA
9/16/2019 10:00am Northwestern  Evanston IL
9/16/2019 12:10pm Florida Institute of Tech. Melbourne FL
9/16/2019 1:10pm Hope College Holland MI
9/16/2019 2:10pm College for Creative Studies Detroit MI
9/18/2019 8:00am Butler University Indianapolis IN
9/18/2019 9:00am Mercyhurst University Erie PA
9/18/2019 10:00am Niagara University Niagara University NY
9/18/2019 12:10pm Baldwin Wallace University Berea OH
9/18/2019 1:10pm John Carroll University Cleveland OH
9/19/2019 8:00am University of Miami Coral Gables FL
9/19/2019 9:00am Hiram College Hiram OH
9/19/2019 10:00am University of Kentucky Lexington KY
9/19/2019 12:10pm BGSU -Main Campus Bowling Green OH
9/19/2019 1:10pm University of Dayton Dayton OH
9/19/2019 2:10pm The Ohio State U-Main Campus Columbus OH
9/20/2019 8:00am Union College - Schenectady Schenectady NY
9/20/2019 9:00am Maryville College Maryville TN
9/20/2019 10:00am Holy Cross College South Bend  IN
9/23/2019 12:10pm Ohio University Main Campus Athens OH
9/24/2019 9:00am Saint Joseph's University Philadelphia PA
9/25/2019 8:00am Boston College Chestnut Hill MA
9/25/2019 12:10pm Hanover College Hanover IN
9/26/2019 8:00am Wittenberg University Springfield OH
9/26/2019 9:00am U of South Carolina-Columbia Columbia SC
9/26/2019 10:00am U of Akron Main Campus Akron OH
9/26/2019 12:10pm U of Toledo Toledo OH
9/26/2019 1:10pm  Johns Hopkins U Baltimore  MD
9/26/2019 2:10pm Babson College Wellesley MA
9/30/2019 12:10pm Xavier University Cincinnati OH
9/30/2019 1:10pm Loyola Marymont Los Angeles CA
9/30/2019 2:10pm U of Toledo Toledo OH
10/1/2019 8:00am Ohio Northern University Ada OH
10/1/2019 9:00am Saint Louis University Saint Louis MO
10/1/2019 10:00am University of Richmond Richmond VA
10/1/2019 12:10pm Northern Kentucky U Highland Heights KY
10/1/2019 2:10pm Dartmouth College Hanover NH
10/2/2019 10:00am Walsh University North Canton OH
10/3/2019 8:00am U of California-Berkeley Berkeley CA
10/3/2019 2:10pm FIDM - LA Los Angeles CA
10/7/2019 2:10pm University of Denver Denver CO
10/8/2019 8:00am Wofford College Spartanburg SC
10/8/2019 9:00am Heidelberg University Tiffin OH
10/8/2019 10:00am University of Mount Union Alliance OH
10/8/2019 1:10pm Eastern Michigan U Yipsalnti MI
10/8/2019 2:10pm The University of Chicago Chicago IL
10/9/2019 1:10pm The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa AL
10/9/2019 2:10pm Kent State University at Kent Kent OH
10/10/2019 8:00am Bucknell University Lewisburg PA
10/10/2019 9:00am Ohio Wesleyan University Delaware OH
10/10/2019 1:10pm Davidson College Davidson NC
10/10/2019 2:10pm Boston University Boston MA
10/22/2019 9:00am Trinity College Hartford  CT
10/23/2019 12:10pm Valparaiso U Valparaiso IN
10/29/2019 8:00am St Bonaventure University Saint Bonaventure NY
10/30/2019 9:00am Saint Joseph's University Philadelphia PA
  • 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!