How to Demonstrate Interest: Before Applying
Updated: Aug 15
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 before applying to a college?
Submit Official Test Scores to Colleges Most high schools will provide an opportunity for students to take an ACT or SAT during their junior year. When you complete the standardized test, you can submit your test score for free to a limited number of colleges and universities. Some students might hesitate to do this because they are uncertain of the score they might receive. But regardless of your score, colleges will receive the report, add it to your student profile, and make note of the fact that you chose to send a test score specifically to their school. In most cases, doing so does not preclude a student from applying test-optional later on.
Complete an Online Inquiry Form One of the easiest ways to dive into a college’s marketing campaign or enrollment funnel is to complete an inquiry form on their website. These forms are often brief and will enroll you in the college’s digital marketing campaigns. This is a great way to get your foot in the door, start a digital record of your interest, and learn more about the college’s offerings.
Open Emails Sent by the College If you do either of the above, you will likely start receiving email correspondence from various colleges. The unfortunate truth of the college marketing machine is that regardless of if you willingingly give your information or not, many colleges can simply buy your information from various sources (including from College Board and ACT). The good news is that these college emails are often informative and can be an excellent way to demonstrate interest. As you open, interact with, or click links in these emails, it is safe to assume that those choices are being recorded by the college. It is common for students to be prioritized on the admission side of the desk based off of these easy interaction (which you can learn more about HERE)
Engage With College Representatives One of the most impactful ways to demonstrate interest is to engage with college representatives as they travel or host events for interested students. Some of the most common examples are:
In-Person College Fairs: College fairs are events typically hosted by schools or organizations where college representatives gather, set up tables with information, and speak to students about their respective schools. These can be a great opportunity to make a lasting in-person impression with your specific regional admission officer. Here are some great suggestions for how to stand out in a conversation with an admissions officer.
High School Visits: If you are fortunate enough to attend a school that hosts admission officers, you should take full advantage of these events. High school visits are often smaller in scale than a college fair and can afford students more one-on-one time with the admission officer. In most cases, the representative visiting your high school will be the same person reading and making decisions about your application.
Local Interviews: While traveling, college representatives will often send invitations to students for official interviews or coffee chats. Interview events can range widely in tone, location, and the person doing the interview. Some interviews will feel more formal while other events might be a more casual opportunity to meet with an admission representative. Sometimes an admission representative might not be hosting the interviews and instead you might be speaking to alumni or a current student. Interview events might be hosted in different locations such as a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or even at the admissions office on the college campus. You can read our tips for acing the admissions interview in our previous blog.
Virtual College Fairs: Virtual college fairs became more prominent in 2020 as institutions across the country sought to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. While often not as effective as its in-person counterpart, virtual college fairs can still be a great way to learn about a school. Almost every college fair will require you to sign up to attend and provide an easy way to transfer your information to a college if you’d like to join their mailing list or learn more. You might be lucky enough to get virtual one-on-one time with a college representative. Check out our blog on how to make the most of a virtual college fair experience.
Communicate with College Representative after Key Interactions Communicating with college representatives is very beneficial for demonstrating interest, but I suggest going one step further–sending a personal outreach after any significant interaction. Campus visits, interviews, college fair visits, and high school visits could all warrant a friendly follow-up to express your excitement about the school and thank them for their time.
Schedule In-Person Campus Visits For many colleges, the single greatest indicator of a student’s likelihood to enroll is an in-person visit to campus. If finances and time permit, a student should try to visit some of their favorite colleges before applying. That being said, we don’t expect a student to visit every school to which they plan to apply. Instead, focus your initial visits on different local colleges to try and get an idea of what college fit looks like for you.
Apply Early Applying to a college using one of their earlier application timelines is a core component of demonstrating interest. You can find more details about Early Decision and Early Action application plans HERE. In general, students should always apply Early Action to every school they are interested in, provided they are not applying to one of the very few colleges who only offer Restricted Early Action (which bars students from applying elsewhere early). Applying Early Decision requires a longer conversation because it is a binding agreement, and is not always the best plan for every student.
With all my support,
Independent College Counselor
Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors