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The only thing that rises proportionately with college costs is the stress of the college application process. Every year, there’s more you need to know and more you need to do to get your kid into college. The whole process is enough to make parents and students lose their minds.

Take, for instance, the concept of “demonstrated interest.” Demonstrated interest is one of the more recent and potentially overlooked factors in the admissions process.  It is a way for colleges to measure the level of interest that applicants have in their school. Yep, colleges are now measuring enthusiasm…or at least giving it the old college try.

How Much Does Demonstrated Interest Matter?

But how much does it really matter? A report done by NACAC in 2019 on the state of college admissions found the following:

  • 16.1% of colleges assigned considerable importance to demonstrated interest
  • 23.9% said demonstrated interest was of moderate importance
  • 28% said limited importance
  • 31% said no importance

Before you throw in the towel over yet another factor in the admissions process—this one more vague and varied than the rest—let me walk you through why it’s used, why it may be helpful for you, how to do it, and ultimately, why you shouldn’t stress over it.

Why Demonstrated Interest Matters: Understanding Yield

Yield is the percent of admitted students who decide to enroll in a college.

Typically, colleges want to raise this number for a couple of reasons. First, the college needs to meet enrollment benchmarks from a financial and administrative perspective. Too few enrollments mean less revenue.

Second, a high yield percentage is a strong indicator of desirability. A higher yield means the school is efficient at enrollments. If a higher percentage of accepted applicants enroll, the school can theoretically let fewer applicants in, making it more selective over time.

Statistical perception is very powerful. Every college wants to boost its public statistics. Moving up that list on U.S. News means more prestige which means more applicants which means more selectivity and so it goes, and so it goes.

The College Admissions Yield Curve

Ok, but what exactly does this have to do with demonstrated interest?

Well, since many colleges are trying to boost their yield, or at least more accurately predict it, they may use demonstrated interest as another factor in the admissions process.

Here are two situations where demonstrated interest could bump you in the right direction:

  1. The Middle of the Pack Scenario: Imagine if your student is right in the middle of the pack of applicants in terms of academics, extracurriculars, etc. If the college values demonstrated interest and the admissions office sees that your student has visited, opened their emails, interviewed with an alumnus or talked to a regional rep, and interacted on social media, they may push you through because you have proven to them that you are more likely to ACCEPT. Showing interest is helpful for them because oftentimes, candidates are just too evenly matched.
  2. The Ninja Scenario: Your child applies to a school you think they can easily get into. Maybe you’re hoping for some good merit money, but you don’t demonstrate any interest and have no connection to the school. This is what admissions officers call a “stealth application.” In some cases, colleges reject these “shoo-in” applicants because the school can guarantee said student will not come. By rejecting an applicant like this and offering money to a student who they are more confident will come, the school increases their yield and potentially brings in a very strong student who will help market the school.

Note: While it is important to be aware of these scenarios, they are not hard and fast rules and depend on each school. Remember, many schools do not care about or assign little importance to demonstrated interest. Do your research and you’ll be fine!

How Do You Demonstrate Interest?

For many families, demonstrating interest is a natural byproduct of learning about the school and figuring out if it is a good fit. Here are seven ways you can demonstrate interest to a college:

  1. Request Info from Schools
    • Most schools have general info requests or mailing lists, newsletter signups, info on specific activities or events available, etc. readily available and easy to access – make sure your student is enrolled in the school’s official channels of communication as early and often as possible
  1. Open, Click, Engage, Attend, Watch.
    • Open emails from schools, click on links/buttons, attend info webinars, and spend time exploring school sites and gathering info.
    • College is big business. Many schools are now using analytics tools to track student engagement via email opens, clicks, site activity, webinar attendance etc.
  1. Connect on Social Media
    • Social media has become a core part of the college marketing and admissions process. It offers a direct link to prospective students in ways never seen before.
    • Your student may already be using some form of social media to explore different schools. For schools they are interested in, they can follow/subscribe on different platforms, and engage in posts by liking, sharing, and leaving thoughtful comments or questions.
    • A word of warning: if your student is interacting frequently with college pages on social media, they need to make sure their own profile does not have any red flags.
  1. Develop Great Relationships with Admissions Counselors
    • Schools usually have an admissions officer assigned to a regional area or subset of schools based on geographic location. Your student should find the right point of contact at each school, introduce themselves, and ask specific questions that show you have done your research.
    • Make sure your student is doing the talking/emailing! These conversations will help your student be active, curious, and involved in the process.
    • If you are unable to visit the school, make this known to them, and ask them what other opportunities there are to learn about the school.
    • Ask good questions, but don’t be an annoyance. Think quality over quantity here. You want to reach out to determine if the school is a good fit, so avoid asking questions whose answers you could easily find on the website. Do not contact them every week with an update on your life.
    • Maybe more important than starting the relationship – continue to engage and develop the relationship. If the rep suggests that your student attend an admissions event in your area, encourage them to do so and get some facetime with the rep.
  1. Alumni Interviews
    • Some schools offer optional interviews with alumni. While it’s unclear how much of an effect this has on the admissions process from school to school, these interviews are very unique.
    • Unlike talking to an admissions counselor, you will get a refreshing perspective. This person went to the school and can give you a more transparent glimpse into student life.
  1. Visit Campus If Possible
    • Take advantage of free time this summer and on school breaks for some campus visits.
    • If unable to visit in-person, contact your regional admissions rep and see what else you can do (e.g. sign up for virtual visits, tours, and informational sessions)
    • Visiting in person or virtually will help you to better evaluate the school while coming up with more thoughtful and specific questions to ask!
  1. Apply Early
    • Developing a great relationship with a school in the summer before senior year is awesome; however, if the application opens up and the student is slow to apply, a school that considers demonstrated interest may wonder what’s taking so long for someone who was so interested before the application opened.
    • If you’ve demonstrated interest early and often, communicate in advance if there is some circumstance that would delay you from submitting the application once the window opens
    • Early Decision vs Early Action
      • Early Decision demonstrates to the school that they are your student’s number one choice, no questions. The main issue with Early Decision: it’s binding, so you can’t compare financial aid packages at other schools (and possibly leverage the offers).
      • Early Action is NOT binding and gives you more flexibility while still demonstrating more interest than a traditional application. You also get to gauge what the process is like and compare financial aid offers with other schools.

Final Thoughts on Demonstrated Interest

To sum it all up:

In order to hit their enrollment goals to generate revenue and boost their public perception, colleges need to accurately predict yield. Some colleges believe that demonstrated interest makes the admissions process more precise and helps solve the yield problem.

Let’s take a step back, however, and get some perspective.

Demonstrating interest is not going to get you into Harvard with poor grades. It’s not as important as GPA and test scores, but it can have a major impact in specific situations as discussed above.

You may be thinking, oh wonderful, another thing to add to the list. Honestly, don’t stress it. Some of these things you would check off the list anyway. Plus, about 60% of colleges say that demonstrated interest is of little or no importance.

And even for the schools where it does matter, it’s easy enough to look up how the school uses it. Look at the admissions page on their site or search “demonstrated interest” + the college’s name to see what people are saying.

At the end of the day, demonstrated interest can’t hurt if done in an authentic attempt to learn about the school. Most of this stuff is fairly simple. Sign up for a newsletter, click links, contact an admissions rep with good questions – many of you would do this anyway if you were interested!


Zack Whitlock

Zach Whitlock The College Funding Coach









Related Reading:

A Peek Behind the Curtain of College Pricing

Is an Ivy League Education Worth the Cost?

The Ins and Outs of Your Financial Aid Award Letter

8 Ways Your Student Can Help You Save on College

Choosing the Right College: Look Beyond the Brochures

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