How to Demonstrate Interest in Your Prospective Colleges
At their core, college admissions officers have a good deal in common with 7th graders. While they may not share the same hygiene issues, burgeoning rebellious spirit, or general awkwardness, thirteen-year-old’s minds are often dominated by one critical question—the same exact question that keeps college admissions officers up at night—do they “like me?”, or do they “like me-like me”?
Admissions officers are under enormous pressure to meet their enrollment goals by May 1st of each year. Shockingly, in 2020, admissions directors at 90% of schools surveyed were either “concerned” or “very concerned” about meeting there yearly enrollment target; only 2-4% had zero concerns in this area. The best way to meet enrollment is to have a high yield rate, which refers to the percentage of admitted applicants that go on to enroll in the institution. The best way to have a high yield rate is to admit students whom you suspect are highly-motivated to actually enroll at your college over all of their other prospective schools. The measure that admissions officers use to hone in on candidates who are likely to enroll is something called demonstrated interest.
The evidence that “demonstrated interest” matters
According to the most recent National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) survey, 16% of colleges and universities consider demonstrated interest as having “considerable importance” in the admissions process; another 24% of institutions rated it as being of “moderate importance.” Add these two groups together and the percentage of schools who strongly value a little attention from applicants is 40%, a higher figure than to colleges report placing on the college interview (22%) or class rank (38%), and just below extracurricular activities (49%) and teacher recommendations (54%).
How can I demonstrate interest to colleges?
Hopefully we’ve convinced you that this whole “demonstrated interest” thing is worth your time. Now, comes the answer to the question: How exactly do I go about convincing a college that I “like them-like them”? Below, we highlight seven simple ways to show your prospective colleges some much-desired affection, starting with the least labor-intensive and progressing from there.
1. Complete an online information request form
Just about every college in the world features a page on its admission website where prospective students can request general information, subscribe to the college’s newsletter, and/or indicate academic programs/activities that are especially appealing. They’ll likely send you piles of printed materials through snail mail which, whether you carefully peruse or toss directly into the recycle bin, will serve the purpose of communicating interest.
You can complete this short task by visiting the admissions website for each of your prospective colleges or by “Googling” the college’s name and the terms “request information” or “join mailing list.” Check out these examples below:
Amherst College – Request Information
Georgia Institute of Technology – Request Information
Pomona College – Request Information
2. Connect on Social Media
The majority of schools offer applicants the chance to create an online admissions profile where they can submit and track their online application, schedule a campus tour, and interact with college staff via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social media. Believe it or not, according to a recent NACAC survey on social media use in college admissions, 60% of applicants report liking or following a school on at least one of platforms listed above. Thus, clicking the like button won’t singlehandedly separate you from the pack, but it will succeed in “checking a box” when admissions committees ultimately sit down to review your application.
3. Email your admissions counselor
Colleges typically have admissions officers assigned to recruit and evaluate applicants from specific regions of the country/state. Finding the correct counselor for your home state or county should be easy to locate on the school’s admissions website.
Once you find your counselor, send a brief email introducing yourself and describing your interests in the institution. An introductory email also presents a great opportunity to ask questions related to the admissions process or a particular academic program. It is also an ideal time to show that you’ve done your research on their school by asking targeted questions about unique aspects of their campus or academic programs. Avoid asking things that can easily be found online like, “What are the average SAT scores for admitted applicants?”
4. Attend admissions events in your area
Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has significantly hampered the abilities of admissions officers to travel and meet face-to-face with prospective applicants. We can only hope that such activity may be safe to resume at some point this school year. In that optimistic scenario, if an admissions representative from a prospective college visits your high school or another nearby location for an information session or college fair, make it a point to be there, and be sure to introduce yourself. If you are interested enough in a school to apply, you should definitely be interested enough to meet a rep who has traveled (sometimes across the country) right into your backyard. Afterward, send a brief email thanking them for their time and expressing the enthusiasm you feel for applying to their school. Again, nothing earth-shattering—just another small step in demonstrating that you are serious about their school.
5. Visit campus
Anyone can click on a website but only the truly interested will make the effort to travel. A campus visit is viewed by admissions committees as one of the strongest indicators of interest. Of course, there is inequity at play here, as not everyone can afford to take off work and trek all over the country visiting schools with their children. Fortunately, many colleges now offer subsidized campus visits for lower-income students. However you get to campus, while there, make every effort to schedule an interview or informal meeting with your admissions counselor. Connecting in-person with an admissions officer provides you the opportunity to show your counselor that you are more than just your grades and test scores and of course gets you brownie points when they calculate your so-called interest quotient.
As with #4, this is, of course, made very difficult, if not impossible by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, schools WILL NOT hold this against you in any way. There is no need to force a campus visit for as long as the pandemic lasts. Colleges understand not only the restrictions, but your desire to stay safe.
6. Spend time on your “Why this College?” essay
Our previous five tips can all be executed before actually applying, but this one involves demonstrating interest during the process itself. Many schools, even those who accept the Common or Coalition App, require applicants to complete supplementary materials which typically involve composing an essay about why their school appeals to you. Take this invitation very seriously as it is a way to show an admissions committee that you’ve done your homework on their school and are genuinely excited about enrolling. For more tips on mastering the “Why this college?” essay, check out our previous blog on the subject.
7. Apply early
It goes without saying that this is the most extreme and, if you are applying early decision, irrevocable, way that you can demonstrate interest. To go back to our 7th grade love example, it’s the equivalent of skipping the “I like you” phase and going right into publicly declaring your undying love. Of course, colleges like ED applicants because they can count on them as automatic members of their freshman class. If you are considering applying ED, first revisit our blog on the subject and check out our Dataverse page which shows EA/ED admissions rates at hundreds of top schools.
- Colleges want to know that you genuinely want them
- If you convince a school that you are likely to enroll it can be an advantage in the admissions process
- Connect with your school through social media and fill out an online form requesting more info
- Make a personal contact with the admissions officer for your region
- Attend a formal admissions event on campus and/or locally, if available (post-pandemic)
- Demonstrating interest doesn’t involve a significant investment of time or money on your part—however, the return on this minimal investment will be high.
- Use the “Why this College?” essay as an opportunity to write a love letter to a prospective school
- Carefully consider the ultimate act of demonstrating interest—applying early decision
Check out our YouTube video below to learn more!
A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew’s experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans more than one decade. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.