college interview

My former college roommate called me in early fall to ask a question about her daughter’s college application process that went something like this: “We can’t decide whether it’s worth the time and money for Leah to visit these colleges where she wants to apply. What do you think?”

A big part of this question was asking about whether colleges will penalize Leah’s application or not take her application seriously if she has not visited campus or “demonstrated interest” in this way. But what is actually considered “demonstrated interest” when it comes to admissions?

The most common ways to demonstrate interest tend to be:

  • Taking a campus tour
  • Interviewing
  • Writing a supplemental application question along the lines of, “Why do you want to attend C College?”
  • Meeting with an admissions representative during that rep’s visit to the student’s high school
  • Viewing a virtual tour on the college’s admissions website
  • Speaking with an admissions representative at a college fair
  • Researching the college online or via social media **

(**CAUTION:  You’ll notice that we do NOT suggest emailing admissions counselors with random questions as a form of demonstrating interest! Asking genuine questions that can’t be answered on the website is fine, but “fluffy” emails have no impact on any part of the application. That’s a myth we dispel daily.)

My friend’s questions also went beyond the value of demonstrating interest to the college to include factors such as, “Will it save Leah from even applying to that school if it turns out it’s not a good fit for her?” and, “The school’s location is possibly too far from home; will this trip help clarify that while she’s finalizing her application list?” Most important to Leah’s process was whether this might help her narrow a very long list of schools and perhaps keep her from having to visit too many colleges all at once in the spring of senior year. These are all great questions where the answer will often vary according to a family’s financial situation, the student’s needs to see a school to decipher “fit,” how busy a student is with academics and extracurricular commitments, and many other reasons.

A similar question we often get from students is often: “Which colleges ‘track’ demonstrated interest?” Most colleges are honest as to whether or not they track interest, but they don’t necessarily yell it from the rooftops, so you may need to dig into an admissions office website or even call the office to confirm their policy. To my knowledge, there’s no exact science to knowing which colleges absolutely take demonstrated interest into account when reviewing a student’s application, but the smaller the college, the more likely it is to do so. Statistically, a student is more likely to take an offer of admission if they have visited campus or gotten to know the college through one or more of the ways listed above. So, if your student thinks they are interested in a campus that’s fewer than 5,000 students, you might start with prioritizing those visits.

Most important in considering how to demonstrate interest is to keep the focus on your needs as a student and a family. Even if a classmate is visiting 20 colleges over spring break, don’t think they’ve figured out the secret to “getting in” to college. They will definitely run themselves ragged, probably end up fighting with their parents, and could leave the process more confused than they started. While we encourage every student to see at least a few college campuses in person so they can have a better understanding of their own preferences, no family should feel the need to break the bank to make this happen. If visiting campuses simply isn’t possible for your family, refer back to the list above for other ways your student can express their interest.

Getting the Most Out of a College Visit

Written by Kara Courtois
Kara Courtois is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Kara holds degrees from University of Notre Dame and University of Portland; she completed her graduate coursework at Teachers College, Columbia University and Steinhardt School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Kara was a senior admissions officer at Barnard College. Visit our website to learn more about Kara Courtois.