Demonstrated Interest: Why interested students are interesting to colleges

“I’m already on the mailing list. Do I still need to fill this out?”

A skeptical junior holds up a blank inquiry card while the rest of the students at the conference table are furiously scribbling down their email addresses, birth dates and majors of interest.

An hour later, I’m in another college counseling office. I pass out the blank cards. As they make their way around the table, a hand shoots up.

“I filled out on of these last year at a college fair, so I’m good, right?”

This became a familiar exchange, one I encountered at almost every high school visit during my fall travel season in college admissions. The most frustrating part was knowing that several months down the road, when final decisions were being made in committee, this aversion to spending a few minutes filling out a card could mean the difference between an offer of admission, placement on a waitlist, or worse, a denial.

It may seem like an exaggeration, but the reality is that demonstrated interest has become an increasingly important factor in college admissions for many institutions who are seeing growing applicant pools.

Enrollment strategies & yield rates

First, it is important to understand the strategy behind enrolling a freshman class. Ultimately, admissions offices are trying to meet a target class size. These targets are set each year based on the number of beds available, along with any other initiatives they may be implementing – smaller class sizes, lower student to faculty ratios — and they can change each year. The rate of admission is then determined by years of institutional data regarding yield activity. A college looking to enroll 5,000 students may need to offer admission to 25,000 to reach their class target. This would mean they yield at a 20% rate. If they received 50,000 applications, their acceptance rate would be 50%. This is why the number of students admitted is always greater than the targeted enrollment.

You might be surprised to hear this, but predicting the behavior of teenagers is difficult. In order to mitigate this ambiguity, colleges try to identify students who will not only succeed academically and contribute socially to their campus, but who might actually take them up on their offer of admission. Some institutions weigh this interest more heavily than others. They may even weigh each “touch point” differently. For example, attending an event hosted locally may be weighed differently than filling out a card at a national college fair. Some colleges don’t track interest at all. In most cases, demonstrated interested is looked at in conjunction with the other pieces of the application.

“What if we can’t visit every college campus on the list?”

Distance is definitely a factor that is taken into account. For example, East Coast admissions offices know that it’s an expensive proposition to travel across the country from CA to visit college campuses. USC, however, might be less understanding of a student from Southern CA who never visited campus. If it’s a school you could feasibly drive to in a day or so, it’s definitely worth making the trip.

Many private institutions host events in major cities around the country, as well as visiting individual high schools or attending college fairs. It is not necessary to visit every single campus, but it is important take advantage of local events when possible. This is another reason to get on those mailing lists – as colleges begin to finalize their fall event schedules, they will notify students of upcoming local programs.

Make yourself known, but don’t get carried away!

It’s nearly impossible to know exactly how each touch point will be assessed, so the best strategy is to simply attend what you can, make sure your attendance is noted and make the most of any chance to connect with the folks who may be reading your application. When presented with an opportunity, it’s best for prospective applicants to introduce themselves to their regional admissions rep, ask for contact information and if it would be okay to contact them with questions. As with most things in life, balance is important – do not bombard the regional rep with questions that can be easily answered by the admissions website.

Here’s the bottom line: if a college has made it to the top of your list, you should make sure you are on theirs – filling out that card or sending a nice (well-written, grammatically correct) follow-up email could make you a more interesting applicant in just a few short months.

Stacey MiltonDemonstrated Interest: Why interested students are interesting to colleges