Applying to colleges is more of a 2-way street than you think. While it’s easy to get hung up on whether or not you’ll get accepted, it’s even easier to overlook the fact that colleges can be just as insecure as an applicant might be. Colleges are hypersensitive to what they refer to as “yield.” Yield is the term that quantifies how many accepted students actually matriculate, or choose them over their other school choices. A college’s yield rate factors into many national rankings, so there’s great incentive for a college to take yield very seriously. As part of their evaluation of applicants, colleges do their best to ascertain an applicant’s intent. In effect, they have many ways to gauge an applicant’s interest in them and thereby predict the likelihood that a certain applicant will choose them come May 1. Colleges want to offer admission to students who are good yield risks.
More and more colleges evaluate an applicant’s level of interest in the application process. To see how much emphasis a college places on “demonstrated interest” you can check out www.collegedata.com. For each school there is a chart of factors considered in admission. You easily can find if a school tracks demonstrated interest by looking at this reasonably reliable online source. For schools that don’t admit ascertaining a student’s level of interest, still err on the side of showing a little love to the school. Sometimes online data is a year or two old, and it’s likely that a school has changed its policy.
There is a trend where schools will reject or waitlist very qualified applicants who have not demonstrated enough interest. If a school has a reason to believe that they are a “safety” school for you, you could be doomed. Applicants who apply without having shown interest are dubbed “stealth applicants.” You don’t want to be one of them!
The picture above is of Derek. He clearly is demonstrating interest in this picture for his top choice school– TULANE!! This picture wasn’t posed, this is who he was when he applied, and Tulane saw it over and over again– when he visited, when he contacted the conductor of the symphony to ask about cello lessons, when he had serious questions for the admissions rep and on and on. Guess what? He got in, and he’ll be heading to New Orleans in August. YAY! And guess what else happend to Derek? He got wait-listed at a less selective school, American University, who later shared that it was only because he hadn’t opened his online portal enough nor had he attended their visit to his school. (In his defense he had a calculus test.) He did eventually get into American with a merit award (after showing a little love to them,) but look at the picture again. Really no one else ever had a chance!
So how do schools track interest? Here’s a list of common ways colleges try to evaluate your interest in them.
1. College visits: Nothing shows interest like a visit to a school. Colleges know that students can’t visit tons of schools, so if you actually visit them, they’ve gotta be one of your top choices. Also students often end up favoring the schools they’ve had the chance to visit. After all, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.
2. Local presentations: Colleges often send representatives around the country to give presentations to prospective students. Attend these for the schools that interest you whenever possible. Some presentations will be at your high school. Many will be at local venues—sometimes in conjunction with other schools. Some will be at local college fairs. Attend attend attend and fill out an info card each time.
3. Online footprint: Big brother is watching you. In ways I can’t even imagine, schools track your interest online. Colleges know how often you check your online portal on their websites; they know if you’ve liked their FB pages or if you follow them on Twitter. Colleges also have ways to know if you’ve opened their emails to you. So open your emails before you delete them. Don’t make the mistake of reading from the preview pane and then deleting.
4. Mailing lists: Sign up to be on the mailing list on each college admissions website.
5. Phone contact: If a school calls you, answer the phone. Can you imagine they even note how long you talk? Stay engaged for at least 90 seconds to avoid looking blasé.
6. Interviews: Never turn down an interview, whether it be with an admissions rep or an alum. And if you are visiting, call a month in advance and inquire about on campus interviews.
7. Essays: “Optional” essays are only really “optional” if you don’t really want to get accepted. Why do they call them “optional” anyway? Also, schools who don’t technically track interest (by timing phone calls or snooping into which emails you open) and don’t admit to tracking interest, still have ways to tell if you KNOW and have a sincere interest in them. They do it through those “Why This School” essays. In these essays it is essential that you tell your real reasons for wanting to go to their school. Be specific; be concrete. Generic answers show generic interest.
8. Contacting admissions offices and reps: You’ve got to be careful with this one. It’s fine to contact your admissions rep if you have a valid question. Just don’t make the mistake of being annoying or transparent in your attempt to show interest. Only initiate contact when you have a legitimate need.
The moral of this story goes back to my overriding principle regarding college admissions. Colleges want authentic kids. You SHOULD be showing interest in the colleges you are considering because, basically, showing interest is a result of your own research into a school. If you are thoughtful in your application process and start off by knowing yourself and then finding schools that can meet your needs, chances are, colleges will pick up on your genuine interest in them. You should be pursuing schools that are exciting to you, and that excitement will show itself. You will have done your homework, and when it’s time to write an essay or venture into an interview, you’ll be well-prepared and eager to share why you and the college are a match made in heaven.