What is demonstrated interest?
Anything students, prospective college applicants, can do which conveys this message: “I am interested in your campus.”
Why does demonstrated interest matter?
- First, an important qualification: Not all colleges and universities consider demonstrated interest, and those which do may consider it to varying degrees.
- For those colleges which track demonstrated interest, its principle value lies in helping them predict which students, if admitted, are most likely to attend. Why is this so important?
- The primary responsibility for admissions offices is to hit a fairly precise enrollment target. Too many enrolled students means not enough beds or classroom seats for everyone, while too few may mean not enough income from tuition. Accurately predicting who will enroll helps them hit this critical target.
- Some colleges care a great deal about their statistics, which can affect their standings in various published rankings as well as how they are perceived by their boards, donors, and potential customers (families). Predicting which students are most likely to enroll helps keep acceptance rates lower and “yield” (the percentage of students offered admission who enroll) higher, both of which can burnish a college’s image and rankings.
- TAKEAWAY: For colleges which care about demonstrated interest, how much students demonstrate their interest in a particular college may, at the margins, have some influence on admissions decisions. TRANSLATION: Students should engage in activities which demonstrate their interest in the colleges they apply to!
Why is demonstrated interest important now?
- More students apply to more colleges than they used to. In the ten-year period between 2005 and 2015, the number of students who applied to 7 or more colleges approximately doubled, from 17% to 36% (National Association of College Admission Counseling). This increase makes it less likely that a student will enroll at any given campus, and therefore more critical that colleges understand who is likely to attend.
- The rise of Big Data: Changes in technology have made it easier for colleges to track how students engage with them, and the increased use of algorithms and enrollment consultants in the admissions process means the data collected can produce surprisingly accurate predictions about student choices and behavior. Scary, I know, but it is the reality, and understanding how to use this information to your advantage can be empowering.
Guidelines for showing demonstrated interest
Don’t get crazy
Students do not have to engage in every possible demonstrated interest activity for every college. Just select a few for each college.
Authentic engagement matters
There is no need to frantically click every link in every email from every college. Encourage students to engage in the activities that genuinely interest them, pique their curiosity, or support them in learning more about a college.
Prioritize learning about the college
Virtually all of the activities on the list offer opportunities to learn about the campus. Remember that you will have to choose one of them eventually, so let your wish to learn about the campus guide your demonstrated interest activities.
Go with your strengths
Not every possible demonstrated interest activity will be right for every student. Choose those that fit your communication preferences and which feel right for you. It may be appropriate to occasionally step outside a comfort zone for something like an interview, but if you never use Instagram, for example, there is no need to start doing so just for this process.
The importance of demonstrated interest varies greatly by college, so the following suggestions are just general advice for how to engage with them, and may not make sense for every college.
22 ways to show demonstrated interest to colleges
1. Request Information
Even if you are already receiving mail and email from a particular college, proactively complete the form on the admissions website to sign up for the mailing list. Navigate to the web page for undergraduate admission, and find a button that says something like, “request information”, “inquire”, “join our mailing list”. You should be asked to complete a short form, which includes your high school.
2. Read Your Emails
Once you request information you will begin to receive emails. Read them! Yes, colleges can easily track whether or not you open those emails, but they may also genuinely help you learn about the campuses. Some emails will be personal or at least semi-personal (such as an admissions counselor introducing themselves to you and asking you some questions), and it is a good idea to respond to those. You may also receive invitations to local events, or even personal interviews.
3. Open Email Links
Colleges can easily track whether you click on the links in their emails. Don’t just blindly click on everything, but do open links which intrigue you, and read what is being shared.
4. Participate in Virtual Events
One outcome of the pandemic is that most colleges have added more on-demand virtual resources: tours, student panels, information sessions and workshops. Most of them can be accessed through the admissions website and, if you log on from your usual device, they may be able to track your participation, even if you don’t have to register or join from an email link. But these are often great tools for learning about colleges, so watch them to learn, not just to try to score demonstrated interest “points”.
5. Follow Colleges on Social Media
Follow a school on the channels you routinely use, whether that is TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn or something else. Follow the main college feed, and check for admission-specific channels, as well as those for individual departments, clubs or activities that interest you. Some colleges even have social media directories, listing all the accounts associated with the campus. Again, you will learn a whole lot while you are liking those posts!
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6. Attend College Fairs
Attend college fairs either in person or virtually. These events bring groups of colleges together so you can efficiently meet admissions counselors from several colleges. Introduce yourself to the person representing the college, ask a quick question or two, leave your contact information and get theirs.
