The Glossary: demonstrated interest

Demonstrated interest is a term you'll hear often when people talk about college admissions. It means, well, exactly what it says: you've demonstrated that you're interested in a college you've applied to.

It seems like it should be obvious that you're interested if you've applied, but that's not necessarily the case. University admissions staff know that you may have applied because you really want to be there. They know that you may have applied because it's your safety school and not actually someplace you want to be if you can help it. They know that you may have applied because your boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend applied, and you're actually kind of secretly hoping that you don't get in. They know that your family may have pressured you to apply. They know that you may actually have no idea why you applied--that happens all the time. And so some schools pay attention to the ways, other than applying, that you demonstrate you're really interested in going there. Ways you can demonstrate interest include going to campus for a tour, emailing the admissions department with questions, participating in an interview if it's optional, and following a school's social media accounts. Some schools pay a lot of attention to demonstrated interest, many pay a little attention to it, and some don't consider it all. 

But why would schools make a big deal out of demonstrated interest? Why don't they just accept the acceptable applicants without trying to determine the level of interest? Because knowing who actually wants to attend makes things a lot more efficient for them. If there are two near-identical applicants, for example, and they can only accept one of them, the school would rather accept the one who may actually show up. They also don't want to spend the money and energy trying to encourage someone they've accepted if that person has no actual interest in being there. From the schools' point of view, the ideal situation would be to accept exactly the number of students they have space for, and for every student they accept to enroll. That would be the most efficient, and would give them a 100% yield. Yield is the word they use for the number of accepted applicants who enroll and show up in the fall. It's more efficient and less expensive for them to have a yield as near to 100% as possible. 

Imagine you're having a party, and you can only invite a set amount of people. There are some people you're definitely putting on the list, and some people you're definitely not inviting. And there are tons of people you could invite...but you don't have room to invite them all. You may want to know who really wants to come, and who already has plans that weekend. It would help you figure out your guest list. That's the situation for a lot of colleges. Some applicants are easily admitted. Some are easily denied. But for a lot? It would help to know more about their interest.

The more applicants a school has for each available spot--the more selective a school has to be--the more it makes sense for them to pay close attention to demonstrated interest. However, not every school does consider demonstrated interest. For one, it's probably unfair to lower-income students. Also, some just don't think it's a good enough indicator to spend much time on.

What should students applying to college do to make the most of demonstrated interest? Nothing. Forget about it. Don't even look up to see if a school you're applying to considers demonstrated interest. I mean this. Let me explain.

If you're treating your school search like the search for a good relationship, if you're focused on being a person instead of a resume, then there's no need for this type of gaming the system. In what good relationships do you pretend to be more interested than you are just to see what you can get from it? In what good relationships do you only show interest in the other person once you've confirmed they will give you "points" for it?  Go back to the party analogy. Imagine a guy tells you he really, really wants to go to your party, and so you put him on the guest list. But then he doesn't show up--he went to another party that night. It turns out that he told three other people he really really wanted to go their parties, too. Just so he could have his options open and feel better about himself. That guy's being a jerk. Don't be a jerk.

So here are three rules for dealing with demonstrated interest:

If you really are interested in a school, show it. Even if that school doesn't consider demonstrated interest in their admissions. Find out who the admissions counselor for your area is and email them. Let them know you're very interested in the school and ask what other opportunities there may be for getting to know the school better. If there's an option for an interview, take it. And then send a thank-you note afterward. Follow the school on social media and the news. Get to know the school better, and look for ways they can get to know you better. Don't show interest because it may give you "an edge," do it because you're interested.

If you're not really interested in a school, then don't waste their time or yours by trying to rack up demonstrated interest points. The best-case scenario is that you get accepted to a school you're not interested in. What's so great about that?

If you may be interested in a school, but you're not sure how much, then ask more questions and learn more. Try to get a good sense of how the school lines up with your College Mission Statement. Follow them on social media to get a better feel for the character of the school. Write to the admissions counselor for your area and let them know what your questions and concerns are. Be thoughtful and honest--people appreciate that. And, to be honest, some of them--professional college recruiters--would love you giving them this challenge to recruit you. 

I don't take this lightly. It's difficult to advise students to ignore one of the criteria for which they may be evaluated. I get that. But the criteria will take care of itself if you're going about your job in the right way. Plus, if everybody's trying to game the system, then nobody really benefits from the system. Credibility is at stake, and credibility is what demonstrated interest is all about.

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