What is “demonstrated interest”?

Demonstrated interest is, basically, a student’s way of showing some love to the schools they’re interested in. With thousands of students applying to their school every year, admissions officers want to have some idea of who’ll actually attend if they’re admitted.

Who takes demonstrated interest into account? 

Mostly private schools in the “less than elite” category. Public schools generally use a formula that relies on such things as school rank (e.g., the “10% rule” in Texas), test scores, and grades. Elite private schools don’t generally follow demonstrated interest because they assume that virtually every student is interested in attending, and they attract more highly qualified applicants than they are able to accommodate.

Why is demonstrated interest important?

Schools don’t want to admit a bunch of students who won’t attend. Schools have a limited number of slots, determined by sometimes mundane things like how much housing is available. They want to make their best guess as to how many admitted students will actually sign on the dotted line. 

How do you find out if a school considers demonstrated interest?

Take a look at the Common Data Set (search “<school name> common data set”; most schools publish this). Question C7 includes a chart, and on the last line of that chart is “Level of applicant’s interest.” If any box other than “Not Considered” is checked, that means the school tracks demonstrated interest.

How do you show demonstrated interest?

Here are the most common ways. I’ve put these in roughly chronological order (i.e., the order of when you’d do them, starting in junior year and ending with the application), which isn’t the same as order of effectiveness.

1.  Attend college fairs and information sessions in your area

See if a college you’re interested in will be attending a college fair or sending representatives to your area. If so, sign up online and attend. These small fairs are generally more personal, with fewer students attending.

If a large college fair is in your area (Colleges That Change Lives is one example), sign up to attend—this gets you on their radar. Whatever you do, be sure to fill out a contact card. Once you’re there, stop by the booths of the colleges you’re most interested in attending. The booths may be staffed by an admissions officer, a different college employee, or an alum. With smaller schools, the regional admissions officer will often staff the table.

If an admissions officer is staffing the booth, introduce yourself (if possible, as there may be a long line) and be sure to leave your name and contact information, as many schools keep track of the fact that you visited the booth. Also be sure to pick up the college rep's business card (see why in #7 below).

2. Request college information

Your mailbox will be full of college brochures without your asking for them. (Colleges purchase mailing lists from various sources.) Those brochures never tell the whole story of the school, as they’re simply marketing materials. Don't depend entirely on a college's website for information if you want them to know you’re interested. You can sign up to get on their mailing list, or you can send a short and polite email message requesting college information and application materials; this shows that you’re actively interested in the school. While it might be flattering when a college reaches out to you (but keep in mind that you might be an anonymous one of thousands on their mailing list), it demonstrates interest when you reach out to the college.

TIP: Create a new email address that you'll use only for college-app correspondence. This is extremely helpful over the long haul.

3. Connect with the school’s community

Connect through social media. More and more, colleges are looking at applicants’ online presence to determine their level of interest. “Like” and follow their Facebook pages, Instagram, and Twitter feeds. Become a follower, and ask serious questions that show your interest. Make sure to mention your top choice schools in your own posts and Tweets. And never, ever badmouth any college online. Admissions officers DO read College Confidential. And, yes, they remember.

Connect with college staff. This one can be tricky because it might be hard to establish a connection without a personal recommendation. It might take a lot of cold emailing. But, for example, if a professor is impressed with your level of interest, he or she may let the admissions office know. The same goes for people in charge of other programs such as sports, music, the student newspaper, ROTC, etcetera.

4. Visit campus 

One of the strongest signals you can send to show a college you’re interested is the campus visit. There are lots of good reasons to visit in person: 

  • Most colleges keep track of who visits.
  • It’s the best way to get a feel for the college. (My daughter’s visit to an elite school at the top of her list resulted in her dropping that school off the list completely. It was an expensive investment, but a good one.)
  • You can personalize your essay after your visit to show that you’re familiar with the school and have a true interest.
  • Many schools offer an interview and other activities to seniors who visit in person.

When you visit, be sure to take advantage of everything they offer: sign up for the official tour, sit in on a class, stay overnight in the dorms, have lunch with a student, and set up an interview. All of these things, if offered, can be arranged online. Also, don't wait until the last minute to arrange interviews or overnights. Those spots are limited, and they fill up fast. 

TIP: When you walk into the Admissions Office, the student needs to be the one to approach the desk and introduce themselves. Admissions officers notice when student isn't taking charge ... and they remember.

In addition to the official activities, you can set up meetings with professors or student groups, if you do the legwork yourself.  

