As a college consultant, part of my job is to visit 15-20 different colleges each year as well as connect with college representatives as they travel through town. Over the last several years, I’ve noticed the increased importance many colleges are placing on Demonstrated Interest. According to the NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counseling) 2014 Factors In the Admissions Decision Report, a total of 50.2% of all colleges consider Demonstrated Interest of Moderate Importance (33.3%) to Considerable Importance (16.9%), up from only 7% In 2003.
What is ‘demonstrated interest?’
Demonstrated interest is showing a college that you are sincerely interested in coming to their school. Colleges quantify specific, favorable behaviors undertaken by potential students. This record of your interest is tracked and logged into your file as soon as you begin communicating with a college.
Why is demonstrated interest so important?
Colleges are a business. They are under pressure to fill just the right number of seats and beds each year, and they care about revenue and rankings. The higher the number of students accepting a college’s offer and enrolling at the college (the yield rate), the higher their perceived prestige, and therefore, the higher their rankings. The higher a college’s rankings, the more students that apply going forward and the higher a college’s selectivity (greater selectivity again leads to higher rankings). The higher a college’s selectivity, the more money that rolls into the college (from donors, increased applications and full-pay students), and so on. For this model to work, colleges need tools to help predict which students are likely to accept offers of admission.
In addition, there are now more applications being submitted to colleges than 10 years ago. 36% of first-time freshman individually applied to more than seven colleges in 2015, up from 17% in 2005. The number of applications in 2015 increased overall by 6.2% for first-time freshman and by 22.9% for international students. With the proliferation of online applications, colleges can’t tell if a student is really interested just because they’ve sent in an application.
And finally, colleges can no longer peak at a student’s college list on financial aid applications or on the Common App to view where else a student is applying. Demonstrated Interest and Data Mining are becoming the tools of the college admissions trade. Colleges use students’ quantified behavior and incorporate this information into sophisticated models to help with admission decisions or decide how much merit aid to award.
The Bottom Line?
Students need to approach the college process understanding that every interaction with a college may be tracked, and given points towards their admission decision. In fact, a 2013 report from the IECA (Independent Educational Consultant Association) reported that Demonstrated Interest and Early Applications can result in the equivalent of a 100 Point increase on the SATs and an extra .25 increase in a student’s GPA. It has become increasingly important for students “on the bubble” of being admitted or denied. It can even be important when you are an over-qualified applicant. Without documenting your interaction with the college or the admission officer, the college will not know or remember you; and they will likely choose a similarly qualified, or even slightly less qualified student that has demonstrated interest, over you.
Who tracks it?
Not all colleges consider demonstrated interest, including many large, state universities, but it’s important to over half of all colleges. Even though the Ivies and Stanford state that demonstrated interest is not considered in their admissions decisions, they do offer early admission applications, which is really a form of demonstrated interest. You can research what colleges say about Demonstrated Interest via their Common Data Set, or you can just assume it’s being tracked.
Here are some of the ways students can and should show Demonstrated Interest
- Official College Visits: This is still one of the best ways to show interest. Colleges might wonder how you can be sincerely interested if you haven’t seen the school in person. Make sure you register for an official visit and information session, and inquire if they offer interviews during your registration. (If you are not able to visit a school before applying, it is important to try and do more of the following tips.)
- Correspond with admissions representatives: Email or call them with specific questions about the school or its programs (don’t ask questions you could easily have answered by a little website research).
- Respond to Initial Mailings: Colleges take note if you respond to their mailings. Take time to log in with your special password when the letter is from a college you are interested in.
- College Fair Attendance: make sure to pre-register and have your registration bar code scanned by the colleges’ admissions representatives when you visit them at their booths.
- Meeting with Admissions Rep: during local visits (school, hotel, events). Make sure you check with your school to see which colleges are visiting your school and when. If a college is not visiting your school, check their website to see when they are visiting your area.
- Recommended and “Optional” Interviews: Optional in college admissions isn’t really optional. Find out if a college requires or recommends interviews, and schedule them early.
- Request information: Fill out a form on the college’s website and spend some time doing research. Colleges sometimes track your visits and how long you are on their site. At a minimum, colleges that admit to caring about demonstrated interest, certainly track if you ask for information.
- When you apply: Applying early is a form of demonstrated interest. Even colleges that say they don’t really care about demonstrated interest, but offer Early Decision or Restricted Early Action, actually care about demonstrated interest.
- Strong “Why this College?” essays: Don’t write an essay that could be sent to any college. Show that you’ve done your homework and why you and the college are a good match.
- Net Price Calculators: Filling out the Net Price Calculator on the college’s website can be tracked and count towards Demonstrated Interest. Plus, it’s just a smart part of college planning.
- Social Media: Not all colleges that track demonstrated interest are tracking students via social media, but more are doing so each year. Liking and following a college’s social media accounts could be tracked, so make sure you are ready to share what is on your accounts before doing this!
Kristen Miller is an independent college counselor in Portland, Oregon. Free consultations are offered to 8th-11th grade students and parents.