How to Demonstrate Interest: After Applying
Updated: Mar 22
As college admission becomes increasingly competitive, more students and families are searching for ways to improve their chances of being admitted to their chosen institutions. The most significant determining factor for the vast majority of colleges and universities across the country will be a student’s application (including GPA, test scores, essays, letters of recommendation, etc.). Some institutions, especially those with lower acceptance rates, will often consider their own institutional priorities when determining admission offers for an incoming class (specific skills, talents, majors, and diversity [geographic, political, racial, socio-economic, gender identity, etc.]). Some families will even go so far as to circumvent traditional college admissions channels and attempt to use their money, connections, or outright falsehoods to be admitted to a desired college. Needless to say, this particular group of individuals tread a very fine ethical line and might even break the law (see Operation Varsity Blues).
While you might not have control over a school’s institutional priorities, and we would certainly never suggest trying to unethically or illegally navigate the system, there is another way to potentially help your chances of being admitted to colleges of interest. Colleges spend a significant amount of resources monitoring and tracking how, when, where, and why a student engages with them. By engaging in meaningful ways with colleges or their representatives, students can often begin to create an easily trackable trail of demonstrated interest. For this blog, we are going to focus on explaining what demonstrated interest is, why it is important, and what a student can do to demonstrate interest before AND after submitting their application.
For the purpose of this blog, I am dividing how to demonstrate interest into two categories: before and after submitting an application. Many of these suggestions are relevant to both categories, but I will be dividing them based on the traditional timeline of the college search.
What is demonstrated interest?
At its core, demonstrated interest in any trackable interaction that a student or family has with a college or university. These interactions might be something as simple as opening an email or as complicated as attending an on-campus event hosted by the institution. At bare minimum, most schools will have some system that tracks your engagement. A student’s demonstrated interest is the amalgamation of all their historical interactions with a college. However, how this data is used varies from school to school. Some schools keep track of it in order to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of their recruiting efforts. Other schools might equate any individual interaction with a value, and the cumulative value of your demonstrated interest could play a role in your application review.
Why is demonstrated interest important?
Take a moment and join me as we journey through a quick theoretical scenario:
You are an admission officer working for a college and traveling the country to interview students, visit high schools, and attend college fairs. As you plan your trip, you are going to be considering several factors, but the most valuable resource is time. You need to have as many informative and meaningful interactions with students, families, and high school counselors as possible. At the same time, you must be a good steward of your college’s resources and can only spend a limited amount of time at any given location. How can you maximize your impact while minimizing the amount of resources you spend?
A common solution to this example is to prioritize zip codes, high schools, and students who statistically are more likely to enroll at your college or university. Many colleges work with consultants who collect or interpret their data to provide some of the answers admissions officers seek. However, admission officers have another tool at their disposal aside from the data analytics provided by these consultants—demonstrated interest. If an admission officer only has time for ten interviews, they are much more likely to send invitations to students who have already shown significant interest in the college. After all, if their interactions can help move a student to apply or enroll, then they have made a significant contribution to their office, team, and institution.
Demonstrated interest is always important, even if the school itself does not formally consider demonstrated interest in their decision process. If an admission officer is reviewing two identical applications and can only admit one, which do you think they will favor? The student who has engaged with them meaningfully multiple times or the student who has never responded to an email? While demonstrated interest will rarely, if ever, be the leading factor that admission officers consider, it can often be the push that might help a borderline student who is not clearly an admittance or denial. Along the same lines, depending on the school, admission officers can often have significant sway over the application review process. Consistent and meaningful interactions to help show a student cares and attempts to connect with decision makers can oftentimes pay significant dividends down the line in the application or scholarship review process.
Lastly, I think it’s important to talk about why demonstrated interest is meaningful to a college or admission office. Some might suggest that one of the primary goals of an admission office is to lower their acceptance rate to appear more selective. While this is certainly true for some schools, I would argue that most schools don’t want a lower acceptance rate. In a perfect world, I think most enrollment professionals would say that they want a 100% acceptance rate. The reason that colleges pay so much money to consultants to track interactions with students is the same reason that any business tracks where, how, what, and why people are buying certain things. An admissions office’s goal is to spend the least amount of resources possible to meet their enrollment goal, thus providing solid financial support for the institution. In a perfect world, admissions offices dream of courting 400 students, receiving 400 applications, accepting 400 students, and having 400 students enroll. No more expensive travel seasons, no more expensive marketing campaigns, no more inflation of application numbers for a lower acceptance rate or fear of not meeting their goals. Alas, we do not live in a perfect world ,and at the end of the day colleges are businesses. Because a 100% acceptance and 100% yield rate is not realistic, colleges must play a complicated numbers game in an attempt to predict how many students they will need to acquire at the top of their marketing funnel in order to meet their enrollment goals at the bottom of the funnel. Demonstrated interest is a tool that allows colleges and universities to statistically predict which students might be able to move from the top to the bottom of that enrollment funnel.
How do you demonstrate interest after applying to a college?
Complete Your Application This may seem silly and obvious, but submitting your application (especially if done early) is the clearest indication that you are interested in a college or university. However, a submitted application that is incomplete can cause delays in the application review process. After you’ve submitted your application, make sure that all of the accompanying documents arrive in a timely manner.
Reach Out Upon Submitting Your Application After you submit your application, take some time to email your admission counselor. The email doesn’t have to be fancy or lengthy, but can simply let them know that you submitted the application, reiterated your excitement about the school, and let them know to reach out if anything is missing. If your application is missing an important piece, this brief email might help you catch the error before it affects the rest of the review process.
Submit the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile Another indicator of student interest is the submission of key financial documents. Submitting these documents shows a college that you are very seriously considering attending (serious enough to start thinking about the financial investment it will require). Submitting these documents in a timely manner also means that families will receive their financial aid award letter as early as possible in the process. You can check out our blog on these financial documents to learn more.
Continue Checking Your Email Just because you’ve submitted your application doesn’t mean you should stop checking college emails. Colleges will continue to send emails involving cool academic opportunities, additional scholarships, and upcoming campus visit programs. Most importantly, colleges will often use your email or their official application portal to inform students of missing application requirements.
Attend Accepted Student Campus Visit Events Earlier I mentioned that we don’t expect students to visit every college to which they plan to apply. At the decision stage in the process, the college list should be narrowed significantly and visiting your top choice colleges becomes a lot more beneficial. At accepted student events, you will get an extensive look at the college through a number of opportunities: meeting current students, sitting in on a class, meeting a professor, eating at the cafeteria, meeting with your admission officer, and maybe even staying the night on campus. I also recommend accepted student events because it allows you to learn more about the school and the other students with whom you might be spending the next four years.
With all my support,
Independent College Counselor
Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors