Demonstrated Interest in Colleges: How Much Does it Matter?

Padya Paramita

Demonstrated Interest in Colleges: How Much Does it Matter?

If you’re excited about applying to a particular college, you’ve probably told your family and friends all about it. Sometimes, however, only telling the people you’re close to isn’t enough. Throughout your application process, many colleges also want to know whether you really want to attend their school. But if you don’t know anyone working at the college personally, how can you let them know? Of course, you don’t want to pick up your phone and cold call the admissions office every day! And you don’t have to do that. There are specific ways admissions officers track your demonstrated interest in colleges.

To further help you understand demonstrated interest, I’ve outlined what demonstrated interest is, some ways demonstrated interest in colleges is tracked, why schools track demonstrated interest, and I’ve provided you with a list of colleges which track demonstrated interest and how you can show them that you’re enthusiastic.

What Exactly is Demonstrated Interest?

Admissions officers use demonstrated interest in colleges to track how much a prospective student enthusiastically engages with their school during the college application cycle. It helps them understand exactly how excited you are about their school, and how likely you are to enroll if you are accepted.

According to a survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and published in the 2018 State of College Admission, 15.5% of schools said that they place a considerable amount of importance on students’ demonstrated interest in colleges, while 21.4% said they place moderate importance on this factor.

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Looking at the survey you might be surprised to know that it appears that more schools look at demonstrated interest in colleges with considerable importance than teacher recommendations. So, if you hadn’t previously considered making active efforts to show colleges that you are seriously interested in them, you might want to think again. 

On the flip side, remember that your strength as a candidate is the most important thing. The table clearly shows that academics, standardized test scores, and the personal statement are of greater value. Therefore, don’t prioritize demonstrating interest over your personal statement or extracurricular activities. Put active effort into demonstrating interest only if you are able to find the time to do so. Don’t put everything on hold for it.

Some Ways to Show Demonstrated Interest in Colleges

There isn’t just one way that schools track demonstrated interest. There is no correct answer when you’re trying to figure out how to make sure you are showing demonstrated interest in colleges. Before we get to which schools track demonstrated interest, let’s look at some of the possible ways in which you might be able to let admissions officers know that you really want to attend their institution:

  • Attend information sessions and visit campus if you can - If it is feasible for you, a campus visit is always a great way to convey your demonstrated interest in colleges. Pay attention during your visit to find out more about the school, ask good questions, and talk to professors and tour guides. Actually going to campus is one of the most active ways to show demonstrated interest in colleges. Admissions officers know that this requires more effort than clicking an email link!

    That being said, colleges understand that not everyone is able to make their way to campus and will sometimes arrange for local or regional information sessions, as well as online informational webinars. If there is one at a date and time convenient for you, you might as well attend, learn more about the college, and get your name on the school’s radar.  

 

  • Take advantage of college fairs - This is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions representatives in a setting where you’re familiar and comfortable - your own school or local conference center. Read up beforehand on the schools that are attending and create a list of questions to ask the reps, talk to them about your interests, and use this as a chance to learn more about the school. You will also have the opportunity to sign up for the schools’ email lists - so don’t miss that chance! If there are no college fairs near you, you can attend virtual college fair sessions on websites such as College Week Live.

 

  • Arrange for an interview - If you are able to interview with an admissions officer or an alumnae, it is a great chance for you to show your demonstrated interest in colleges. Even if you’re unable to travel to campus, most colleges conduct off campus interviews over phone or a video conferencing app. Interviews are your opportunity to let the school put a face to the name and show them your character, talk about why you think the school is a good fit for you more in depth, and bring your application to life.  

 

  • Overnight program - Many of the top schools which track demonstrated interest have overnight programs for prospective students to visit the college, stay at a current student’s room, and attend classes and activities arranged by the admissions offices and different student organizations. For example, Rice, Colorado, and Grinnell offer overnight visits for students of all backgrounds. Wellesley has programs for all prospective students in the fall, as well as separate ones for admitted students in the spring. Aside from having opportunities for prospective students from all backgrounds, some colleges, such as Bates, Washington and Lee, and Hamilton, offer overnight diversity programs.

