5 Bad Ways to Demonstrate Interest

When Applying to College, Avoid These Tactics When Demonstrating Your Interest

Don't Do This When Demonstrating Interest
Don't Do This When Demonstrating Interest. Photo Credit: Fabrice LEROUGE / ONOKY / Getty Images

Demonstrated interest is an important and often overlooked piece of the college admissions puzzle (read more: What Is Demonstrated Interest?). Colleges want to admit students who are eager to attend: such students help the college get a high yield from their pool of admitted students, and students with strong demonstrated interest are less likely to transfer and more likely to become loyal alums.

For some good ways to succeed on this dimension of your college application, check out these eight ways to demonstrate your interest.

Unfortunately, many applicants (and sometimes their parents) who are over-eager to demonstrate interest make some bad decisions. Below are five approaches you should not use to demonstrate your interest. These methods could hurt your chances of getting an acceptance letter rather than help.

Sending Material the College Did Not Request

Many colleges invite you to send in whatever supplemental materials you want to share so that the school can get to know you better. This is especially true for liberal arts colleges with holistic admissions. If a college opens the door for extra materials, don't hesitate to send along that poem, performance recording, or short athletic highlights video.

That said, many colleges and universities specifically state in their admissions guidelines that they will not consider supplemental materials. When this is the case, the admissions folks can get annoyed when they receive that package with a draft of your novel, that letter of recommendation when the school doesn't consider letters, or that album of photos of you traveling through Central America.

The school is likely to discard these items or waste valuable time and resources mailing them back to you.

  • What You Think You're Saying: Look at me and how interesting I am! I'm so eager to attend your school that I sent you a giant envelope full of extra stuff!
  • What You Are Actually Saying: Look at me! I don't know how to follow directions! Also, I don't respect your time. I'm sure you can spend an extra 45 minutes on my application!

    Trust me, when schools say they won't consider supplemental materials, they are telling the truth and you should follow their admissions guidelines.

    Calling to Ask Questions Whose Answers are Readily Available

    Some students are so desperate to make a personal contact in the admissions office that they come up with weak reasons for calling. If you have a legitimate and important question that is not answered anywhere on the school's website or admissions materials, then you can certainly pick up the phone. But do not call to ask if the school has a football team or honors program. Don't call to ask how big the school is and whether or not students live on campus. This type of information is readily available online if you take a few minutes to look.

    • What You Think You're Saying: Look how interested I am in your college! I'm taking the time to call and ask questions!
    • What You're Actually Saying: Look at me! I don't know how to research and read!

    The admissions folks are remarkably busy people in the fall and winter, so a rather pointless phone call is likely to be an annoyance, especially at selective schools.

    Harassing Your Admissions Representative

    No applicants deliberately harass the person who holds the key to their admission, but some students inadvertently behave in ways that are unwelcome if not uncomfortable from the perspective of the admissions staff.

    Do not email the office daily with well wishes or fun facts about yourself. Do not send gifts to your admissions representative. Do not show up at the admissions office frequently and unannounced. Do not call unless you have a truly important question. Do not sit outside the admissions building with a protest sign that says "Admit Me!"

    • What You Think You're Saying: Look how persistent and clever I am! I really, really, really, really want to attend your college!
    • What You're Actually Saying: Look at me! I enjoy disrupting your day, and I'm also a bit creepy with stalker-like tendencies.

    Having a Parent Call for You

    This one is common. Many parents have the admirable quality of wanting to do all they can to help their kids succeed. Many parents also discover that their kids are either too shy, too disinterested, or too busy playing Grand Theft Auto to advocate for themselves in the college admissions process.

    The obvious solution is to advocate for them. College admissions offices often get more calls from parents than students, just as college tour guides often get grilled more by the parents. If this type of parent sounds like you, just keep in mind the obvious: the college is admitting your child, not you; the college wants to get to know the applicant, not the parent.

    • What You Think You're Saying: Let me ask questions to demonstrate how interested my child is in your college.
    • What You're Actually Saying: My kid is so disinterested in college that I'm doing all the work of choosing a school and applying. My child lacks initiative.

    A parent's role in the admission process is a challenging balancing act. You need to be there to motivate, support, and inspire. The application and questions about the school, however, should be coming from the applicant. (Financial issues can be an exception to this rule since paying for school is often more of a parent's burden than the student's.)

    Applying Early Decision When a College Isn't Your First Choice

    Early Decision (as opposed to Early Action) is a binding agreement. If you apply through an Early Decision program, you are telling the college that it is your absolute first choice school, and that you will withdraw all other applications should you be admitted. Because of this, Early Decision is one of the best indicators of demonstrated interest. You have made a contractual and financial agreement indicating your unquestionable desire to attend.

    Some students, however, apply Early Decision in an effort to improve their chances even when they aren't sure if they want to attend the school. Such an approach often leads to broken promises, lost deposits, and frustration in the admissions office.

    • What You Think You're Saying: Look, you're my first choice school!
    • What You're Actually Saying (if you break your ED contract): I'm dishonest and selfish, and you might want to contact competitor colleges to inform them of my breech of contract.

    A Final Word

    Everything I've discussed here--calling the admissions office, applying Early Decision, sending supplemental materials--can be a helpful and appropriate part of your application process. Whatever you do, however, make sure you are following the college's stated guidelines, and always put yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer. Ask yourself, do your actions make you look like a thoughtful and interested candidate, or do they make you appear inconsiderate, thoughtless, or grasping?