Sometimes, it can feel like the college admissions process is out of control—and in some ways, it is! But we at Private Prep like to focus on the things you can control. In addition to getting your best grades and scores, pursuing meaningful extracurricular activities, and writing knockout essays, there’s another aspect of the college process that’s within your control: demonstrated interest. Now more than ever, when colleges are receiving record-high numbers of applicants, we want to make sure students and families know what demonstrated interest entails and why it’s such an important aspect of the college application process. So, read on!
So, what is demonstrated interest?
Demonstrated interest is an umbrella term for a student showing interest in a college or university. It can manifest in a lot of different ways, from something as small as opening the emails a college sends you (yes, some colleges really do track that, according to the Wall Street Journal) to something as big as visiting campus or, of course, the ultimate demonstration of interest: applying Early Decision.
Why do colleges track demonstrated interest?
Let’s back up and get a little technical. If we think of colleges like businesses, their bottom line is what’s called their yield rate, or how many of the students they admit actually matriculate and enroll. For colleges, yield rate is everything, and the whole admissions process is centered around meeting a certain target. Enrolling too few students can mean budget issues; enrolling too many can cause problems with housing and resource allocation. Demonstrated interest helps them predict their yield, because they believe that students who have shown interest in the school are more likely to enroll.
In the era of the Common App, when students are able to apply to so many colleges with the click of a button, demonstrated interest is more important than ever. Many colleges want to know that a student didn’t just click that button, but that they really, truly are interested in the school and would strongly consider attending.
So if I show interest, it could increase my chances of acceptance?
Yes—sometimes in a major way. This can be especially important for students in the top of the applicant pool. In 2019, researchers at Lehigh University completed a study on demonstrated interest, or what they called “signaling.” At the anonymous liberal arts college whose data they analyzed, they found that “students who are placed in the highest SAT quartile and make on-site contacts could increase their probability of admission by 34 percentage points.” That’s a big impact.
Do all colleges track demonstrated interest?
No. This is where it can get quite confusing. While many colleges do track interest, some don’t. In general, those who don’t tend to be the schools with the highest yield rates. For example, Harvard’s yield rate in 2022 was over 83 percent—they truly don’t care if you visit, because they assume (quite fairly based on that number) that if they admit you, you’re coming. This is why we advise students who plan to only visit Ivies or other uber-selective schools to reconsider that approach. While it’s important to see and interact with schools that might be top choices, especially in an era when binding Early Decision plans are a critical part of the process for many applicants, it’s also important to show the love to schools at every level of your college list. In fact, it can make a big difference at target and likely schools and help ensure they are actually targets and likelies!
What if I can’t visit?
We get it: visits are expensive, time-consuming, and hard to schedule with everything else going on in your life. It’s simply not always going to be possible to visit every school you’re considering applying to. If you can’t visit in person, there are other ways you can show colleges you’re interested in them. Some ideas include:
- Register for their virtual tour and info session — a silver living of the pandemic is that colleges have really improved these!
- Sign up for their mailing list — and make sure to actually open the emails they send you!
- Follow them on social media
- Reach out to your regional representative to connect and/or ask a great question
- Go to the college’s information session at your school if they host one (this is a big one!)
- Attend a regional information session hosted by that college (many are being offered virtually now)
And, when you are planning visits, whether in-person or virtual, be strategic: don’t just visit the schools in the top of your range. Make sure to show your target and likely schools that you’re serious about them. Often, these are the schools that are going to care the most that you have gone the extra mile.
How do I know if a school tracks demonstrated interest?
Time to get nerdy again: while many schools don’t proclaim on their websites that they track interest, they do have that information buried on their websites in something called the Common Data Set, a public set of institutional records that many colleges and universities opt into. In this set of information, there’s a chart that shows what factors the school considers in its admissions process, including demonstrated interest. Usually, you can quickly find this information by searching “[Insert College Name] Common Data Set.” Nearly all colleges and universities make it easy to find, with a few notable exceptions (cough, Columbia).
The bottom line: You don’t need to run out and visit every college under the sun, but we do recommend being thoughtful (and creative!) about demonstrating interest in as many of the colleges on your list as possible.
If you don’t want to take a deep dive into college websites and statistics or need help in the process, contact us. We are here to support you on this journey.