Dear [favorite college]:
I was broken-hearted when I learned that I had been deferred in the Early Decision round. But I remain steadfast in my love for [favorite college]. If you take me in March, I will surely show up on campus next fall.
Of course, it’s not that simple, nor would we college counselors ever advise a student to be so blunt—even on Valentine’s Day. But there are many ways an applicant can demonstrate interest in a college, including:
- Filling out a card in the admissions office
- Registering for a campus tour
- Responding to or sending an email
- Interacting with a college on social media
- Submitting supplementary materials, links or videos
So the question is: Does demonstrated interest really affect the admissions decision?
Over the years, I’ve advised students to differentiate themselves from other applicants in their essays, interviews, and supplements. I’ve suggested that students write a thoughtful email after they have been deferred or placed on a waitlist. After all, colleges are businesses that need to fill seats early with students who clearly want to be on their campuses.
I first heard of demonstrated interest at a New York event for Brown alums and their families. Jim Miller, then Dean of Admissions, discussed what it took for students to gain admission to Brown. Display passion? Yes. Distinguish oneself outside of grades and test scores? You bet. Show your love? Not even considered.
Certainly, elite colleges have the luxury of turning away far more candidates than they can admit. Last summer, Carnegie Mellon made its policy on demonstrated interest very clear when it announced: “We do not consider demonstrated interest in our admission paradigm . . . we do not consider a campus visit or communication with the Office of Admission or other members of the Carnegie Mellon community when making admission decisions.”
Moreover, the university stated that it would not accept supplementary materials often supplied by candidates, “including resumes, research abstracts, writing samples, multimedia demonstrations of talents, and maker portfolios.” According to CMU Admissions, such extras didn’t help them make decisions and may keep students from applying; moreover, getting rid of demonstrated interest “significantly reduces the stress of the application process.”
And that wasn’t all. CMU announced that it would no longer ask alumni to interview prospects but instead would have that network focus on following up with candidates who have been accepted. (For the record, Carnegie Mellon accepted 16.8 percent of applicants last year.)
But demonstrated interest remains alive and well at many institutions. Recently, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) released results of its survey of nearly 500 colleges. NACAC reported that 21 percent of colleges surveyed considered demonstrated interest to be of “moderate importance,” less than the transcript, rigor or test scores but similar to other measures such as teacher recommendations and extracurriculars.
While I’ve heard that most highly selective schools agree with Carnegie Mellon, there are no universals. When researching “How Students Can Position Themselves for Selective College Programs” for forbes.com in 2016, I spent time at UPenn, where I found out about the extremely demanding Integrated Studies programs that are part of Penn Engineering. I learned that Integrated Studies tracked measures of demonstrated interest, including visits to Penn, conversations with Penn faculty and students, and an in-depth understanding of the major.
Another very selective college that is popular with my students is Tulane University, applications to which rose this year by 14 percent. Tulane Director of Admission Jeff Schiffman, based in Gibson Hall near the iconic Bead Tree, shared his thoughts on demonstrated interest with me. “Tulane does consider demonstrated interest as a part of the application process; however, it is only one factor among many in our holistic review process. As Tulane has seen an increase in the size of our applicant pool, we use demonstrated interest as one tool in the application review to get a better sense of a student’s likelihood of enrolling at Tulane, their ability to graduate from Tulane and to get a sense if they ultimately will be happy here.”
Schiffman delineated measures of interest. “What Tulane is looking for is authentic engagement in the process. Has the student taken the time to research if they will be a good fit here? Have they interacted with Tulane at some point in the process, either when our counselors visited their high school or at a regional event we attended? Did the student interview a Tulane alumnus? Have they done their research when writing the ‘Why Tulane’ essay?”
I always tell students that an admissions office understands that applicants don’t always have the means to travel to a college. Schiffman explains that Tulane considers the “student’s financial resources when determining if they have shown demonstrated interest. For instance, if a student does not have the means to visit us in New Orleans, we would never hold that against them as a lack of demonstrated interest.”
For many applicants to the Class of 2023, the jury is still out. Unless they’re applying to Carnegie Mellon, they should keep in touch with admissions in the college of their choice should there be positive developments affecting their application. Showing love, even in a subtle way, may have a positive impact on their candidacy.