Be sure to wander around, walk the halls of the buildings, and watch how the students interact. At one school, we saw only one small group of students laughing and talking. We saw lots of other students, but they were all alone: studying, eating, sitting, walking ... all alone. And on a gorgeous Friday afternoon, no one was tossing a Frisbee or lounging on the grass relaxing. The entire school gave off an impersonal, isolated vibe--one that my daughter never would have discovered had she not visited. 

One of the most useful things to do on campus is to talk with students who aren't affiliated with the admissions office. Talk to students in the cafeteria, the person behind the desk at the rec center, or the student staffing the newspaper office, for instance. Those unofficial remarks are some of the most valuable in determining what campus is really like.

TIP: If you apply to a school within a three-hour drive and don’t visit, that school will be wondering why. If you’re close enough to drive, visit, and drive home in a day, you really need to do that.

5. Take advantage of college interviews

An interview is another terrific way to show demonstrated interest. 

Even if the college says an interview is optional, for homeschoolers it isn’t. Admissions officers want to get to know their applicants, and the interview is a great way to do that. Since homeschooling is something of a wild card, the more they know about you, the better.

Be sure to research the college well before the interview, and be prepared to ask at least two questions that you really want to know the answer to and that will show you’re interested. 

If you’re doing your interview on campus or during an off-campus tour, it’s possible your interviewer will be the person reading your application. For this reason alone, it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity to have the school put a face to a name.

In addition, an interview can help you learn more about the college. If the interview is being held off campus by an alum, you can get a firsthand account of what it’s like to be a student there.

6. Contact your admissions representative

You can become a real person to the admissions officer by contacting them. This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to show a college you’re interested. Admissions officers are extremely friendly people and they love to talk to prospective students about their school. 

Take care with writing your email—you want to make a good impression; an email filled with errors and slang will work against you. If you’re calling, make notes ahead so you can be sure to cover the questions you need answered.

TIP: By all means, the student must make the contact, not the parent! If a student isn't capable of handling the admissions process, the college may wonder if they're mature enough to handle college.

It’s important that the questions you ask are things that can’t be found on the website. If you call asking about their deadlines or the majors they offer, it will look like you haven’t done your research and are taking a scattershot approach to applications, which will not work in your favor.

Don't bug the staff or use gimmicks. Don’t send gifts, weekly greeting cards, or daily jokes. Don’t send homemade cookies. Don’t send M&Ms in the school’s colors. That’s just creepy.

7. Send thank-you notes

Good old snail-mail thank-you notes are the gold standard. They’re classy and especially impressive in this day of electronic conversation. Plus, they may go into your hard file. 

*Always* send a thank you to your interviewer, even if they’re an alum. If you chatted with a college representative at a fair, sat in on a class, spoke with a professor in their office, or met with anyone in connection with your application, at the very least send an email message the next day to thank them for taking time to talk with you. It doesn’t have to be fancy—just a few words expressing your appreciation for helping you learn more about their school. You'll be demonstrating your interest in the school as well as showing that you’re a considerate person. You’d be surprised how many students don’t take this extremely easy advantage.

8. Apply early

The absolute best way to demonstrate interest is to apply through Early Decision (ED). By applying ED, you’re telling the school that they’re your one true love and you’ll send your check if they admit you. This is why most colleges accept ED applicants at a much higher rate than Regular Decision applicants—they love students who are sure bets. But use this only if you’re 100 percent certain that the school is your favorite and you can afford to attend. You can apply to only one school ED, and if you’re accepted your decision is binding. (Not all colleges offer Early Decision.)

Early Action (EA) also shows your interest, although not nearly as strongly as ED, as it’s not binding. Early Action does show that you care enough to get your application submitted early in the admissions cycle. (Not all colleges offer Early Action.)

Even if you apply ED or EA, be sure to show your interest in other ways too, so they know you are serious about attending.

At the very least, get your application in well before the Regular Decision deadline to show the college you care enough not to wait until the last minute.

9. Use the supplemental essays

“Why do you want to attend Unparalleled University?” This is a common question on applications, sometimes disguised by different language. That question is an ideal—and often underutilized—place to demonstrate that you’d be a great fit at their school. It’s a great way to show your interest and your knowledge about the school.

Other questions that can achieve the same purpose are those that reference their school’s mission or strengths. You can use those to discuss your “fit” at the school.

Your essay should address the specific and unique features of the college that most appeal to you—don’t make it a generic essay. Show that you've researched the college well and that you're a good match for the school.

TIP: If you can copy and paste an essay from a different school’s application, it’s a weak essay.

Most applications will have the student list, in order, what influenced them to apply. If you’re able to check the interview, campus visit, and college fair boxes, the admissions officer will know that you have a good handle on what their school is really like.