    If you’re able to attend these, do so - Wellesley actually includes a travel grant. Not only does it convey your demonstrated interest in colleges, but you get to attend classes with students who might be your future classmates, talk to current students and professors about what they like and dislike about the school, and get a feel of what it is like to stay in the dorm for a night or two!

 

  • Click the email links and spend time looking through the web pages - Whether it’s through a college fair or the school website, sign up for emails from colleges of interest. When you receive an email, click the link and look through the website. That’s right - just like any other business organization sending marketing emails, some colleges like Quinnipiac and American University will take a look at whether or not you open the message, how long you spend reading it, which links you go to, and how much time you spend on a page. Admissions officers sometimes use the number of clicks and the amount of time spent on pages to track your demonstrated interest in colleges and what you might be specifically interested in. There is no need to panic and click on every single link of your dream school. This is simply a way some schools try to gauge how likely a student is to attend if accepted into their institution.

 

  • Follow the school on social media - This is pretty straightforward. Every institution has profiles on multiple social media platforms. And just like with the email and website clicks - the interaction you have with these pages can be tracked by many colleges. Explore their blogs, and give them some likes and retweets every once and in a while to show that you are engaging with the content. Don’t randomly like every single thing they post without actually reading! Your demonstrated interest needs to be credible. You could even mention an Instagram post or YouTube video that might have stuck out to you or taught you something notable about the college in your supplemental essay.

 

  • Contact an admissions officer - If you connected well with an admissions officer at a college fair and feel like you want to continue that conversation, you may email them to thank them for speaking with you and ask a follow-up question or two. Remember not to be too pushy - while you want to appear enthusiastic, you don’t want to scare them away. Admissions officers have a lot going on, especially during application season, so don’t get your hopes too high on getting a detailed response or forming a friendship for the ages.

 

  • Supplemental essays - If you’ve done thorough research on a school and talked to admissions officers or current students, you’re probably going to have a lot of material to help you write stellar supplemental essays about how you are a good fit for the school and vice versa. Doing so definitely counts for your demonstrated interest in colleges because schools like to know that you’ve made an informed decision about applying.

You don’t, of course, have to do all of these things to show demonstrated interest in colleges. Go for the ones that are most accessible, and seem the most authentic and true to you.

Schools That Track Demonstrated Interest

When you make your college list, it is important to know whether or not a school that you want to apply to tracks your demonstrated interest. As you saw in the survey results, not all schools consider it an important factor. In fact, many don’t consider it at all. For example, the most highly ranked schools, including the Ivy League schools, MIT, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago do not track your demonstrated interest. Therefore, there’s no need to go above and beyond and spend thousands of dollars to fly across the world just to show Harvard or Yale that you’re very interested in them, only to find out that they do not in fact track demonstrated interest. Truth is, they know everyone is interested in them.

To ease your process, I’ve provided a list of top national universities and liberal arts schools which take demonstrated interest into consideration. I’ve also outlined some specific ways to show these institutions that you are enthusiastic. We have gathered this information through conversations with our Former Admissions Officers and online research. Policies do change and more schools may start keeping this in mind or disregarding demonstrated interest. That being said, showing demonstrated interest never hurts.

Top National Universities which Consider Demonstrated Interest in Colleges

School Name School Specific Ways to Demonstrate Interest
Boston University Register for school/college-specific programming at BU, attend virtual BU events online, attend "BU in Your Area" (https://www.bu.edu/admissions/visit-us/bu-in-your-area/) events
Brandeis University Attend Brandeis Day (http://www.brandeis.edu/admissions/insidedeis.html), attend a class, have lunch with a student
Case Western University Join students in class, attend a college fair, arrange for an alumnae interview (https://go.case.edu/portal/campus-interview)
College of William and Mary Attend Fall Focus Day (https://www.wm.edu/admission/undergraduateadmission/visit/fallfocus/index.php), attend a class, shadow a student, attend the STEM panel
Georgia Tech Attend "Tech in Your Town" events, attend the "Preview Georgia Tech" open house event (http://admission.gatech.edu/visit/preview-georgia-tech), connect with recruitment teams (first generation, women, LGBTQ, etc.)
Lehigh University Attend junior or senior open houses, attend VIEW event for prospective students, attend Diversity Achievers Program (https://www1.lehigh.edu/admissions/undergrad/visit/dap) event
New York University Attend NYU events in your city, attend NYU Pathways (https://www.nyu.edu/admissions/undergraduate-admissions/visit-nyu/pathways.html), fall open houses
Northeastern University Register for a specific college or school visit
Northwestern University Attend a class, register for Purple Preview (shadow a student - https://admissions.northwestern.edu/visit/plan-your-visit/purple-preview.html), stay overnight
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Attend webinars, attend Fall Open House, attend RPI events in your area
Rice University Attend a "Rice in Your Area" session (https://admission.rice.edu/in-your-area) (international sessions available), have lunch with a current student
Tufts University Have lunch with a student, attend arts/ engineering information sessions (if relevant), attend engineering campus tour (if relevant), attend Tufts application workshop, attend Tufts Portfolio days (for arts students - https://smfa.tufts.edu/admissions/portfolio-day)
Tulane University Attend Tulane Receptions (https://apply.tulane.edu/portal/tulanecomestoyou)
University of Florida Attend special college-specific programs, interact with the UF Admissions Blog (http://admissions.ufl.edu/blog/)
University of Miami Register for a specific college or school visit
University of Michigan Ann Arbor Interact with UM admissions bloggers, attend an information session and campus tour
University of NotreDame Connect with a student through the Student Hospitality Program (https://admissions.nd.edu/connect/visit/student-hospitality-program/), follow their social media pages, register for ND Admissions Live webinars (https://admissions.nd.edu/connect/nd-live/), interact with ND Admissions/student rep blogs
University of Rochester Take an engineering tour, see an academic department, attend college fairs
University of Washington in St. Louis Attend special academic exploration sessions (liberal arts, engineering, pre-med business, art/architecture), interact with WashU 360 (student rep bloggers - https://360.wustl.edu/), follow WashU social media
Villanova University Attend a Fall Preview Day (http://registrar.villanova.edu/villanova/admission/visit/previewday.html) on campus (business, engineering, nursing, liberal arts), attend Villanova regional events

