Why – and how – showing interest boosts acceptance

  • Brennan Barnard

Published: 5/3/2021 3:06:25 PM

Question: My daughter is starting her college search and we keep hearing about “demonstrated interest.” Can you explain what it is and how it is used?

Answer: Imagine you are hiring for a position at work. You have two candidates with similar backgrounds, experiences and strengths. Applicant A simply submits an application. Applicant B requests an interview, frequents your business and communicates with you through email and phone calls. It is clear to you from this contact that Applicant B understands your company and the work culture of your team. Given their equal qualifications, which applicant are you more likely to hire?

As application numbers swell at some colleges and universities, enrollment managers are challenged to understand which candidates are legitimately excited about the opportunities at their college. They want to admit students who are likely to enroll at their school (known as “yield”) because it is often used (questionably) as an indicator of quality and selectivity. Therefore, many admission leaders factor a student’s “demonstrated interest” into the review of their candidacy. Some schools have moved away from that specific term, instead describing this aspect of admission as “demonstrated engagement” or “demonstrated knowledge.” They argue that these are better ways of explaining how they hope students will interact with their campus as they search for a good match.

To be clear, not all colleges consider these signals – more selective schools are less likely to formally weigh interest. However, for the colleges that do assess demonstrated interest, students need to be intentional about their approach to applying. Every year, highly qualified applicants are surprised when they are denied admission at schools where they thought they were competitive candidates because they failed to engage.

So how is it gauged and in what ways should one properly demonstrate interest? The colleges that formally consider it commonly track contact in their databases. When you visit campus, log on to a virtual program, attend a high school visit, interview with an admission representative, or send an email to their office, it is noted in their system. Thanks to data analytics, they can even track whether you open their emails and how long you spend exploring different sites on their webpage. This provides a cumulative view of your interaction and based on their predictive models and historical trends, some schools feel they can determine how likely you are to enroll if admitted. There is much debate about these practices and the impact on the college search and student behavior, as some argue that it simply contributes to “gaming” of the admission experience.

We will save that discussion for another day and a different column, but students are well-advised to understand the different policies and practices at the colleges they are exploring and to which they plan to apply. It is perfectly fair for applicants to ask each college directly about whether or not they weigh demonstrated interest in the review of candidates. The truth is, students should engage with colleges and seek to understand the opportunities that exist on each campus, not because it will help them “get in,” but because it will help them determine if they will belong and thrive there.

If you want to learn more about these issues, campus visits, and how to get on a college’s radar, join me this Thursday evening at 7:30, as I will be hosting a free, live webinar, “Tools of Engagement: College Visits with a Purpose” with admission leaders to answer questions on all of this. You can register at collegeguidancenetwork.com/event-details/tools-of-engagement-college-visits-with-a-purpose. In the meantime, be curious and stay interested!

Do you have a question about college admission, the impact of the pandemic, and applications? Submit them to news@cmonitor.com.

Brennan Barnard is the director of college counseling and outreach at The Derryfield School and the College Admission Program Advisor at The Making Caring Common Project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is co-author of the book, “The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together.”

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