The college admissions game has grown increasingly complex for both students and admissions officers. With the ease of applying to college through the Common Application, more students are applying to more colleges than ever before. I once consulted with a student who applied to more than 25 colleges with no clear-cut favorite. Submitting that many applications effectively treats the process as a lottery in which the student is simply "buying as many tickets as possible" and hoping for the best. This is not the ideal approach to college admissions, but it is the route many prospective applicants end up taking.
Colleges tend to discourage this practice because they want to protect their yield. That is, the percentage of applicants who enroll in a college after admission offers have been extended. The higher a college’s yield, the better that college looks in national rankings and in the eyes of alumni, students, and parents. When students treat college admissions like a lottery, admissions officers often have a hard time determining whether students are truly interested in attending their institution. That uncertainty can lead to rejecting or waitlisting qualified students. In fact, many of these students are designated as “stealth applicants” by admission officers because their applications are the first, and sometimes only, documented contact the students have with the college or university.
Here's an analogy: imagine that you're romantically interested in someone. Do you think you’ll get a better response if you suddenly show up out of nowhere demanding a serious relationship or if you honestly get to know the person better and send sincere signals over a period of time letting him or her know how you feel? Probably the second one, right? College admissions is much like a courtship. Convincing a college over time that you and it would be a great fit is, generally, a recipe for success.
This is where demonstrated interest comes in. Demonstrated interest is defined as the documented contact or connections a prospective student makes with an institution. Admissions officers then take this record into consideration once a student submits an application for admission.
How important is demonstrated interest? The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) considers it the seventh most important factor for first-time freshmen applicants, higher than both teacher recommendations and class rank. More contact equals more information for both you and the college. If you engage in the process of learning more and more about a school, it will likely rise to the top of your college list. If you are accepted, you will likely seriously consider enrolling. And if you do end up enrolling, voilà, that college has improved its yield.
It’s important to note when and where to be intentional about showing your interest because demonstrated interest does not help when applying to all colleges and universities. The most selective schools in the nation don't take demonstrated interest into consideration simply because they don’t have to. They know that most admitted students will enroll, and their yields are consistently high from year to year. Large public universities also generally do not consider demonstrated interest because they have so many applicants that they don’t have time to track interest. You can always check whether a school takes demonstrated interest into consideration by googling “Common Data Set (school name)” and scrolling down to Section C7 where “Level of applicant’s interest” is in the final row.
So, how do you go about demonstrating interest? Well, there are very effective ways and less-effective ways to do so.
How to Demonstrate Interest in a College:
If you are applying to colleges in your local area, there is no excuse for not visiting the campuses and signing up for info sessions and official tours. Of course, you probably won’t have the opportunity to visit every campus on your list, but reach out to admissions offices and see what is available in terms of campus visits (e.g. overnight stays, lunch with current students, sitting in on a class, meetings with faculty or coaches).
Attend Local Open Houses
Many schools will host open houses or college fairs in your area throughout the year. Attending these events and meeting with the representatives can be a great way to initiate a relationship with a school. You might even meet the admissions officer who will handle your application!
Identify Your Local College Representative
Colleges may not always release this information, but if you can get in touch with your local rep via email or phone, use that info to ask them specific questions that you cannot find the answers to on their college website.
Every college admission office has an online form you can fill out for more information. Just plug in your info and press submit.
Engage in Social Media
We’ve all heard of the power of social media, and it can apply to college admissions as well. Follow your favorite college on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and like or retweet posts that pique your interest.
Open and Read Your Emails
Colleges have the ability to track which students open and click on links in the emails they send out. I’m sure you have tons of emails from colleges, but make sure you read through the ones from the schools on your list.
Answer All Supplemental Questions/Essays
Supplements are a fantastic way to separate yourself from the pack and show just how passionate you are about a particular school. Do your research and invest in these essays to show the school how great of a fit it would be.
It should be clear that applying to a college early is the number one way to indicate your top choice, but remember to only do so if you are 100% sure about your decision.
Accept Any Interview Requests
Interviews are a wonderful opportunity to get to know more about a school from an admission officer or alumnus. Check how your school of choice conducts interviews, if they do so at all, and prepare yourself to make a good impression.
Send Thank You Notes
Any contacts that you establish with an institution throughout the college admissions office should receive a thank you note from you. It’s a nice gesture and another way to remind them of your interactions.
How NOT to Demonstrate Interest in a College:
It seems like this would be obvious, but there’s a fine line between establishing authentic contact with admissions and going overboard with your interactions. Please use grace and tact whenever engaging with any college representative. Negative interactions tend to stick in people’s minds.
College admissions offices are packed with applications and admissions officers have their hands full at all times. Don’t try using gimmicks to get a leg up in the process. You don’t want any of your actions to backfire and work against you.
Asking Obvious or Trivial Questions
Hopefully, you’ve done your homework and you have a list of insightful questions to ask college reps. If not, it’s better to say nothing at all. If an answer to your question is readily available on the college's website, don't email or call your admissions rep to ask the question just for the sake of making a contact.
Letting Your Parents Do Everything
Many parents love to step into the college admission game and take control. Unfortunately, they won’t be the ones attending college. If your mom or dad is the one asking all the questions and interacting with the college all the time, it’s safe to say you are not spearheading your own process.
Submitting a Late Application
I’d like to think this goes without saying, but if you submit an application after the deadline and have no valid reason why, you could come across as careless or irresponsible.
There is a fine line between demonstrating genuine interest in a college or university and simply pestering college representatives. However, if you find a college that truly matches you and your aspirations, demonstrating interest should come naturally. So go forth, do your research, and if you're serious about attending a college, let them know you're interested!
Jon G. is originally from Houston, Texas. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Harvard University and is currently one of the resident English gurus at Elite Prep Los Angeles. Nothing makes him more proud and pumped up than watching his students succeed. When it comes to hitting the books, Jon recommends starting early and studying in increments to avoid burnout. He's a huge basketball fan, loves green tea, and his favorite vocabulary word is "seditious."