7. Attend Events at or for Your High School
Admissions counselors may visit your high school in person, or host a virtual conversation just for students at your high school or in your area. These are almost always hosted by the admissions person for your area, who is also likely to be the first reader of your application and your advocate in the admissions office. Try to prioritize attending these events, as they may allow you to make a personal connection to the most important person (for you) at that college.
8. Attend Local Events
Beyond college fairs, individual colleges or small groups of colleges may host events in your local area. You will learn about these by reading the emails you receive, or perhaps from your high school. As with #7, these are likely to be hosted by the admissions counselor responsible for handling applications from your high school.
9. Send Follow up Emails
After events like those in items 6, 7 and 8, send a quick email. It can consist of two or three sentences thanking the person for their time and for helping you learn about the college, and maybe saying how excited you are about the campus or about a specific aspect of the college you learned about from them. Keep it short and sweet!
10. Other Emails
You may occasionally send a short email to your admission counselor at any college you are applying to, but have a purpose for doing so! Ask a question you cannot find the answer to on the web site, share an exciting update after you have submitted your application, or reference something that came up in your conversation or interview with the person, but don’t overdo this. Admissions folks are busy, and it will not help you to fill their inbox with emails to “just say hi”, for example.
For the vast majority of colleges, the primary purpose of the interview is for you to demonstrate interest in them. Setting aside the time, and perhaps your nervousness about being interviewed, speaks volumes about how seriously you are considering the college. Most interviews have little to no impact on the admissions decision, but simply doing them is a powerful demonstration of interest.
12. Campus Visits
These are not critical, since colleges understand that traveling to visit them is not possible or reasonable for everyone. The exception is for colleges close to you: If you live within a three to four hour drive from a campus, NOT visiting may be interpreted as a lack of interest. But visiting colleges is probably the single best way to learn if they “feel right” and whether you will find “your people” there, so do them if it makes sense for you.
13. Meet with Faculty
If you have some idea of what you would like to study, request a conversation (in person, by phone, or by video) with a professor in that department. Then drop a quick email to your admissions rep letting them know how much you enjoyed the conversation.
14. Meet with a Coach or Activity Leader
If you are interested in playing a sport, even if not at the varsity or recruiting level, or participating in a particular activity, or faith community, reach out to discuss it with the appropriate person, and let admissions know about it, as for #13.
15. Meet with Students or Alums
These are ideal people to learn from, and they may be willing to send a note to the admissions office about what a great fit they think you are for the campus. Don’t be afraid to make that request!
16. Add Colleges to the Common App, Coalition App, Naviance
Use the above or any system your high school uses to manage the college process. You will have to do this anyway as part of your application process, but colleges are notified when you add them, so do so as soon as you are seriously considering applying.
17. Submit Your Applications Early
Besides possibly signaling a high level of interest in the college, readers may have more time to consider your application earlier in the season when they have fewer applications in their “to read” pile.
18. Apply Early Decision
You can only do this at one college, and it represents a binding commitment on your part, so only do this after careful consideration and detailed conversations with anyone advising you. But if this is clearly the right choice, it is literally the highest possible demonstration of interest, because it includes the student’s commitment to attend if admitted. Remember, the whole concept of demonstrated interest is about predicting the likelihood that a student will enroll and with Early Decision, that likelihood is close to 100%. (You can back out of the commitment for financial reasons.)
19. College-specific or Supplemental Essays
Devote as much time, care, and enthusiasm to the writing for individual colleges as you do to the essay(s) that will go to all colleges. Some admissions offices openly disclose that the “Why our School” essay is the single most important piece of demonstrated interest for them.
20. Open and Visit your Portal
After you apply, most colleges will invite you to set up a portal account to track your application status. Do this as soon as you can, and check it frequently. Sometimes other demonstrated opportunities will appear there, such as prompts for “optional” essays, or weekly trivia questions about the college.
21. Continue to Open and Read Emails After You Apply
Continue to do this and engage with the other activities as appropriate. Assume that your demonstrated interest will continue to be tracked, and that admissions may consider it at any time up until you receive a decision from them.
22. Treat Every College Like it is Your #1
Never say anything that is not true, but try to behave as if every college on your list is your top choice. No one wants to be anyone’s “backup” in life, including colleges, so show them all as much genuine love as you can. If you care enough about them to apply, make sure that care is evident!