Top Liberal Arts Schools which Consider Demonstrated Interest in Colleges

School Name School Specific Ways to Demonstrate Interest
Barnard College Attend “Barnard in Your Area” events (https://connect.barnard.edu/portal/barnardinyourarea), attend open house events
Bates College Attend a Diversity Weekend (https://www.bates.edu/admission/prologue/), attend open house events, attend a class
Colby College Attend summer open house (https://www.colby.edu/admission/visit/open-houses/), attend a class
College of the Holy Cross Attend fall open house events, attend multicultural visit programming, attend July Advisory days (https://www.holycross.edu/visit/july-advisory-days) for application advice, chat with admissions representatives online
Colorado College Attend Summer Open Campus or Fall Open House events (https://www.coloradocollege.edu/openhouse/), attend a class, stay overnight
Connecticut College Have lunch with a student, attend open house events (Fall Visit Day, Fall Open House - https://www.conncoll.edu/fall-open-house/, Explore Weekend, Spring Visit Days- https://www.conncoll.edu/spring-visit-days/)
Dickinson College Attend regional outreach events
Franklin and Marshall College Have lunch with a student, visit a class, talk to a professor, attend Saturday open house events - https://www.fandm.edu/visit/admission-visit/saturday-open-houses
Gettysburg College Attend open house events (Senior/Junior open house, Conservatory open house, Conservatory audition - https://www.gettysburg.edu/admissions-aid/visiting-campus/open-houses-special-events/)
Grinnell College Sit in on a class, overnight stay, attend open house programs, meet with the Office of Financial Aid, attend a Careers, Services, and Life presentation, talk with faculty or staff, attend an open house program (Summer Preview Day, Diversity Travel Opportunity, Discover Grinnell, Junior Visit Days - https://www.grinnell.edu/admission/visit/on-campus)
Hamilton College Attend a class, stay overnight
Haverford College Attend a class, stay overnight
Kenyon College Have lunch with a student, visit a class, stay overnight, take a special tour (science/fine arts/film center), attend open house events, attend “Kenyon Comes to You" events (https://www.kenyon.edu/visit-kenyon/kenyon-comes-to-you/)
Lafayette College Attend Arts at Lafayette (https://the-arts.lafayette.edu/) or Explore Engineering tour (https://engineering.lafayette.edu/), attend social justice symposium (application only), have lunch with a student, attend open house events
Middlebury College Attend Middlebury regional events, attend "Discover Middlebury" weekend (http://www.middlebury.edu/admissions/visit/programs), connect with Middlebury on social media
Mount Holyoke College Have lunch with and shadow a student for the day, attend "MHC Near You" events (https://admission.mtholyoke.edu/portal/mhc-near-you), attend college admissions workshops
Oberlin College Meet with a faculty member (for music conservatory applicants), attend open house events
Occidental College Stay overnight
Pitzer College Stay overnight
Sewanee University of the South Attend Spring Preview Open House (https://engage.sewanee.edu/register/spring-preview), attend "Behind the Scenes" arts programming (orchestra/theatre/choir students)
Skidmore College Take a science/visual/performing arts tour, attend Summer Open House (https://www.skidmore.edu/admissions/visit/soh.php) event
Soka University of America Attend open house events
Swarthmore College Attend a class, spend the night, attend Swarthmore in Your Area events (https://apply.swarthmore.edu/portal/swarthmore_visits), Ask a Swattie (the chance to ask a Swarthmore student questions - https://www.swarthmore.edu/admissions-aid/ask-a-swattie)
Trinity College Meet with an admissions representative on-campus, visit a class or academic department, attend Trinity in Focus (https://admissions.trinity.edu/portal/tif), attend regional outreach events, follow Trinity Admissions social media
Union College Have lunch and attend class with a student
University of Richmond Attend class, have 1:1 conversation with a student (Spider Chats - https://admissions.richmond.edu/arc/volunteer/interview-program/index.html), have lunch with a student, attend open house events
Washington and Lee University Attend Diversity and Inclusion Visit Experience (DIVE) weekend (https://www.wlu.edu/admissions/fly-ins-and-special-programs/dive)
Wellesley College Attend Wellesley On the Road events (https://admission.wellesley.edu/portal/ontheroad), lunch with a student, attend a class, stay overnight with a student, attend open house programs (e.g., Discover Wellesley Weekend - https://www.wellesley.edu/admission/visit/opencampus)
Whitman College Attend fall/spring Visitors' Days, attend regional outreach events

As you can see, there are many ways through which you can show your demonstrated interest in colleges. There’s an approach that works for everyone. If you’re an extrovert, you can get lunch with a current student or make an appointment with a professor. If you’re more of an introvert and need time adjusting to the newness of approaching college representatives, start by attending an information session or a webinar.

Why Schools Track Demonstrated Interest

You might be wondering why demonstrated interest in colleges is considered important by admissions officers in the first place. Admitting students with greater demonstrated interest will hopefully help colleges achieve greater “yield.” The logic is that the more effort students take to get to know a school, the more interested those students are, and the more likely they are to attend once they have been accepted. Colleges obviously don’t want to admit students who will not attend, and having them demonstrate interest is a good way to gauge the possible yield. Plus, schools want to have a solid estimate of what the enrollment might look like because they have a target number in mind.

As things currently stand, while demonstrated interest in colleges matters, but it won’t majorly affect your application decision if your scores, personal statement, extracurriculars, and recommendation letters are top notch. Yes, it is important to show that you want to attend a school, but remember that other components of your application have a lot more riding on them. But all else considered equal, your demonstrated interest in a college could be a factor that puts you ahead of another great candidate with a similar profile.

That being said, be sure to conduct enough research and let that show in your supplemental essays or interviews. If you’re applying to a school you’re genuinely interested in, your excitement will shine through organically. However, with acceptance rates at top schools falling significantly each year - including colleges that track demonstrated interest such as Northwestern, Swarthmore, and Colby - it could become more integral in the future. With new technology and apps popping up all the time, schools could find even more nuanced ways to track your demonstrated interest in colleges. Be aware and strategic of this factor throughout your admissions process!

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