Demonstrated Interest

Learn the Role of "Demonstrated Interest" When Applying to College

A student at an interview
A student at an interview. SolStock / Getty Images

Demonstrated Interest is one of those nebulous criteria in the college admissions process that can cause great confusion among applicants. Whereas SAT scores, ACT scores, GPA, and extracurricular involvement are measurable in concrete ways, "interest" can mean something very different to different institutions. Also, some students have a hard time drawing the line between demonstrating interest and harrassing the admissions staff.

What Is Demonstrated Interest?

As the name suggests, "demonstrated interest" refers to the degree to which an applicant has made clear that he or she truly is eager to attend a college. Especially with the Common Application and free Cappex Application, it's easy for students to apply to multiple schools with very little thought or effort. While this may be convenient for applicants, it presents a problem for colleges. How can a school know if an applicant is truly serious about attending? Thus, the need for demonstrated interest.

There are many ways to demonstrate interest. When a student writes a supplemental essay that reveals a passion for a school and detailed knowledge of the school's opportunities, that student is likely to have an advantage over a student who writes a generic essay that could be describing any college. When a student visits a college, the expense and effort that goes into that visit reveals a degree of meaningful interest in the school.

College interviews and college fairs are other forums in which an applicant can show interest in a school.

Probably the strongest way an applicant can demonstrate interest is by applying through an early decision program. Early decision is binding, so a student who applies via early decision is committing to the school.

It's a large reason why the early decision acceptance rates are often more than twice the acceptance rate of the regular applicant pool. 

Do All Colleges and Universities Consider Demonstrated Interest?

 A study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that about half of all colleges and universities place either moderate or high importance on an applicant's demonstrated interest in attending the school. 

Many colleges will tell you that demonstrated interest is not a factor in the admissions equation. For example, Stanford University, Duke University, and Dartmouth College explicitly state that they do not take demonstrated interest into account when evaluating applications. Other schools such as Rhodes College, Baylor University, and Carnegie Mellon University explicitly state that they do consider an applicant's interest during the admissions process.

However, even when a school says it does not consider demonstrated interest, the admissions folks are usually just referring to specific types of demonstrated interest such as phone calls to the admissions office or visits to campus. Applying early to a selective university and writing supplemental essays that show you know the university well will certainly improve your chances of being admitted.

So in this sense, demonstrated interest is important at nearly all selective colleges and universities. 

Why Do Colleges Value Demonstrated Interest?

Colleges have good reason for taking demonstrated interest into account as they make their admissions decisions. For obvious reasons, schools want to enroll students who are eager to attend. Such students are likely to have a positive attitude toward the college, and they are less likely to transfer to a different institution. As alumni, they might be more likely to make donations to the school.

Also, colleges have a much easier time predicting their yield if they extend offers of admission to students who have high levels of interest. When the admissions staff can predict the yield fairly accurately, they are able to enroll a class that is neither too big nor too small.

They also have to rely far less on waitlists.

These questions of yield, class size, and waitlists translate into significant logistical and financial issues for a college. Thus, it isn't surprising that many colleges and universities take a student's demonstrated interest seriously. This also explains why schools like Stanford and Duke don't put much weight on demonstrated interest—the most elite colleges are almost guaranteed a high yield on their offers of admission, so they have less uncertainty in the admissions process.

When you are applying to colleges, you'll need to do a little research to find out whether or not the colleges to which you are applying put much weight on demonstrated interest. If they do, here are 8 ways to demonstrate your interest in a college. And be sure to avoid these 5 bad ways to demonstrate interest.