College Admissions

What is “Demonstrated Interest” and Why Does it Matter?

By Tonya DuBois

According to a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling about half of all colleges and universities weigh “demonstrated interest” as a factor in their admission decision.  What is demonstrated interest?  It is a way of measuring how interested they believe an applicant is in attending their school.  If the applicant’s interest in the school is sincere, he/she will probably demonstrate that by visiting the college, signing up for an interview, applying early, etc.

Why does demonstrated interest matter? When colleges and universities are ranked by publications (as they so often are these days), one factor that is considered is their admission yield – the percent of accepted students who actually enroll.  Therefore, it is in the college’s best interest to admit individuals whom they believe will ultimately enroll.  Similarly, students with a high level of interest from the outset are less likely to transfer out, another metric assessed in rankings.  And, let’s give the colleges the benefit of the doubt and assume that it’s not just about the rankings…The more interested you are in attending their school, the more likely that you will be an active contributor to campus life.

Who uses demonstrated interest as an evaluation tool?  About half of the colleges and universities out there.  A school like Stanford or like Duke won’t need to use this metric because they are so selective that they can assume that most students who apply are genuinely interested in attending, if admitted.  However, for the colleges and universities in the next tier of selectivity, it is often an important factor.

Once you establish your top 3-5 schools, you should find a way to show them that you are most interested in their programs.  How do you do that?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Call the university yourself (don’t have Mom or Dad call) and request to be put on their mailing list. This is the first step, and an easy one to cross off your list.  Your mailbox will be filled with glossy brochures in the latter half of high school, thanks to purchased mailing lists and marketing attempts.  But, calling and being put on the admission office’s own mailing list is an important first step.
  2. Be sure to like/follow their pages on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs – whatever they have – show your interest by following, liking, commenting, etc.  Be sure not to like/follow 25 different institutions, just the 3 to 5 that interest you most. Additionally, they track all clicks – open every e-mail the college sends you and spend some time clicking on pages important to you on their website.
  3. If a College Admission Rep visits your high school or has a table at a local college fair, be sure to attend the meeting/visit their table and fill out an information card. Most college rep visits and fairs take place in the Fall and most visits welcome both Juniors and Seniors.  It’s always a good idea to do some research about the school advance, so that you can ask good, detailed questions about their specific programs.  It’s important to complete their information card, so that they have a record of your interest.
  4. Arrange for BOTH a campus tour AND an information session (either in person, or virtually). Call the school in advance to figure out the timing and be sure you pre-register.  It’s important that you arrange your visit, and that you ask the questions during the tour or at the information session.  Mom and Dad should try their very hardest to take a back seat.  If it is difficult for your family to make the financial commitment to visit schools, this is a great opportunity to call your admission rep and ask about campus fly-in days and/or financial support for visits.  (While you’re at it, you can ask if they are planning to visit your high school in the Fall.)  Often Admission Officers are assigned specific territories, so be sure to identify from where you are calling, so you talk to the right person.
  5. When you visit the school, schedule to meet with a coach, or department head, or club advisor. Especially if you are particularly passionate about a course of study, or an extra curricular, then make time to speak with the faculty member in charge of that program (if this is allowable, of course).
  6. If something is listed as “recommended” or “optional” in their admission process, you ought to go ahead and do it, if it’s one of your top choice schools! For example, an interview may not be required, but you should schedule one if the school offers them.  As always, do research in advance and come up with some good questions to ask. Another popular optional item is a supplemental essay, often “Why do you want to attend _____ University?”  You should take the time to complete this essay and make it very specific to the institution.  It should not be generic.
  7. After doing any of the above suggestions, be sure to send a personal thank you note. It could be by e-mail, but taking the time to write a note the old-fashioned way, is always better.  Keep in mind that copies of these notes will go in your file.
  8. Apply Early Action or Early Decision. There is no clearer message that you are most interested in an institution than applying Early Decision, of course!  Early Action is your next best option.  Be sure you understand all the rules involved for each.  (A topic for another day.)

Want to know if your top choice schools consider demonstrated interest as a factor in admissions?  Look at the school’s “Common Data Set” and search for question #C7 (just type in “school name common data set” in your search bar).  The last row of the chart is labeled “Applicant’s Level of Interest.”  If you see a check mark in any box, other than “Not Considered,” then the school tracks demonstrated interest.  Many schools will assign you a number in your application file that indicates just “how” interested you are….if you have done all of the above, the number will probably be very high.  If you have done none of the above, your rating will very low.  Don’t let your rating be low for a school you really love.  If you are truly interested, you would do all of these things anyway, right?  Do what you can and show them the love!