How important is it to let a college know that you really want to attend, beyond merely submitting your application? “Demonstrated interest” refers to any way in which a student reaches out to a college to show that the school is a top choice. Whether it is a campus visit, participation in an alumni interview, or reaching out to an admission representative, demonstrated interest is now a factor in the admission process for roughly 50% of the colleges that participated in a recent National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) study.
Why has demonstrated interest become so important in the admission process? The short answer is, blame it on the economy. With colleges feeling pressure to manage enrollment, especially during times of economic uncertainty, the better they can predict who will attend, the more successful they will be at filling the class and generating tuition dollars. Furthermore, improved enrollment forecasts can benefit a school’s rankings. Colleges that both lower their acceptance rates and increase yields (the percentage of accepted students who actually enroll) are likely to see their national rankings benefit too.
The obvious next question is, what is the best way to demonstrate interest and which schools care? Applying Early Decision, of course, is a clear indication to the school that it is your first choice. Since Early Decision is binding, the college has no doubt that your interest is genuine. Other ways to show you are serious about a school is by visiting the campus, scheduling an interview, especially if the college recommends it, and contacting the admission representative who covers your region. Seeking the answer to a question that is not readily available on the college website is a great way to initiate contact. When you visit a campus, be sure to fill out the information form in the admission office so that your visit is duly noted. Some colleges will tell you outright that your expression of interest is a factor in their admission process. Either way, it does no harm to get on the mailing list and contact your regional representative, as long as your questions are thoughtful and not excessive...never stalk!
However, not all colleges and universities consider demonstrated interest in their admission processes. Wondering why you weren’t asked to fill out a form when you toured Yale? Not surprisingly, the most selective colleges do not factor in demonstrated interest and therefore do not record who shows up and who doesn’t. During a WSJ/Unigo webcast presentation (Unigo is the college search website that features reviews from current students), the dean of admission at Wesleyan shared that one-third of the incoming freshman class had not visited, interviewed or contacted the admission office prior to or after submitting an application. Her point: the school does not factor demonstrated interest in its admission process. Some colleges, including Duke and Stanford, will tell you outright that it makes no difference.
So how do you find out who cares and who doesn’t? It is not exactly the question you want to pose to the admission office, so play it safe, get on the mailing list and schedule that interview (on campus or with an alumna) if interviews are offered and recommended. A well posed question might win brownie points at the college that values your expression of interest. You have nothing to lose. Just don’t stalk.