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In talking with students and parents, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “What can I/my child to do improve my/my child’s chances of admission?”  Sometimes people ask this in regard to a particular college, and other times they ask about getting into college in general.

Of course, there are many, many answers to this question, including “take challenging courses,” “get good grades,” “participate in activities,” “do well on standardized tests,” “write outstanding essays,” and “submit strong recommendation letters.”  Indeed, I could write a separate blog post on each of these topics.  (If you’re interested, check out my posts on courses and gradesactivities, essays, and recommendation letters.)

Another factor that can affect a student’s chances of admission is one that many people know little to nothing about, and that is demonstrated interest.  In the world of college admissions, demonstrated interest is a fairly new piece in the admissions process, but it should not be overlooked.

Demonstrated interest means communicating to a college that a student is interested in it.  This can be done in a number of ways.  The most obvious way is to visit the college.  By visit, I don’t just mean going to campus and driving or walking around.  I mean, at the very least, registering for an official tour and/or information session.  (For tips on making the most of a college visit, see this blog post.)  By signing up and then showing up, you let the college know that you’ve been there.

Not everyone can travel to every college they are applying to, so if visiting is not possible, there are several other ways to demonstrate interest.  If a college admissions officer comes to your high school, sign up for that person’s visit.  The majority of high school visits happen in the fall, so if you aren’t sure how to find out who’s coming to your school, check with your school’s counseling office.  When you attend these college visits, be sure to introduce yourself to the admissions counselor, especially if you’re a senior, as this person probably will be reading your application if you decide to apply.

Attending a college fair and talking to an admissions officer there is another option.  Again, be sure to introduce yourself and tell the person where you go to high school and if you’re planning to apply.  At both admissions counselors’ high school visits and at college fairs, you likely will be asked to fill out a card with your name and other information.  Do it!  This is another way of demonstrating interest and it also will ensure you are added to the college’s email/mailing list.  For some fairs, students can register beforehand, and if you do, you’ll provide your information and get a personalized barcode to bring to the fair.  Then, college admissions officers can scan the barcode and get your information that way, so you won’t have to spend time filling out a card at each college’s table.

Other ways to demonstrate interest include:

  • signing up for colleges’ email/mailing lists
  • following colleges on social media
  • contacting admissions officers  (Many colleges assign admissions counselors to specific states, so find out who your state’s admissions officer is and call or email that person.  This is an opportunity to connect with the person who will read your application and to find out more about the college.  That being said, don’t ask questions for which you can find answers on the college’s website, and don’t overdo it.  While making a few contacts during an admissions season is fine, you shouldn’t call/email on a daily or even weekly basis.  Additionally, these contacts should be made by the student, not a parent.  For a hilarious commentary on this, listen to NPR’s Ira Glass’s interview with Georgia Tech’s director of undergraduate admission.)
  • sending thank you notes or emails to admissions counselors with whom you met or had an interview

Not all colleges consider demonstrated interest in their admissions decisions, so it’s important to determine which colleges do.  The easiest way to figure that out is to ask!  In my experience, colleges are upfront about whether demonstrated interest is a factor in their process or not.

For colleges where it is a factor, demonstrating interest may help you in the admissions process.  Now, if your GPA and test scores are far below the college’s averages, visiting, talking to admissions officers, and following the college on every social media platform in existence probably won’t tip the scale in your favor.  However, if you are a borderline applicant, or if you have a very similar profile to a student whose only communication with the college was through his/her application, demonstrating interest might just be the factor that gets you an acceptance rather than a denial.