Why Is It Important to Demonstrate Interest?

Posted: May 13, 2015

Demonstrated interest can turn a so-so applicant into a desirable candidate.
Colleges are just like everyone else. They need love. Specifically, they need to know you love them and will enroll if admitted, because the percentage of admitted students who don't enroll hurts their rankings. We all know rankings are a scam to boost magazine sales and website click-throughs, but staying high in the rankings means mucho alumni donations. So that dance continues.
Why is it important to demonstrate interest?
Just like in the middle school cafeteria, finding out that someone "likes you likes you" is a huge ego boost. You suddenly see the other person with new, somewhat rose-colored glasses. This "halo effect" can make a big difference in your student's chances of admission. A student "on the bubble" (not a clear admit or deny) who demonstrates interest may be admitted over the student who seems to be less interested in the school.
Colleges use a number of methods to gauge demonstrated interest, but the most frequently used are the following:
  • Campus visits/tours
  • Required "Why Our School?" essays
  • Meeting with the Admissions officer visiting the high school or at a college fair
  • Opening their emails and clicking on links
  • Student (not parent) contact with the Admissions Office
  • Opening a student portal/email on the school's website
Admissions staff know that high school students tend to be not-so-detail-oriented and uncomfortable talking about themselves and their plans, thus the student who goes out of his or her way to demonstrate interest seems like a more motivated and enthusiastic applicant than the student who has less contact with representatives of the school.
     I say "seems" because colleges can only measure some of your love. They won't know you wear your college sweatshirt every day or you have decorated your locker with their school crest. They won't know how many times you have walked around campus on your own, or had a friend or sibling show you around. They may not be able to tell who is opening their emails if you uses a public (i.e. school) computer.
Love them, don't stalk them.
They won't know about this, either. That's probably a good thing.
How do you get the most interest bang for your application buck? Develop a relationship with your Admissions officer. Think networking, not crushing. You should:
  • Always stop by the Admissions Office when on campus. You doesn't have to take the official tour more than once, but stopping in to say "Hi" is a good thing.
  • Contact professors or other students on campus in departments you might like to major in. Ask about programs you have found out about on the school website, departmental scholarships, or a professor's research interests. A faculty member who puts in a good word can only help.
  • Interview, then write a thank you note to your interviewer
  • Mention specific aspects of the campus that appeal to you in the "Why us?" essay. The "beautiful campus" and "cool buildings" are not specific enough. Taking notes or pictures during or after the campus visit helps with this quite a lot. If there is no "Why us?" essay, write a personal note to the Admissions officer.
  • Take every opportunity available to connect with your Admissions officer. If he visits the high school, get a pass and come chat. If there is a college fair, you should be sure to get a card and leave your contact info.
  • Follow the school on social media. Like its Facebook page. Follow its Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram. Some schools are even on Snapchat. You should like or retweet their content as you see fit, but not stalk them. No one likes stalkers.
  • Tweet, Facebook or Insta a picture of yourself wearing the school's sweatshirt or visiting campus and tag the school. Do this once or twice, not every day.
  • Open every email you receive from the school, preferably at home or on your phone, and click-through to the website when you can. It's not a bad idea to open a new email address specifically for college emails. It keeps things organized and you can be sure to have a more professional address than "bench250@" or "McPimpn@."
  • Open a student portal or email account, if available. Some schools require you to do this before you can schedule a tour or interview. 
What not to do
  • Don't ask someone else to contact Admissions for you. It's your initiative that makes the impression, not the contact itself. 
  • Don't send flowers/candy/doughnuts/balloons or other gimmicky gifts. Food will get eaten but your name either will not be attached or will make a bad impression. Media stories about a girl who was accepted after knitting sweaters for everyone in the Admissions Office, for example, unleash an avalanche of copycats. Don't be a copycat.
  • Don't friend individual Admissions officers on Facebook or follow them on Twitter unless invited. Not only is this stalker-ish, but it also invites the officer to look at all the pictures on your timeline or feed, some of which you might not want them to see.  
Demonstrating interest is like any new relationship: there's a fine line between feeling the love and feeling smothered. A friendly but professional attitude will help keep you out of the friend zone (ie the waitlist).

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