How to Express Interest in a College
Some aspects of the college admissions process are fairly straightforward, such as grades and standardized tests scores. Others may be a little less clear, like demonstrating interest in specific colleges. So what exactly is demonstrated interest, why is it important, and how to you express it to the colleges on your list?
What is “demonstrated interest”?
Demonstrated interest is a term that describes how you show that you are invested in a specific college. Schools measure interest by the interactions you make with them over time—through campus visits, information sessions, interviews, and so on. We’ll look at some specific ways of communicating interest below.
These interactions help show admissions committees that you have had a long-term interest when it comes time to apply, as opposed to just applying to see if you can get in or because you need a backup. If you haven’t had many interactions with the schools, they will wonder how you can know that it could be a good fit for you. Colleges are more likely to admit students they believe will ultimately attend. This produces a higher yield rate (or percentage of admitted students who ultimately attend) and thus makes the school seem more desirable, attracting stronger candidates. A better yield better, in turn, helps boost college rankings in well-regarded forums like U. S. News and World Report, Forbes, and the Princeton Review. (For more information about college rankings, check out College Rankings, Debunked: How Ranking Works, and What It Means for Your College Decision.)
If an admissions committee sees that you have demonstrated consistent, long-term interest in their college, they’re more likely to perceive you as an applicant who will likely attend the school in question if you are admitted—therefore, a more desirable applicant.
Why is showing a demonstrated interest important? And how much does it matter?
While you should certainly make a good-faith effort to show colleges that you are interested in attending their school, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t or can’t for whatever reason. While colleges usually don’t tell you how much demonstrated interest matters in the admissions process, you should still try to do so if you are able. However, there may be some circumstances under which you might not be able to visit the campus or attend an interview (such as prohibitive costs), and if any of those circumstances apply to you, be sure to tell colleges; they might be able to make other accommodations or factor it into your admissions decision.
Top-tier schools are less likely to weigh demonstrated interest heavily when evaluating your application since they have so many candidates, although smaller colleges, including many liberal arts schools, might care more than larger universities because they tend to be more self-selective. You should start showing your interest near the end of your junior year of high school or earlier, if you have the time and resources.
How do you demonstrate interest in colleges?
Admissions Representatives and College Fairs
Often, admissions representatives from colleges visit high schools. If a representative from a college to which you are planning to apply comes to your school, be sure to attend their information session and add your name to the list. If possible, introduce yourself with your full name and come up with a few good questions to ask, so they will remember you and be able to match your face to your name and application. Try to do your research about the college beforehand so you can ask good questions that aren’t easily found on the website and make it clear that you are not just attending because you’re trying to get a leg up in the admissions process. It goes without saying that you should remain attentive and polite throughout the information session, and be respectful of classmates who are also interested in the college.
You should try to do the same at college fairs, although you can expect them to be busier, so you may have less time for individual attention. If a booth seems particularly crowded, wait for lull and come back. Again, understand that the representative will be talking to many students, and may not be able to speak to you individually. For more tips on navigating college fairs, check out or post, How to Make the Most of a College Fair.
Signing up for email lists, mailing lists, or alerts is a great way to find out more about a college and learn about events like information sessions and college fairs. For the most part you should be able to find places to sign up on schools’ individual websites.
If you do end up signing up for emails, be sure to open them, as some colleges may track whether or not you open their emails. You should also click on the links within it. This can also help you learn more about the school in addition to demonstrating interest.
It’s also a good idea to save promotional materials you receive in the mail. These often communicate valuable information and key dates.
Visiting the actual campus is one of the best ways of figuring out if you will fit in. While reading about the school and speaking with representatives can give you a general idea of what the college is like, you might not really be able to tell until you actually see the physical space. How does the campus make you feel? Do the students seem similar to you? How will you fit in? Does the campus meet or even exceed your expectations?
Before you arrive on campus, look into what kinds of activities you might be able to do while you are there. You might take sign up for a tour, sit in on a class, speak to professors, talk to an admissions officer, or schedule an interview. Some schools may not offer all of these activities or may only have them at specific times, so you should investigate beforehand. You should also pay close attention to different details about the school so you can mention them in your interview and personal statement. Many colleges will ask you why they stand out to you among other colleges, and this is a good opportunity to gather some supporting evidence. Check out our guide to making the most of a campus visit for more information.
If you are concerned about the cost of visiting colleges, it’s a good idea to check out fly-in programs. These are available to low-income and first-generation students who would otherwise be unable to visit. For more details about the program, take a look at our post, Approaching the Cost of Visiting Colleges as a First-Generation Student.
Visiting college not only gives you a sense of how well you might fit in, but also shows the colleges that you are invested enough in their school to make the effort to see it firsthand.
Set up an interview
As mentioned above, if you do get the opportunity to visit a college, be sure to request an on-campus interview if the college offers this option. Some colleges may offer them at specific times or (e.g. once you’ve applied, junior spring, senior fall, etc.) so be sure to request it when the timing is right. While some colleges may tell you that the interview is non-evaluative, the fact is, it is still part of your application—and another way for them to gauge your interest in the school. If a college does offer on-campus interviews and is in a location that is reasonably accessible to you, it may look like you don’t care enough to make the effort if you don’t request one.
If the school is not within driving distance, you may be able to request an off-campus interview with a parent or alum. Some colleges may offer this as the only interviewing option.
For more information on making the most of your college interviews, check out this guide.
Your Personal Statements
Many schools will ask you to write a “Why Us” essay or some variation on the theme. You should include as many details as possible in your response to demonstrate that you’ve done your research and have a comprehensive understanding of the school (as well as that you are capable of doing thorough research). Try to include specific details, as well as information you can’t find on the website, so they know you’ve actually thought about and invested some effort into getting to know the school.
Some questions may not overtly ask you why you are applying to the specific college, but still touch on experiences or details about the school. In these instances you should still demonstrate what you know about the school, as long as the information you include is relevant to the topic at hand.
While demonstrating interest in a college may not be the most important aspect of your application, it is still a good idea to show schools that you’re invested. Ultimately, colleges want to admit students who are likely to attend their school, and your interactions with them are a good way of assessing your interest. In addition to reflecting well on you from an admissions perspective, doing your research and taking the time to learn everything you can about a college will also help you determine which school is the best fit for you when the time comes to decide where you will spend the next four years.
For more advice on showing interest in and learning all you can about the colleges on your list, check out CollegeVine’s blog posts below: