“We are never going to see them…”
I heard this so many times during admissions committee when I worked as an admissions counselor at Kenyon College. The story was the same every time–smart kid who was a “stealth applicant” (no, they weren’t a secret agent…a stealth applicant is just an applicant whose first “contact” with the college is the actual application). In this case, the student we were talking about was a great student with stellar test scores, but they literally didn’t take advantage of any opportunities to learn about Kenyon:
No interview, no college fairs, and they never even opened the e-mails we sent them (yes, we can track that).
A recent article from The New York Times stated that “In the latest association survey, colleges attributed more importance to applicants’ so-called demonstrated interest than in class rank or teacher recommendations.” The article went on to talk about how with so many students applying to so many colleges, the colleges themselves are becoming increasingly concerned about their yield (which is the % of admitted students who wind up enrolling).
What Does This Mean For You?
Demonstrated interest can absolutely be a make or break factor in admissions decisions and something that all students need to be thinking about. The highly selective liberal arts college that I worked at absolutely considered interest when discussing an applicant who may have been on the fence. So it can certainly help a student who is on the bubble, but remember, no amount of demonstrated interest will make up for a transcript littered with poor grades.
So The Big Question, How Do I Demonstrate Interest?
Applying Early Decision
This is a separate conversation, but perhaps the ultimate way of “demonstrating interest” in a college is by applying Early Decision. There is absolutely a statistical advantage to applying early decision at so many schools. But Early Decision is only a good move if you are 100% sure that the school is right for you AND you would be happy with the financial aid awarded.
This is dependent on the school, but if an interview is offered, you should interview. Whether it is off- campus, with an alumni, or on-campus, all applicants should (even if the school says it is not necessary to do so). The ideal scenario would be to interview on-campus. Schools will always say it doesn’t matter how you interview, but it does. If you make a very favorable impression on the person who will be reading your application and presenting your file to the admissions committee, that can bey very helpful.
Touring can be another way that a school counts demonstrated interest. If you happen to be on campus for a tour, you should also interview if possible. Always remember to make your tour “official” and fill out a card or form from the admissions office that indicates that you were on campus. The campus visit is also contextual–for instance, if a kid lives in New Jersey or Connecticut, but does not bother to visit Barnard in NYC, that will not look great. If that same kid happened to live in Hawaii or Utah, it would be more understandable.
As with anything in this process, you should do everything that is optional! If a school gives you an optional essay to write, you should write that essay WELL. A sloppy essay is just as bad (if not worse) than not doing the essay at all, so put care into the optional but recommended things in the admissions process. These things can make you stand out.
Contacting Your Admissions Rep
Many colleges have specific admissions officers who read applications by the territory they travel to. These will be the people potentially advocating for your file at the admissions table. Whether you meet an admissions person at a college fair or send them an e-mail, both are great ways of making a connection with your admissions officer.
Remember, Not All Schools Consider Demonstrated Interest
With so many things in this process, the answer is “it depends” (see how many times we say this on our site). As a rule of thumb, the smaller, non-super elite schools count demonstrated interest. Nonetheless, demonstrated interest has never hurt someone*, so I always advise students to err on the side of sending that e-mail or doing that interview if it is possible.
*Demonstrated interest does not mean e-mailing your admissions officer each day for two months. Use good judgement and don’t do anything that could fall under the legal umbrella of “harassment.”
The other thing to keep in mind is that “demonstrated disinterest” is a separate thing. So, if a college offers optional interviews or a writing supplement, you should always do them. This is another opportunity to demonstrate that you are a great fit at a particular school and to reveal your perspective, character, and intellectual curiosity. While there might not be a downside to not doing “the extras,” by opting out, you are missing an opportunity.
Okay, so which schools do care about demonstrated interset?
All of the below data is from the Common Data Set. If you you are interested in whether another school cares about demonstrated interest, just Google ‘[Specific College] Common Data Set’.
- American University (very important)
- Barnard College (considered)
- Bates College (important)
- Boston University (important)
- Carnegie Mellon University (important)
- Case Western Reserve University (important)
- Colby College (considered)
- Colorado College (considered)
- Connecticut College (considered)
- Dickinson College (very important)
- Elon University (considered)
- The George Washington University (considered)
- Grinnell College (considered)
- Hamilton College (considered)
- Haverford College (considered)
- Kenyon College (important)
- Kenyon College (important)
- Middlebury College (considered)
- Mount Holyoke College (considered)
- New York University (considered)
- Oberlin College (considered)
- Reed College (important)
- Rice University (considered)
- Skidmore College (important)
- University of Richmond (considered)
- Union College (important)
- Trinity College (considered)
- Tufts University (considered)
- Villanova University (considered)
- Wake Forest University (considered)
- Washington and Lee University (considered)
- Washington University in St. Louis (considered)
- Wellesley College (considered)
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute (considered)
Schools that do not count demonstrated interest in their admissions review:
- Amherst College
- Brown University
- Bucknell University
- California Institute of Technology
- Carleton College
- Claremont McKenna College
- Colgate University
- College of William & Mary
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth College
- Harvard University
- Macalester College
- Scripps College
- Smith College
- Vanderbilt University
- Vassar College
- Wesleyan College
- Williams College
- Yale University