Be Aggressive, B-E Aggressive:
Showing “Demonstrated Interest”
It goes without saying that the college application process is a stressful one for students and parents alike. Did you know, however, that it can be just as stressful for the admissions department on the other end? While it’s easy to imagine them sitting on a pedestal, leisurely handpicking their incoming class from hopeful applicants, it’s actually logistical and financial madness. When colleges send out their offer letters and wait to see who accepts, the ball is no longer in their court. Understandably, schools prefer to extend acceptances to students who show demonstrated interest in actually attending their institution.
So what is demonstrated interest exactly, and which schools care? In short, demonstrating interest means going the extra mile to show schools that you could truly see yourself there. It means going beyond the required application materials and making a point to get to know the school and the faculty there. Many of the country’s most elite schools do not take demonstrated interest into account, because they have no problem filling the competitive slots of their incoming class. However, a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that about half of all schools place moderate or high importance on an applicant's demonstrated interest. To see if your top choices care about demonstrated interest, check out their websites or cut to the chase by doing a quick Google search: “[School Name] and demonstrated interest.”
If you discover that your school does indeed take demonstrated interest into account during the admissions process, there are several right and wrong ways to go about showing this. However, the most important thing to remember is this: Schools want to see demonstrated interest from the student, not their parents. After all, the parents are not the ones attending. To parents reading this: go ahead and do the research, if you like. Feel free to print out a list of admissions counselors to email, find college fairs in the area, schedule a campus visit, and compile a list of questions to ask. Help your child in whatever way you want, but then let your child do the talking. Whether accurate or not, an overly interested parent can mean a disinterested child.
Without further ado, here are the dos and don’ts of demonstrating interest.
DO express your interest in your supplemental essay.
Many schools ask for supplemental essays about why you think their school is right for you. Take this opportunity to discuss specific reasons their institution appeals to you. Show them that you’ve done your research, and you know that you would excel on their campus.
DON’T send supplemental materials that the school didn’t ask for.
While you might think you’re proving just how interested you are, bombarding them with stuff they didn’t ask for will not get you on their good side. If they say they don’t read recommendation letters, don’t send them. If they didn’t ask for a supplemental essay about why you want to attend their school, don’t write one. They will think you can’t follow directions and don’t respect their time.
DO email or call your admissions representative with questions.
If you have an important question about your application, or about the school in general, email or call your admissions representative to speak with them about it. If you email them, make sure to check for typos, spelling errors, and grammatical issues before pressing ‘send.’ If you call them, make sure to remind them who you are and get straight to your question. Thank them for their time and their help.
Subject: Question from a Class of 2021 Applicant
Mrs. Admissions Counselor,
My name is Caroline Williams, and I am applying for admission to Example University. I've enjoyed learning all about Example University via the website and my campus visit, but I have one question I hope you can answer. [Insert your question.]
Thank you so much for your help, and [Example University slogan]!
DO email the dean of the specific school you're interested in.
If you know which school you'd like to be in, email the dean of that specific school and ask them your questions about it. Make sure you have a good question that is specific to their program. Demonstrate your sincere interest by asking what you could do to stand out as a stronger applicant, and show them that you have done your research.
DON’T call or email with questions found easily on their website.
Seriously, don’t call to ask them if they have a journalism department or if you want to know what the freshman dorms are like. If you want to reach out to make sure they know you, make sure you have a good question.
DO attend any optional events held by the school.
Some schools hold events for prospective students. If you’re able to get there, get there. Mingle with people and make sure you tell them your name. Treat this event like another part of the application progress – don’t be nervous and overly formal, but don’t show up in sweatpants and head straight to the snack table either. Spend that time meeting the admissions people!
DO talk with representatives that visit your high school.
Even if you’ve already determined it’s your top choice school, you’ve finished your application, and you’ve formed a friendly relationship with an admissions rep at the school, still meet any university representatives that come to your high school. It’s one more chance to get your name out there, and to make a great impression on someone who could potentially advocate for you.
DON’T harass your admissions rep.
Just because they told you to, “Have a nice weekend,” in your last correspondence doesn’t mean they want an e-mail recap of your weekend on Monday. You’d be surprised at how often admissions people are bombarded with e-mails and phone calls of students and their parents trying to form a friendship, or begging for admission. Make sure you interact with them when it’s appropriate, but don’t go overboard.
DO apply Early Decision.
If you have a top choice school, nothing demonstrates interest more than applying Early Decision. You can learn all about the Early Decision process in our blog post here.
DON’T apply Early Decision if it isn’t truly your first choice.
Applying Early Decision is agreeing that, if accepted, you will attend their school. If you aren’t actually going to attend, do not apply E.D.! Imagine if that school contacted your actual first choice and told them you broke contract and aren’t an honest person. That won’t look great for you.
DO stop by their table at a college fair.
If the school has a table at a college fair at your school or in your area, make sure to stop by. Typically, they will ask for your name and contact info when you stop by, so you can receive more information about the school. If they don’t ask for it, make a point to introduce yourself anyways. Grab a business card, and send them a thank you e-mail afterwards.
DO sign up for an interview.
Of course, some schools require them. If a school doesn’t require an interview, but does have them, sign up for one. It’s yet another choice to form a relationship with the school and show how interested you are. Learn all about the college interview process in this blog post.
DO go on campus visits.
Since you’re going to potentially spend the next four years of your life on this campus, it’s important to go on campus visits regardless. However, it’s also another way to demonstrate interest in a particular school. Explore the campus, ask your tour guide questions, and stop by the admissions office if it’s allowed. Introduce yourself as much as you can!