Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education offers yet more confirmation that it’s important to demonstrate interest in the college of your dreams. A well-research article by Eric Hoover describes the phenomenon of “demonstrated interest” (an insider’s term for the contact students make with admissions offices during the application process, including visiting the campus, connecting at a college fair, emailing an admissions counselor, or becoming a fan of the college Facebook page). Colleges keep track of such contact, because it’s theoretically a way to measure the likelihood that an applicant will matriculate.
The practice is not new, but its importance has grown at some selective colleges in this era of ballooning applications and economic uncertainty. From 2003 to 2006, the percentage of colleges rating demonstrated interest as a “considerably important” factor increased to 21 percent from 7 percent, according to an annual survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Since then, that number has held steady (another 27 percent of colleges now deem it “moderately important”).
That number may well grow as more colleges contend with complicated enrollment challenges in the coming years. “This is an educational enterprise, but it’s also a business enterprise—we have to bring in a certain number of students,” says Sharon M. Alston, American [University]’s executive director for enrollment management. “It’s getting harder and harder for colleges to know who’s going to come.”
That’s why American [University] tells prospective students the following: If you really like us, let us know.
The article is worth reading in its entirety. But I’ll summarize a few of the reasons why admissions professionals find “demonstrated interest” to be important in their decision making—and could have either a positive or negative impact on your applications.
- Admissions officers are sensitive to their yield rates—or the percentage of students who are offered admission who actually accept that offer. Higher yield rates help the college look more desirable. So if you haven’t had any contact with admissions prior to your application arriving in their office, you are considered a “stealth applicant,” and your motives are suspect. Admissions officers ask, “Does this student really want to attend this college?”
- Ironically, admissions professionals are more likely to reject stealth applicants who have the best academic records. They will assume that the applicant considers their college a “safety” school and has no really intention or desire to attend. And rejecting high quality applicants also helps the college look better in statistical rankings: “hey, look at us! We reject students with perfect SAT scores! We’re desirable!”
- High caliber stealth applicants are more often put on the waiting list. This way, you won’t be rejected outright, and if you really want to attend, the admissions folks assume that they’ll hear from you. If you suddenly wake up and start to show the love, they might pull you off the wait list if they love you enough. But if you want to avoid that waitlist, start showing the love well before you apply.
- Showing the love is a good way for you to learn more about a particular college, and to help you determine whether the college is really for you or not. Each discrete connection—a visit, a college fair, an email, a web chat, or a phone call—should be substantive and way for you to discover more about the place. These conversations and relationships may actually lead you to decide that what you thought was love was actually only a momentary infatuation. Don’t just show the love for grins and giggles: do it because you are genuinely interested in that school.
- Demonstrated interest can be faked, just as it’s possible to feign interest in just about anyone or anything. But it’s a dumb idea. If you really don’t like a college, then why would you pretend that you’re going to drop $200k on tuition room and board? Why would you want to waste your own time by applying to a school merely to post your acceptance to Facebook, and the summarily turn it down? Be sincere in your contacts with admissions offices: genuine interest is more likely to lead to a successful outcome for yourself—and for the college, too.
Bottom line? When you want to learn more about a particular college, and give yourself a slight edge if and when you decide to apply, then reach out and make contact with a human being on that campus. You have nothing to lose. And you could gain some useful information. You might make a friend in the admissions office. And just maybe you will initiate a beautiful, life-long relationship.
For more advice on how to nurture this relationship, have a look at this other post on “demonstrated interest.”