Does Demonstrated Interest Matter in College Admissions?
The college admissions process is a lot like dating—both parties have to be into each other for the whole thing to work. Colleges and universities display their affection in a variety of ways, starting with come-hither postcards before moving on to friendly emails and invitations to visit the campus, then, when the relationship, escalates, offering a spot in the next class and even—we all hope—making sweet financial aid deals.
But what’s the best way for a candidate to show interest in a school? Is it possible to come on too strong? And does it even matter? The term admissions officers use for such displays is “demonstrated interest.” And yes, for most colleges and universities, it matters if a student has shown some interest in them, and they take it into account to varying degrees in the admissions process.
What Exactly is Demonstrated Interest?
But first, a definition. According to Jessica Hess, director of admissions for Pennsylvania’s Lycoming College, one of the country’s oldest institutions of higher education, “demonstrated interest” can be defined as the ways in which a student engages with the college during the admissions process.
“Calls to the college, campus visits, attendance at local area events, whether or not they open our emails and how many links they click on, research, attendance at high school college fairs—that all counts as demonstrated interest,” says Hess, who has worked in admissions at Bucknell, American and Johns Hopkins, and is responsible for sifting through some 2,700 applications for the 375 or so seats in each Lycoming class.
Like many colleges, Lycoming has a somewhat soft approach to how much demonstrated interest is taken into account by admissions officers. Rather than being a hard determinant, like test scores and grades, it’s part of a matrix, one strand in the determination fabric. “We’ve integrated demonstrated interest into our CRM,” says Hess. And for good reason: Lycoming has found that data shows a strong connection between demonstrated interest from a student and his or her likelihood to enroll. “Yield data like that is hard to ignore,” she says.
Why is Demonstrated Interest Important?
Of course, sending emails to professors and going to see the school rep at college fairs alone isn’t going to get anybody into college. You need grades, extracurriculars, and test scores. The real value of demonstrated interest, says Hess, is that it offers one more way to help tell good candidates apart.
“Interest in us is a great way to differentiate candidates who might have similar values in the admissions process,” she says. “If we have two very similar applicants, the person we’ve been hearing from—the person we know—has an advantage. But I don’t want people to think it’s the only solution. There are candidates we’ve never heard from who are very strong and we—or any college—would welcome them. And there are candidates who may have visited campus ten times who we just aren’t a good match with. But more than anything, it’s a good way for a candidate to stand out, and from our point of view, a person who demonstrates interest is much more likely to enroll if offered admission.”
So it sounds as if candidates ought to be wagging their tails at schools. But don’t expect that spraying admissions officers with emails alone will do the trick. Remember the dating analogy. Says Hess, “The quality of the interaction is much more important than the quantity. Coming to campus, registering for a tour, contacting a professor in your anticipated major, going to an event in your area…all these things mean more than sending us an email every month to tell us that you scored 100 on your AP English test.” The personal touch still matters, even in the digital age.
Click That Link
And one more thing to keep in mind. Most schools are as sophisticated any other type of marketer, and their ability to track you online is quite direct. Hess says Lycoming uses digital tracking tools as smart as anything on the market.
When you sign up for an email newsletter from Lycoming, the school tracks if you open the email, and even follows which embedded links recipients click on. “We can tell what parts of the website they visited,” she says. “It helps us to know if they’re looking at, say, the chemistry section of the website, because, that kind of interest is a strong indicator that the candidate is likely to enroll if offered a spot. Our website has been redesigned to be sticky so we can track engagement.” In other words, if you get an email, open it and click through.
If Hess has one pro tip for applicants concerned with making a good impression, it’s this: Be real. “Be sincere, and be authentic, especially with institutions you really want to go to,” she says. “Demonstrate the same level of authenticity with the institution that you’d want it to show to you. Make real, legitimate connections rather than just sending tons of grade reports. We want to know you like us, just like you want us to like you.”
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