This post was contributed by Steven Mercer, Ed.D, the founder of Mercer Educational Consulting, a private college counseling practice in Los Angeles. In addition to his extensive counseling experience, Steven worked as an admission officer at the University of Southern California and currently serves as Adjunct Faculty for UCSD’s online College Counseling Certificate Program.
As an Independent Educational Consultant, and former admission officer, I am often asked to reveal the most important factors in the admission process. For a long time, academic performance in the classroom and standardized test scores have been at the top of the list for most colleges. While these priorities have been consistent, one of the new factors more colleges are paying attention to is Demonstrated Interest. Until about 10 years ago, this concept was used primarily by admission “insiders;” deans of admission or senior-level admission officers. Today, the idea of Demonstrated Interest is better known by many, but probably misunderstood by most. Deans of Admission are under pressure to enroll an exact number of students each year; no more and no less. Factoring in Demonstrated Interest has proven to be a valuable tool to achieve this aim.
What is ‘demonstrated interest?’
Demonstrated interest is the degree to which you show a college that you are sincerely interested in coming to their school. It has become an important, subtle tool that colleges use to efficiently and accurately enroll a specific target number of students each year. Demonstrated interest is something that colleges quantify through specific reliable behaviors undertaken by potential students. Colleges can then use this quantified behavior to incorporate into sophisticated models or algorithms that may lead them to admit you or decide how much merit aid to award. In the competitive marketplace for potential students, it is of great value to a college to have a stronger level of certainty that you are more likely to attend, compared to another applicant.
How do you demonstrate your interest?
Demonstrating your interest has little to do with what you say and more to do with what you do. Looking an admission officer in the eye and confessing your deep love for their college, or writing in your essay that this is your dream school, do not sufficiently demonstrate interest in the eyes of the admission office.
Colleges gauge your interest through fairly ordinary behaviors. Making an official campus visit through the admission office is one of the most valuable ways to show your interest. But, if you simply visit a friend at the school, or walk around campus and do not sign up for a tour through the admission office, then they don’t know you were there, and they don’t know that you’re interested. Attending a college fair or an admission presentation at your high school or in your community has similar value to visiting the campus. What is most important about all of these examples is that you make your interest known to the college by signing up or filling out an information card used by most colleges. This record of your interest is then brought back to the admission office and logged into your file. Without documenting your interaction with the college or the admission officer, the college will not know or remember you.
Another important way that colleges know you are interested can happen when you apply. Obviously, you must apply by the final deadline to be considered for admission. But, applying through an Early Action or Priority deadline before the regular deadline demonstrates to a college a higher interest on your part. Many colleges can clearly calculate the increased likelihood of attendance for students who apply by an Early Action deadline, compared to those who apply by the regular final deadline.
Colleges that offer interviews as part of the admission process provide an excellent way for you to demonstrate your interest in the college. Because most of these interviews are optional, the fact that you choose to spend time visiting with an admission representative is another factor that colleges may use when predicting your likelihood of attending.
If you have opportunities to speak directly with admission officers in person, on the phone, or via email, then these are also subtle but important ways to indicate your interest in the college. While a college may not keep strict records of every conversation, phone call, or email, there is value in these actions in that individual admission officers will recognize you and incorporate their interactions with you into a final admission decision.
Finally, one of the newer trends colleges use to determine demonstrated interest is by engaging students on popular social media platforms. I often hear stories that admission decisions could be influenced by what you post on Facebook; this is extraordinarily rare. What is not rare is the practice of colleges utilizing social media to reach out and recruit students. Connecting with colleges through social media can be one of the subtle ways to demonstrate your interest. Colleges are paying attention to whom you “like” or “follow.”
How colleges use demonstrated interest:
How colleges actually use the quantified data about your level of interest varies significantly from college to college. Not all colleges incorporate this type of information into their admission decision-making process. But, more and more colleges do give different consideration to students who show a higher likelihood of attending if they wind up in the admit pool.
My advice is to consider demonstrating your interest to colleges in an authentic way. Do not go out of your way to convince a college that you are “interested.” Finding a college that fits you, challenges you at an appropriate academic level, and is affordable for you and your family should be your top priorities. By doing so, your interest in a particular college will probably appear quite naturally through the application process.