According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, about 50% of colleges claim that a student’s demonstrated interest in the school is either highly or moderately important in the admissions process.
There are two reason why schools want students that have an actual interest in their program. The first is that yield (the percent of accepted students who choose to attend) is a major factor in school rankings and is taken as a measure of a school’s prestige. Top-ranked colleges like Harvard have a high yield because most of the students admitted choose to attend rather than go to elsewhere. For example, in 2014 nearly 81% percent of students accepted to Harvard enrolled.
The other reason schools pay attention to demonstrated interest is that they want students who will be excited about the college and who will get involved over the next four years, not students who applied just to apply somewhere. Students who are excited about the school are more likely to take an active role in their college experience be successful after graduation.
Here are five things you can do to show interest, and four things you definitely shouldn’t do.
Things You Can Do:
Visit the Campus In-Person – Visiting the school in-person is a great way to show interest and learn more about the school. Even if you’re only just beginning to look into colleges, it doesn’t hurt to check out your choices in person.
Attend College Fairs and Local Admissions Events – If you’re attending a college fair, make sure to sign up for any mailing lists offered. Some schools will also hold admissions events in different cities so that prospective students can learn more about their programs and the admissions process.
Have a Strong Answer for “Why This School?” – Most college applications will include a question about why you want to attend that school. Don’t make the mistake of reusing a generic answer on multiple applications. Each “Why This School” essay should be personalized and well-researched. Learn more about how to answer this question here.
Send Thank You Notes – It’s old-fashioned, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t help. If you have the chance to attend an admissions interview or alumni interview, it never hurts to follow up with a thank you note to your interviewer. If you take an admissions tour, you don’t need to write a thank you note, but an email that touches on why you enjoyed the tour and are interested in the school wouldn’t go amiss.
Apply Early – If you’re truly set on a school, try to apply early. Most schools offer either early action or early decision. As long as you have all of your application materials together, there’s no real downside to applying early action. However, early decision is binding, meaning you’re agreeing to attend the college if accepted.
However, while colleges always want enthusiastic students, you don’t want to come on too strong or do anything to annoy the people reading your application.
Things You Probably Shouldn’t Do:
Submit Extra Information – If the school asks for two recommendation letters, you don’t need to send four. You also don’t need to send them updates on your grades or extracurriculars unless you’re asked to do so. However, if you find yourself waitlisted at a school, informing the admission officers of improved grades or new extracurricular accomplishments may help you get off the waitlist. At the very least, it demonstrates your continued interest in the school. This tactic should only be used if you’re waitlisted and you truly have something noteworthy to report.
Ask Easy Questions – Though it’s great to ask additional questions of admissions reps at events and it’s fine to reach out and ask about a very specific interest or program, don’t ask questions just to show you’re interested. Before you send an email directly to the school, do your research and see if you can find the answer on the school’s website.
Constantly “Follow Up” – Whether or not you’ve submitted your application, you don’t need to constantly update them on your progress or follow up on an application. Unless you’re genuinely unsure that the application is complete, there’s no need to call or email to check on the status. And repeatedly calling to ask whether they’ve made their decision is not going to win any admission officers to your side.
Have a Parent Get Involved – College admissions officers will not be impressed if your parent gets involved on your behalf. Unless the situation calls for your parents’ input, keep all communication between you and the school.
Not all schools take demonstrated interest into account, of course. Try to research the admissions policy of each school to which you apply so you know where to direct your energy. But “demonstrated interest” can be an great way to help your application stand out and show commitment to your top choice schools.