As much as you want to appeal to colleges and have them accept your application for admission, colleges want to know that if they offer you admission, you will accept. Much of the schools’ concern has to do with improving its “yield” percentage, a very important factor in the formula used by U.S. News and other organizations that rank colleges and universities. The higher a college’s yield (the percentage of students offered admission to a college who subsequently enroll), the higher its ranking. The concept of “demonstrated interest” refers to the ways you have shown a college that you are genuinely interested in their school and will likely accept their offer of admission, if one is made.
Students should not underestimate the concept of demonstrated interest. Many colleges take it quite seriously. Some ask outright for an essay on “Why do you want to attend XYZ College?” while others have systems in place for calculating how interested students are in their school and search for clues in their application and their actions throughout the admissions process to determine their level of genuine interest. Admissions offices at your target schools will open a file on you the first time you make contact– so, the more your interest shows in that file, the better. The higher the level of enthusiasm and interest you exhibit throughout the college admissions process, the more confident colleges will be that you indeed love their school and will likely attend if they extend you an offer of admission. Demonstrating your interest in a college is something proactive you can do to help increase your chances for admission.
There are many ways to demonstrate your interest in colleges and I highly recommend that you utilize the following methods, where applicable, for the top-choice schools on your list (i.e., your colleges of interest [“COI”]).
Request Email Updates– Sign up for email updates if your COI offer this information resource to prospective students. Then, when you receive emails from the college, spend time exploring any links placed in the email, particularly those which lead to the college’s website. You will gain valuable information about the college, and, in some cases, the actual time spent and the number of pages accessed may be tracked by the college to determine the level of interest shown.
Request Information– By mail or email, request the college’s Viewbook, current course catalog, videos/DVDs, brochures, and any other catalogs or resource materials available from your COI.
Attend College Rep Visits at Your High School – When representatives from your COI visit your high school during the fall application season, be sure to attend and make your presence known. Find a way to provide your name and contact information. Sometimes there will be a sign-in sheet. If there is no sign-in sheet, be prepared with an index card containing your name, high school and contact information. Try to engage the representative by asking one or two meaningful questions regarding their college. Make sure to get the representative’s contact information and send him or her a follow-up email or letter indicating how much you enjoyed meeting him or her and asking one or two additional questions about the college.
Attend Regional Information Programs– Attend any regional programs where a representative from your COI presents in your area. Oftentimes, 2-3 colleges will join together and present college admissions information about their respective schools at a local venue (e.g., a hotel meeting room). Usually, these will be large events attended by many students. If possible, make yourself known in the ways identified above. Definitely, put your name and contact information on any sign-in sheet.
Visit the Colleges– Whenever possible, visit your top-choice colleges. It is certainly expected that you will visit the COI within your locality. If it is financially feasible and otherwise practicable to travel and visit distant COI, you should make the trip. Not only is it the best way to get a real “feel” for the school/campus, it is a great way to demonstrate your interest in the school. To maximize your college visit and level of interest, do one or more of the following:
- Make an online reservation for a campus tour and information session, or call the admissions office directly if the school’s website is not set up for online reservations;
- If desired and the college offers the opportunity, call the admissions office well in advance to:
- Request an interview;
- Set up an overnight stay in one of the dormitories;
- Arrange to sit in on one or more classes; and/or
- Arrange a meeting with one or more professors in your area of interest or a coach in your sport;
- During the course of your visit, introduce yourself to an admissions officer and/or someone who reads college applications (preferably the area reader for your high school);
- Document your participation in the foregoing activities whenever possible, so that the admissions office knows you were there. For example, sign the Visitor’s Log or Sign-In Sheet at the tour office, admissions office or visitor’s center. At the end of a campus tour, information session, interview, or meeting, get the contact information of the person you met with or who made the presentation. State how much you enjoyed the tour/session/meeting and set up a dialog by writing letters, emailing and/or calling periodically. [YES, admissions officers DO want to hear from you (but not to excess).]
File an Application– Filing an application for admission to your COI is the most obvious expression of your level of interest.
Send Test Scores Early– Sending your standardized test scores (SAT, ACT, AP, IB, Subject Tests, etc.) earlier than when required by the college is an expression of your high level of interest.
National Merit Scholars Designate “First-Choice College” – National Merit Semi-Finalists applying for Finalist standing must report their “First-Choice College” to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which in turn notifies colleges about Finalists who reported that institution as their first choice.
Submit a “WHY” Essay– Submit an essay with your college application that details WHY you are applying to XYX College and WHY that school is your top choice. Submit this essay even if you are not specifically asked for this type of essay. Add it at the end of your main essay or in the “Additional Information” section of the application. Instead of offering generic reasons for liking the school (great location or beautiful campus) or recounting the school’s virtues from its brochure, offer the following:
- Comments regarding specific academic programs and/or opportunities offered by the school (e.g., study-abroad opportunities, the ability to take a class in your area of interest from a particular Nobel Prize-winning professor, and/or particular campus clubs and organizations).
- Comments evidencing your specific knowledge of course offerings, departments, and faculty (including their published writings and other work).
- If you’ve had a chance to visit your COI, say so and mention specifics about what impressed you most about the school/campus.
- A showing that you have done your homework on the school and that you know what makes their school unique and different — and how those differences relate to your individual academic, social, and environmental interests, your personality, and your goals.
In this posting, I have outlined many ways you can demonstrate interest in your COI. You should be alert to other new and different ways of accomplishing this goal because in the final analysis, when it comes to deciding between two students with similar academic stats and extracurricular profiles, colleges will always pick the student who exhibits the higher level of interest in their school. They know that the enthusiast student is more likely to accept an offer of admission. So, after taking the demonstrated interest calculation into consideration, colleges have a measure of comfort that they will satisfy their concerns regarding yield– and proactive students are more likely to find themselves with great options come decision time.