By, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
Imagine being asked to the prom, but instead of a thoughtful invitation to accompany a charming peer, you are instead informed that you will be the 10th person asked and if the others decline the offer, then you will be invited. Would that make you feel special or important? Well, this is how many college admissions offices can feel. They want to know you like them (like really like them!) and that your interest is sincere. It is remarkable to think that, out of thousands of applicants, a college could possibly determine your likelihood to attend but in actuality, colleges can predict your level of interest with very close accuracy.
You may now be thinking that you are sunk. There is no way you could possibly show your affection for a college without camping outside the admissions office, which very well could get you denied or arrested for trespassing. Showing admissions officers that you are interested in attending is an important part of your college prep journey because colleges do not want to admit a student who they believe will not attend. Just like you’d want to feel like your prom date’s first choice, colleges need to feel they are at the top of your list.
This act of affection is known in the college admissions world as “demonstrated interest” and it can be seen in a number of ways: you have visited the campus, you had an interview, you met an admissions representative at a college fair, or you sent an email to your admissions contact. In addition, colleges can even track if you have opened their emails, and clicked onto the embedded link. So if a college sends you an email you should open it, and if there is a request for an action to be taken then do it. These are all opportunities to express your interest and these gestures are all trackable. For example, a completed inquiry card from a college fair can be added into a database so the college knows that someone met you, or an interview will have some type of write-up afterward to be added to your file.
So now you are thinking that you could fill out a couple of inquiry cards and send an email or two and you are all set, right? Well be clear – colleges are not dummies. They do know that there are kids out there who are faking interest and that is why showing genuine interest is far more beneficial in your college process than solely demonstrating it. This is one reason why students who apply under a binding Early Decision plan are showing colleges the most love possible as this is the biggest way to profess your admiration for that institution and that you don’t just hope to be admitted, but you are hoping to happily attend.
Over the years colleges have favored students who have consistently demonstrated genuine interest in their institution versus similar candidates who have not. Colleges do find that they yield (convert accepted students to matriculated students) at a much higher rate if that student has a strong familiarity in the school and active engagement. The goal is that you do not want to be a ghost application (meaning that no one in that admissions office has ever seen you!), but instead you want to be a living, breathing, three dimensional person – an applicant whom others have met and conversed with and who can attest to your valid interest in the college.
One way to achieve genuine interest is to establish personal relationships with the admissions officers at the colleges where you may apply. There are a number of opportunities for you to do this. If you go on campus for a visit, connect with someone in the admissions office. If you sign up for an interview, that is a great way for you to speak one-on-one with an admissions officer. If you attend a group information session introduce yourself to the presenter after it’s over and ask for their business card. This gives you their contact information and you can send them a thoughtful thank you and also connect at a later date with any questions you may have or to share updates after you have applied.
If you are unable to visit the campus, there are other ways to gather useful information and demonstrate genuine interest. College admissions representatives spend a significant amount of time recruiting at a number of cities especially during the fall. Inquire with your guidance counselor about whether or not a representative will be visiting your school. See if a college is hosting an area reception in your town, offering local interviews with prospective applicants, or will be at a college fair nearby. These are all great opportunities to connect with the regional admissions representatives for your area. Keep in mind that oftentimes the visiting admissions officer is responsible for reviewing the applications from your high school. This is a good way for you to personally meet with someone who is likely deciding on your application and establish a valuable contact for future follow-up.
Lastly, it can take a village to demonstrate a student’s genuine interest in a school. Maybe you are invited to interview with a local alumni representative. This could be another personal contact who is closely connected to the school of your dreams and can advocate for you. Or maybe your neighbor is an active alumni at a school you wish to attend. Connect with that person and see if they could also spread a good word about you back to their contacts at the college. If you have a particular academic interest you can also try to connect with a faculty member in that department to ask about sitting in on a class or to share your enthusiasm for a specific program (this works well with smaller departments at a college such as Classics versus English.)
Write Compelling Supplements
Don’t forget about the essays! Many colleges include school-specific supplemental essay questions on the Common App, Coaltition app, or on their institutional applications, so know how to answer them! It’s important to do your research so that schools know you’ve put a lot of time and effort into your essays (informed interest.) This signals that you’re really sincere about your interest. Colleges can tell when students don’t put much thought or research into an essay like “Why do you want to attend X University?” This is one way to be really genuine and thorough in demonstrating your interest.
Bottom line: if you have a top-choice choice school or not, you should treat each school on your list with the same commitment and level of interest. Treat every school like your top-choice because there is a tremendous amount of growth and development which will occur within you during this journey, and treating every school with the same enthusiasm and integrity will certainly place you in the best possible position.
At IvyWise we work with students to help them develop a balanced college list of best-fit schools and guide them through the process of researching, visiting, and demonstrating their interest to every school on their list. For more information on our college counseling services, contact us today.