Demonstrated Interest Can Help You Get into College

on December 21, 2016

Demonstrated interest tracks signs of a student's sincere interest in attending a college. Demonstrated interest indicates to a college that you are genuinely considering the college and not just applying for the heck of it.

Do the colleges and universities on your list know that you exist?

If your answer is no, your applications could ultimately get tossed.

Plenty of higher-ed institutions aren’t fooling around with stealth applicants who skip the admission courting process.  Many colleges expect their applicants to introduce themselves during the admission season and show demonstrated interest. 

If you show demonstrated interest, you can increase your chances of getting in. If you play hard to get, you can hurt your admissions odds.

Demonstrated interest is valuable to colleges because it predicts the likelihood that a student will enroll if admitted to the college. Colleges can use demonstrated interest to increase their yield.

Why Demonstrated Interest is Growing

Colleges have become more focused on demonstrated interest for a variety of reasons. Here are two big ones:

  1. Thanks to the Common Application and other online college application platforms, it’s become incredibly easy to apply to colleges. Once someone applies to one college through the Common App, it requires little effort to apply to a dozen or even two dozen more. Colleges hate this trend because it’s difficult to identity the serious candidates from the casual ones. And it can mess up their admission yield.
  2. With the acceptance rates at the most elite universities hovering close to zero, more students are treating the admission process as a lottery. They believe if they apply to more colleges – just like buying more lottery tickets – it will increase their chances of success.

Favoring students who appear to have a genuine interest in an institution can help the college gain better control over their admission process. Demonstrated interest helps a college admit students who are excited about the college and really want to attend.

Some institutions have become more direct about sharing how demonstrated interest matters because enrollment management statistics indicate that it’s a powerful predictive tool. Consequently, colleges have become sophisticated in creating systems to track demonstrated interest.

“These systems might include tracking every form of communication the student initiates with the college and assigning points for demonstrated interest, or assigning a code to each student based on what they've done or not done at the time of admission,” says W. Kent Barnds, executive vice president at Augustana College in Illinois.

Tracking systems can note every call, email message and personal contact and create an interest score. As an admission staffer at Vanderbilt University once observed on the university’s admission blog, “The greater the score, the greater the love.”

How to Show Demonstrated Interest

Here are six things you need to know about demonstrated interest.

1. Know how to show demonstrated interest.

There are a variety of ways to reach out to a college. Here are some:  

  • Request literature online through a form on the college admission office’s web site.
  • Engage with the college on social media by following the college on Twitter and joining the college’s Facebook group. Participate in the college’s online chats.

Visit the campus. Let the college admissions office know when you are coming. Ask about staying overnight with a student and sitting in on a class.

  • Go on the campus tour.
  • When applicable, have an admission interview on campus, via Skype or during a visit by an admission rep to your area.
  • Introduce yourself to the college’s admissions representatives at a college fair and share your contact information.
  • Ask the college admissions staff questions that aren’t answered by the college’s web site.
  • Apply by the college’s priority admissions deadline.
  • Apply early action or early decision, if appropriate.
  • Complete any optional essay prompts, which will often ask a variation of this question:  Why are you interested in our institution? Research the college and demonstrate that you are a good fit. You should assume that optional doesn’t really mean optional.
  • Send a thank you note to college representatives and admissions staff who helped you or answered your questions.

2. Reach out to the right admission rep.

If a college wants to hear from you, check on the college’s web site to see who your regional admission representative is. This person is critical because this is the individual most likely to review your application first and make a push for your acceptance.

The admission site should include each rep’s phone number and email address.

3. Understand that not all institutions want to hear from you.

About half of colleges and universities take demonstrated interest into account and half do not.

Many of the institutions that tend to care little or not at all about demonstrated interest are state universities. This makes sense because these universities are most likely to receive many tens of thousands of applications.

For instance, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which recently received 34,277 undergraduate applications, surely wouldn’t have the ability or the desire to know who visits on campus or likes its Facebook pages. The university ignores demonstrated interest in its admission decisions.

The most selective colleges and universities also do not consider demonstrated interest. When a college has an acceptance rate in the single digits or low teens, it doesn’t need to worry as much about whether accepted students will attend. These colleges typically have admissions yields of 50 percent or more.

4. How to research a college’s demonstrated interest position.

It’s not hard to discover whether a college wants a shout out from you. In a document called the Common Data Set, a university will share how it rates 19 admission factors including level of applicant’s interest.

Institutions rate each of these admission factors in four ways:

  • Very important
  • Important
  • Considered
  • Not considered

You can often find a Common Data set by Googling the term and the name of the university. You’ll see the lineup of admission factor ratings in section C7 of the document.

One institution that takes demonstrated interest very seriously is Rhodes College in Memphis. An otherwise qualified student who doesn’t reach out to the college before applying is typically put on the wait list or is deferred. The applicants are then told why they weren’t accepted and given a chance to say they really want to attend.

“We’ve been practicing this about five years now,” says J. Carey Thompson, dean of admissions at Rhodes. “It’s a low bar as far as we’re concerned. The goal is to have students be engaged with their college choice journey.”

Carey noted that the college’s practice can also help teenagers who truly want to attend the Memphis college since the college is more likely to spurn those who aren’t sincere.

The college’s selectivity (acceptance rate or percent of applicants who are admitted) and yield (percent of admitted students who enroll) are also informative. You can find this information in the admissions tab of a college’s profile on the College Navigator web site.

5. Don’t overdo it!

While many institutions want you to reach out, they don’t want you to pester them. Don’t stalk the college admissions staff. At the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in 2014, Owen Wolf, the associate director of admission at Pitzer College, noted that there is a fine line between showing interest and over doing it.  He said he didn’t want to hear “a ton” from students because they run out of meaningful things to say.

6. Be strategic with your campus visits.

Parents and teenagers often wonder if it makes sense to visit colleges before applications are due. This is certainly a smart idea, but time and money can make a bunch of road trips impossible.

When grappling with which campuses to visit, check how each college regards the demonstrated interest issue. Make it a priority to visit the colleges that want to hear from applicants rather than those that place a low priority on demonstrated interest.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a best-selling author, speaker and journalist. Her book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, is available on


Can I get Into...

We Know Your Chances. Do You?

What Are My Chances