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Demonstrated Interest: How Engagement Impacts College Admission

Picture this: It’s time to try out for a sports team. You put in the time and showcase your dedication, you demonstrate a genuine passion for the sport, you show the coach that you’re all in by attending practices and even by training on your own. It follows that your coach might be more likely to pick you—the dedicated athlete who is sure to contribute to the team—over an equally qualified athlete who didn’t put in the time and effort that you so clearly did. 

What does this have to do with college admission? Everything. 

Many colleges operate in much the same way as your discerning coach. They want to know that a student to whom they extend an offer of admission will in fact accept that offer and that they’ll turn out to be a valuable and contributing member of their “team” (campus community).

Enter demonstrated interest. 

You may have heard the term, but I find that most of my students have no idea what it is, much less what an impact it can have on their admission journey.

What It Is

Demonstrated interest refers to the actions that a student takes to show a college that they are interested in attending. It’s a college’s way of gauging how much you want to attend and, frankly, if you are going to say “heck yes” if they offer you admission. Colleges like to protect their yield (the percentage of admitted students who actually choose to attend), and they want as many students as possible to accept an offer of admission. To them, a student who has shown significant demonstrated interest is ultimately more likely to attend, making them an attractive candidate.

Ways to Show Demonstrated Interest

Let’s point out that demonstrated interest isn’t one sided. Yes, colleges are evaluating how much you’ve engaged with them, but at the same time, you are soaking up knowledge to determine if you and the college are a match.

You can engage with colleges in a variety of ways. If an admission officer does a presentation at your high school or hosts a reception in your area, attend! Sign up for a mailing list. Attend a college fair. Take a campus tour or participate in an interview (if the college offers interviews). 

You can also interact with admission officers: email to ask questions that you can’t easily find on the college’s website. 

Demonstrated interest can also come out in the essays that you write. When you apply, many colleges use your supplemental essays to gauge your understanding of their campus culture, educational philosophy, and values as an institution.

The Impact

Colleges track and use demonstrated interest in different ways. Some use it for admission purposes, others even use it for scholarship consideration. And some schools place a whole lot more stock in it than others do. Here’s what one Elon University admission officer says: “We look at students holistically when awarding [scholarships], and demonstrated interest is one of the largest factors we look at.” 

Recently, a colleague shared with the members of our professional organization a cautionary tale about a student with whom she worked. The student was deferred from a college, and the college later provided the reason for the student’s deferral: a lack of demonstrated interest. The admission officer went on to say that while the student had a strong academic profile, he or she had not engaged with her admission officer or attended any admission-related events. 

Don’t Go Overboard

It probably goes without saying that you want to avoid going overboard. Excessive communication or insincere attempts at engaging can backfire. Admission officers are absolutely open to answering your thoughtful questions, but contacting them daily to pepper them with requests is taking it too far. 

And remember: it’s not a parent’s role to show demonstrated interest—all contact with an admission office should be initiated by the student, not the parent.

Tracking Demonstrated Interest: It’s not for Everyone

It is critical to understand that while demonstrated interest is considered or even important at lots of colleges, at others it plays no role in the admission process. For instance, many large state universities have no interest in tracking your interest. 

The concept of demonstrated interest truly does mirror the process of trying out for a sports team. For many colleges, your engagement signals your readiness to contribute to their community. So go pick up those cleats, dribble that ball, and grab your mitt (metaphorically speaking, of course). Your process could very well benefit from it. 


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