checking emails on laptop

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post came out with a story that outlined online consumer behavior tracking methods used by many higher education institutions to determine the likelihood that a student would enroll if accepted. This seems to be somewhat surprising to people, probably because they don’t think of colleges as businesses trying to sell something to consumers. In an age when admissions practices seem more complicated and opaque than ever before, it also feels like one more secret kept from the students and parents who are already stressed out about grades, test scores, and application essays.

While these practices certainly raise questions about access and fairness in admissions, the reality is that consumer tracking is helping colleges to fill seats and stay afloat. And I don’t anticipate that institutions will end this practice anytime soon. With that in mind, we have some suggestions for ways in which students can show demonstrated interest of the digital kind:

  • Get on the mailing list at every school you are currently considering. Be sure to use an email address that you check regularly. You might even consider creating an email account specifically for college information.
  • Check your email at least once a day. If you don’t regularly check your email account, set a time every day to do so. This is good practice for when you begin applying, as colleges will routinely communicate important information to you via email.
  • Open the emails from your colleges of interest, click on the links in the emails, and spend time looking at the pages you land on via the links. This engagement is a key component of what institutions are tracking, so make sure that you do it!

Even though not every college is tracking demonstrated interest or using these systems, best to assume that they are and follow these guidelines for every school to which you apply. An added bonus is that this digital behavior can also support interest you’ve already shown by visiting or make your interest clearer if you haven’t yet had a chance to get to campus.


Written by Elizabeth Heaton
Elizabeth Heaton is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Before coming to College Coach, Beth worked as a senior admissions officer at University of Pennsylvania and an alumni admissions ambassador at Cornell University. Visit our website to learn more about Elizabeth Heaton.