Here's How Demonstrated Interest Affects College Admissions

Here's How Demonstrated Interest Affects College Admissions
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According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 9 percent of students applied to seven or more schools in 1990. Thirteen years later, that figure had ballooned to 32 percent.

As a result of this ongoing increase, schools are trying to offer admission to students they think are very likely to accept. One of the admissions criteria schools have started to use to make this determination is the applicant's “demonstrated interest” in the school.

Demonstrated interest is a way a college can gauge how serious an applicant is about accepting its offer of admission. Colleges look at a variety of factors to determine this. Examples include:

  • calls to admissions representatives with questions about the school or a particular program;
  • attending and registering for campus tours and visits;
  • meeting with professors or department heads;
  • attending college fairs and talking to admissions representatives, and signing up for mailings;
  • opening emails from colleges and following them on social media (schools track this);
  • applying early decision; and
  • completing optional essays (which are also another way to show off an applicant's talents to a school).

By factoring in demonstrated interest through such actions, colleges can better assess the likelihood of an applicant saying “yes” to an offer of admission as opposed to just being applied to as a safety school.


How Demonstrating Interest Can Help

In a 2016 survey by the National Association for College Admissions Counselors, colleges placed more emphasis on demonstrated interest than class rank or teacher recommendations. From 2003 to 2011, the percentage of colleges that considered demonstrated interest as “considerably important” jumped from 7 percent to 21 percent, and approximately 60 perent of schools assigned some level of importance.

Also, the journalContemporary Economics Policy found in a study that applicants with a high SAT scores and a campus visit had a 40 percent higher chance of admission to a college than an applicant without the visit.

For certain schools (not all use demonstrated interest as outlined below), showing interest will definitely help. But, showing interest can never hurt. As an admissions committee member at Kenyon College described:

“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. ... Nonetheless, demonstrated interest has never hurt someone, so I always advise students to err on the side of sending that email or doing that interview if it is possible.”


Does Your MilKid's Dream School Use Demonstrated Interest?

If you want to research a specific school's emphasis on demonstrated interest, the Common Data Set website (a collaboration of organizations that collect and provide data on colleges and their admissions) can provide this information. To research, follow these steps:

  1. Google: [name of college] Common Data Set and link to the relevant result.
  2. Click on the most recent year of data.
  3. Click the link for “First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admission.”
  4. Scroll down to “Basis for Selection” and “Relative importance of each of the following academic and nonacademic factors.”
  5. Finally, look for “Level of applicant's interest” (this item will be rated from Very Important to Not Considered.)


Here's a sampling of some schools that emphasize demonstrated interest:

  • Boston University
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • George Washington University
  • Villanova University
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute

And some that don't:

  • California Institute of Technology
  • MIT
  • College of William & Mary

(As a side note, the Common Data Set is an interesting source of overall information on college admissions data.)


How Your Kid Can Show Interest

What can a MilKid do, particularly if they're overseas? Even if they can't afford to come stateside for campus tours or visits with professors, they can still show interest by emailing admission counselors, signing up for email updates and following the school on social media*, emailing professors about specific programs, and doing virtual tours.

Schools do take note of these actions, but your child can proactively refer to them in application essays. For instance, they can note something inspiring they found in a college's blog post, or comment on how an email exchange with a professor on an area of study made that college their No. 1 choice. Or, they can tie in the resiliency that comes from being overseas to something of note in a school's virtual tour.

It might take a little creative thinking, but as a MilKid, they certainly are already used to that given their multiple moves and life adjustments.