What does it mean? How do you do it? Do colleges really consider demonstrated interest?
You may have heard that many colleges and universities are looking for students to “demonstrate interest,” but it’s not clear what that means or why colleges care.
The reality is many (but not all) colleges are looking for prospective students to demonstrate that they are really interested in the school. Any interaction you have with the school that the admissions committee could become aware of can be part of demonstrating your interest. That means everything from signing up for an on campus interview or official tour during your college visits, signing up on the school’s webpage to get more information for prospective students, interacting with admissions officers during school visits and college fairs, or communicating with coaches if you are a recruited athlete.
So why do schools care about demonstrated interest? For them, it’s all about yield. Just as the most desirable schools have a very low acceptance rate (some well below 10%), the most sought-after schools also have a very high yield rate — meaning a large percentage of admitted students choose to attend. So how does a school measure who is likely to attend? The simplest way is students who commit ahead of time — whether they are heavily recruited athletes signing a letter of intent or students who apply to binding early decision programs. The students who are telling you up front that they will go to your school if admitted and they are willing to put that commitment in writing help schools drive up their yield and appear more desirable to other prospective students. After all, if almost every student admitted to Elite U. decides to go, it must be a great school, right?
Not all schools consider demonstrated interest, so you won’t be penalized if you can’t afford a campus visit or if you don’t get a chance to meet with the admissions officer at your local college fair (they meet so many students on these trips any way that it’s difficult for students to be memorable, unless they do something that makes them memorable in a bad way). But you should make sure that you are not demonstrating a lack of interest, even in schools that don’t consider demonstrated interest.
Let me give you an example from one of my own clients, a highly recruited athlete applying to the most selective schools in the country. She had outstanding grades, great test scores, and impressive extracurricular activities, which would have made her a competitive candidate anywhere, even without her status as a recruited athlete. Given how low admission rates are these days, however, no one is a shoo-in when you’re talking about the Ivy League and similar schools. This student was talking with a number of coaches at several of these schools, but had not yet received any communications from her top choice. Or so she thought. It turns out, the coach at her top choice was very interested in recruiting her, but having called the family’s home phone number to talk to the student, the coach instead reached her little sister, who forgot to give my student the message that the coach at her top choice school was trying to get in touch with her. It looked to the coach like the student was blowing him off.
The student applied to her top choice school early action and was deferred. Dejected, she started talking more extensively with other coaches. Her little sister finally remembered the message from months ago, asking my student, “did you ever call coach so and so back?” My student was stunned. She had no idea the coach had called. She felt mortified at thought that the coach believed she wasn’t the least bit interested. She called the coach immediately. The coach was quite surprised to hear from my student, having thought she wasn’t a serious prospect. When my student assured the coach that the school was her absolute top pick and she was certain she would attend if admitted, the coach let her know that she was high on the coach’s list of potential recruits and he would advocate for her. Come April 1st, my student got into her dream school and had an amazing experience there and a fantastic time playing for the team. But she may have missed out on all of it because the school thought she was decidedly not interested in attending.
Even if a school claims it doesn’t consider demonstrated interest, make sure you aren’t sending the signals that suggest you aren’t seriously considering them. Don’t get the school’s name wrong in your essays. Don’t blow off optional alumni interviews. And if you have interactions with faculty, staff, student ambassadors, or admissions officers, make sure you don’t stand out in a negative way by being rude or dismissive.