Lesson Three: Applying is No Longer Enough to Demonstrate Interest

Updated: Nov 10


This is the third of four posts deconstructing highly selective college admissions. Stay tuned for more great information! Painting a huge maize block M on the roof of your house, sending a meticulously handcrafted crimson quilt, adopting a bulldog and naming it “Handsome Dan”—all surefire ways of how NOT to show demonstrated interest to a highly selective college. If you’re like many students and parents, you might be confused about what demonstrated interest is, how to show it, and how it plays a role in the admissions process at highly selective institutions. So, what does it mean to demonstrate interest? Brennan Barnard, College Counseling Director and author of the book, “The Truth about College Admission” describes it here in this analogy.

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? Where to look to know whether a college considers demonstrated interest? If you’ve read previous blogs, you’ve heard me talk about the Common Data Set. This is a great place to see which factors are considered by a college in the admissions process and the relative weight that the college places on each factor. Just google “School Name, Common Data Set” to find the report and you’ll want to pay attention to Section C7. How does a student demonstrate interest in a university? Here are some of the factors that colleges track and factor into their decision making:

  • Attending an information session, campus tour, student panel and other experiences targeted at prospective students (most offer these virtually due to Covid-19)

  • Following and engaging with the school’s admission office on social media

  • Opening and reading emails from a college. Some colleges will even track whether you have clicked through the links and how much time you spend on their website

  • Reaching out to the admissions officer in charge of reading your application with thoughtful questions not found on the website

  • Interviewing with an alum or staff member if available

  • Attending an admissions presentation at your high school

  • Visiting the school’s table at a college fair (again, these have moved to a virtual platform)

  • Submitting an essay that is “optional”

As you can see, it’s a commitment to show selective colleges how much you are interested in them, which is why we stress the importance of a manageable, thoughtfully-researched and well-balanced list (our students generally apply to 6-10 colleges). If you were applying for a job, you wouldn’t send out 50 generic cover letters and resumes and expect to get an interview—you need to stand out in the crowd. As Brennan implied, just like a successful job applicant, you need to invest time researching your college list exhaustively, writing thoughtful, personalized essays that appeal to the college’s mission and demonstrate that you know what they’re about, why that resonates with you, and why you’re a great choice to join their campus. And if you’re feeling at all compelled to provide the admissions office with a grand gesture like mailing a customized big head of your face or a photograph of you as a newborn wearing a onesie with the school’s logo emblazoned on it, forget it. It’s been done. I promise.


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