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How to Show Demonstrated Interest

Steve Brennan

Written by Steve Fernandez-Brennanon March 31st, 2016

Before coming to College Coach I worked in admissions at a breadth of institutions. My most recent experience was as associate dean of admission at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where I was responsible for international admissions and read applications from around the world but specifically Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria. While at Oxy I also made the final decision on applications from students applying from all over California; Chicago and the Midwest; and Hawai'i and the Pacific, and I served on the athletics admission review committee and was liaison with baseball as well. I started my career at Marquette University where I reviewed applications for each of the seven undergraduate colleges including engineering, business, and nursing, as well as for the direct entry physical therapy and BS/DDS programs. At Loyola University-Chicago, where I was assistant director of admission, nearly half of the applications I reviewed were applying for pre-medicine. While in Honolulu completing my master’s degree at the University of Hawai'i I served on the graduate admission committee for the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and after graduation I served as the founding director of advising at College Connections Hawai`i, a Honolulu non-profit focused on Native Hawaiian and first generation to college youth, where I worked as an independent counselor helping students and their families with all parts of the college application process. I have presented at the national admission conference as well as state and regional conferences on topics related to keeping the admission process student-centered, helping students write their best essays, and retaining first generation students and students of color.
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Demonstrating Interest Without Spending A Lot

You’ve identified your dream school(s) and you have a strong list of other colleges to apply to. Your numbers (GPA, standardized test scores) are where they need to be. You’re working on an essay that’s going to show your admission officer (AO) who you are and how you’ll fit into her school. But have you shown them the love? At a significant number of schools, demonstrating interest matters in the admission process—if you don’t show the AO that you are very interested in their school, they won’t show their interest in you (in the form of an acceptance letter). There are lots of reasons schools do this—it might be an attempt to increase their yield rate (the percentage of admitted students who enroll) and therefore move up in rankings or an attempt to be more selective—but whatever the reason, what can you, the candidate, do to improve your demonstrated interest? While officially visiting a college’s campus is the most impactful way to demonstrate interest, the school you’re interested in might be across the country. If you add up travel costs and the impracticability or impossibility of someone in the family taking time off to travel with you, it’s just not reasonable to expect you’ll visit every school to which you apply. Don’t worry – here are some things you can do to demonstrate interest without getting on a plane:
  • Local receptions. Many colleges do a “road show,” traveling by themselves or with other schools, where they go to cities throughout the US (and more and more, the world) to present information sessions. Once you sign up for a school’s mailing list, you’ll receive notification of when an admission representative will be nearby. And it’s likely the person traveling in your area is the AO responsible for reading your application, so you can demonstrate interest and put a face to the name he’ll see on the application file later.
  • High school visits. No, not you visiting other high schools, but college admission officers visiting yours! If you’re lucky enough to be in a high school where college representatives come for a visit, go talk to them! Even if it’s a situation where they come during your 3rd period physics and you have a quiz, try to at least stop by early, fill out an information card, introduce yourself to the admission officer, and say, “I’m really interested in your school.” Even that brief conversation will be noted and will count toward demonstrated interested.
  • Alumni interviews. Look, honestly, these are often not super significant in the admission process. How well you do or don’t get along with Bob Alumnus or how long you spend talking about your shared passion for politics with Maria Alumna? It probably doesn’t matter. It’s pretty unlikely that a graduate’s interview report has much weight in the final evaluation of a student’s application—but what does matter is that you, the applicant, have made the effort to be interviewed. More than the notes about the conversation, the simple fact that you interviewed demonstrates your interest.
  • Email your admission officer. Okay, don’t go overboard here—you don’t want to be “that daily email kid” who has no questions to ask but wants to make sure his AO knows who he is. But it’s a great idea to develop a relationship with your AO. Don’t ask questions that are readily available on the website or through a simple web search. Instead of asking, “do you have study abroad,” which would take you two seconds to find out, do some research and ask instead, “I’m interested in (X) major, and I see you have study abroad programs in Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Spain. From what I’ve seen, Chile and Spain are full year programs, and Ecuador and Spain are fall semester only. Have other students with my intended major been able to fit in a fall semester of study? Do you have summer programs in Spanish-speaking locations as well?” See the difference? Show you’ve done your research, and your AO will appreciate you reaching out.
(You can often find the AO for your high school through the admission webpage of any given college. Try clicking on “Meet the Staff!” or “Contact us!” If you don’t have any luck, you can always call the general admission office number, tell whoever answers where you’re from, and ask for the name of the AO for your area.) Demonstrating interest can mean the difference between admission and waitlist (or even denial) in some college’s application pools. You don’t want to be a “stealth app”—a student who applies with no contact beyond the application. If you can’t visit, the cumulative effect of demonstrating interest through even a few of these free opportunities will show that you’re truly interested in the college. And who knows? In the process you might learn what you needed to know to move it up—or off—your list! Relevant Episodes of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation: Whitepaper-CTA


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