The College Scoops Podcast

Seven Ways to Demonstrate Interest and Why it’s Vital to a College Application 

January 7, 2022

Nobody likes being rejected. Colleges don’t like being rejected either. So it’s very important for college applicants to show their interest in attending.

Demonstrated interest is one way for colleges to differentiate between students with identical credentials. Reaching out to the admissions office a few times could make the difference.

Acceptance Rates and Yield

Two long-standing measures of prestige for colleges are acceptance rate and yield. And the two measures are closely connected. Yield is the percentage of accepted students who will actually choose to attend. The figure says a lot about a college on its own. But a higher yield allows a college to lower its acceptance rate, projecting an elite status. The college can accept fewer students and feel confident that its dorm rooms and classroom seats will be filled.

Acceptance rates at top institutions have gotten significantly lower over the past few years.  

In the last five years, Bowdoin College has gone from a 19 percent acceptance rate to a 9 percent acceptance rate. Brown University has gone from 15 percent to 5 percent! 

Effect of the Common App

The Common Application makes it easier for students to apply to many schools. It was once common to apply to 3-4 schools; now it’s more common to apply to 10-12. So the top colleges and universities are getting swamped with applications.  A quarter of a million applicants will try to enter the California university system this year.

For several years now, U.S. News & World Report has been the bible of college rankings. And selectivity has factored into the rankings. The result has been aggressive marketing by colleges to get their applications numbers up and thus their acceptance rates down. It’s been all about the rankings.

The acceptance rate has become more a function of how well a school markets itself than the quality of the education it provides. U.S. News has dropped the factor from its rankings, but it’s so embedded in student and parent thinking, it’s among the very first data points they look at for each college. And the top U.S. News-ranked colleges are still at the top of the rankings.

Demonstrated Interest is Vital!

So, you want to make sure the college of your choice knows it’s the college of your choice. How do you do that? Demonstrated interest is a very important part of the college application process. 

You want to avoid being, in the parlance of admissions committees, a “stealth applicant.” A stealth applicant is not known to the committee before they see the application.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling surveyed colleges in 2017 on the subject of demonstrated interest. . In the survey, 13.7% of colleges said that it was a considerably important factor in admissions, and 25.5% said that it was of moderate importance.

Colleges that refuse to admit that demonstrated interest is a factor in acceptance are probably kidding themselves. Supposedly, the more elite colleges don’t care about it, because they assume everyone wants to go there. But a student who gets accepted to four ivies is going to turn at least three of them down.In any case, it’s not wise to chance it. Show your interest!

Here are seven tips:

1. First, make sure it is the college of your choice. Go deeper than finding out what programs it offers and the simple demographics. Find out about campus life. Will your day-to-day life be pleasant or miserable? This is where College Scoops can be a real help. Some 40 percent of college matriculants will not graduate in six years. Many will drop out, and a significant number of them will drop out for social rather than academic reasons.

2. Apply early. This often involves getting a completed application in by November 1. Early decision is binding at most selective colleges. Nothing says you want to go there like being willing to be exclusive. Nothing says you love a woman like proposing marriage to her. There’s no getting out!  Dartmouth has a 21 percent early decision acceptance rate versus a 6 percent overall rate. There are other factors. Early decision applicants are often stronger students and often don’t need financial aid. But an early decision application means the college is the student’s first choice, and that’s important.

3. Contact your region’s admissions representative. This is not a chronological list I’m offering. There are many things that a student should do before applying early.  The earlier you can whittle your college list to one (if you can), the better.  Connect with anyone at the college — a professor, a coach, a music director. They might let the admissions office know.

Don’t overdo contacting the admissions office or representatives. They don’t need to know every time you win a debate trophy. Just introduce yourself and make your interest known. Whatever you do, don’t ask a question that can easily answered on the college’s website.  A good question to ask a Middlebury admissions officer would be about the legend that 60 percent of Middlebury students marry other students. The admissions officer will laugh and say, no, but Middlebury is at the top of colleges in that regard. (The figure is closer to 16 percent. The legend was created and maintained annually by a past college president in his convocation address. Alumni my age all will remember him saying it.)

4. Carefully review the college website. Visit it multiple times. The information you glean will come in handy. Plus the college can actually tell if you’ve visited the website, how long, and how many times. (Sticky pages allow students to leave footprints all over the college’s website.) Sign up for the college’s mailing list. Read the college’s emails. Check your email account’s junk folder regularly. Click on the links in these emails. The college can tell how long it took you to open the email. So look for it.

5. Visit the college. In-person visits are best. Showing you made the effort will make a good impression. Virtual visits are better than not visiting. If you can’t make it in person, explain to your regional representative why you can’t make it and that you’re still really interested. Maybe you can’t miss school, work, or sports practices. Maybe your parent can’t miss work. Prior to the virtual meeting era brought to us by covid, local alumni interviews were common among students who couldn’t easily travel to the campus. It’s still not a bad idea to connect with alumni. Webinars where your name pops up on the screen also can’t hurt.

A college fair conversation with a representative can be helpful, if your college is being represented there. Get your name on whatever list is on the table. When being interviewed, have some questions that show you’ve really looked into the college. Yes, you want to find out what you can. But you also want to let them know you want to go there. Make sure to follow up with an interview by sending a handwritten thank you note.

6. Spend time with and put significant effort into your “why us” question. Seemingly every competitive college has a supplemental “why us” question. Colleges have this question, in various forms, because the Common App makes it too easy to apply to multiple schools without serious intent. (In 2018, a girl from North Carolina applied to 115 colleges. She got into 113 of  them and received over $4 million in scholarship offers. This not a good strategy for getting into a highly competitive college.)  Answer all of the supplemental questions they suggest. Optional is not optional.

Again, go beyond information easily obtained on a school’s website. College Scoops is a good “inside” source. If in the rare case the college of your choice doesn’t have this supplemental prompt, try to work it into your supplemental somehow.

7. Connect to your desired college with social media. If you really enjoyed your visit, tweet about it. Post a picture on Instagram. Tag the college. Just following the college’s social media accounts is a good idea. Don’t overdo likes or retweets. Don’t overdo anything. You don’t want to look socially inept.

My own experience bears the demonstrated interest phenomenon out. The only real competitive college on my list that I didn’t visit was the only one that rejected me (by waitlisting me). That was Colgate. I was a stealth applicant. And it was a school that wasn’t that far away. They got the impression that I couldn’t be bothered. I didn’t pay much attention to my fallback school (University of Vermont) either, I suppose. 

Don’t think demonstrated interest is going to get you in to your first choice. Consider that 79 percent of Dartmouth’ early decision applicants didn’t get in. Academics is still key. Character and fortitude are very important. Bowdoin says their admission is 50 percent grades and 50 percent heart.

A great fit is a two way deal. Matriculation is like matrimony. (Surprisingly, the two words have different origins.) The best way to show your love is to propose. It’s binding. Like applying early decision.

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Curtis Hier, Author

Curtis Hier is a Middlebury College graduate and holds a master’s degree in education. He is a college admissions consultant at GetCollegeResults.com.

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