Originally published, TapInto.net, June 15, 2017

If you’ve perused any forums on college admissions (looking at you, Mom and Dad!) then you’ve already come across the term “Demonstrated Interest.”  It sounds like some sort of corporate terminology, doesn’t it?  That’s because that’s exactly what it is.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: colleges are businesses.  Non-profit status aside, they keep the lights on based on the tuition dollars, or you can say they are “tuition driven.”  That means the primary objective is and always will be meeting or exceeding their enrollment goals for each incoming freshman class. 

Selectivity and prestige are important components of attracting applicants and these factors are bolstered by admitting students who they believe really want to attend.  By maintain their status as a desirable university to attend schools can increase their yield, or the ratio of admitted students.  Bottom line?  Colleges want to decrease their admit rate (ratio of applicants to accepts), increase their yield, and either maintain or grow their overall enrollment.

This is starting to sound like a statistics class, right?  What does any of this have to do with that “demonstrated interest” thing?  This is where you’re able to increase your chances of acceptance at colleges. How are colleges able to make the determination between an applicant that applied to a school as a safety and one who is seriously interested?  Here we are, back at demonstrated interest.

I’m sorry to have to get all “Big Brother” on you, but colleges are monitoring your every move.  As early as your freshman year of high school colleges may already have a file with your name on it.  True, SAT scores might not be in there yet, but your demonstrations of interest are.  Remember that time you filled out an inquiry card at a college fair?  It’s in there.  Took a tour?  It’s in there.  Also included is that time Mom called the office to check if they got your soccer coach’s recommendation letter again, and they might also be tracking how many times you open all those spam emails they send…creepy, right?

It’s time to beat them at their own game!  Colleges are using all these points of contact to assign you a score you weren’t even aware of: your demonstrated interest.  It’s up to you to bump up your numbers, just as you do everything in your power to increase your GPA and improve your SAT scores.  The best thing is this is a score you have complete control over and trust me it’s just as important as some of those other application pieces, sometimes even more so.

In essence, you want every school you eventually apply to believing they are your #1 choice.  The moment a college comes on your radar hop on their website and fill out their online inquiry form.  Yes, this means the junk mail will start pouring in but your future will thank you for it, even if your mail carrier won’t.  Set up a dedicated college email account and open every email you get.

As you continue your search, think junior year and the summer before senior year, it’s time to amp it up.  Every time you visit a college be sure you’re officially registering for a visit and not just doing a quick drive around campus.  It’s relatively easy to find your admissions counselor’s email address on a school website and it’s worth doing so and dropping them a line to ask about when/if they’ll be visiting your high school this fall or if there’s any other local events you can attend.  Meet with this admissions counselor and be sure to fill out another inquiry form at that meeting.  If you’re pursuing a spot on an NCAA team treat coaches just like admissions counselors; respond to their outreaches in a timely manner and accept invitations for visits whenever possible. 

The goal is for each college to which you apply to have a long list of contacts from you reaching back as far as possible.  This will lead a school to conclude that you are a serious applicant and your application will be considered with this in mind.  You want admissions counselors to say, “Oh yes, I’ve been in contact with ‘Ben’ for months now!  He’s super interested in our Theater program.  I’m sure he’ll attend if we admit him.”  And apply early.  I’ve written a previous column on different decision types but to sum it up briefly apply as early as you’re able.

One more point on this, notice how none of my recommendations include your mom and dad?  That’s because schools aren’t nearly as interested in how they feel about a school.  Even though parents are probably going to foot the bill colleges know that 9 times out of 10 it’s the student who will drive the final college decision.  I am pleading with high school students to take ownership of this process and make these points of contact.  As a former admissions counselor I can 100% guarantee you that yes, they can tell when mom is pretending to respond to emails and texts as you.  Yes, we can tell when Mom or Dad try to disguise their voice on the phone.  We can tell when you were forced to meet with us because we’re home to dad’s favorite Big 10 team but you have absolutely zero interest.   I know high schoolers already have tons on their plates but it’s really worth it, I promise.

Don’t believe me?  I recently attended a super-nerdy college admissions conference during which I heard many universities say they are relying more and more on demonstrated interest because the caliber of applicants is so strong they have no other way to make their decisions.  I’ve personally worked with students who have been accepted to Ivy League schools and denied at less competitive institutions because it was clear the school was a safety choice.  Wondering why Joe in your math class got into Super Popular University and you didn’t even though your scores are stronger?  It’s probably because Joe has been showing the school love for years and applied early.  “SPU” see Joe as a sure thing but hadn’t even heard from you until they got your application.  Joe was the safer bet for those tuition dollars they desperately need.

And their situation is desperate.  A quick Google search will show you just how many colleges are throwing in the towel every year.  Even colleges that are highly selective and popular need to viciously fight to stay that way.  The admissions process can seem maddeningly secretive and arbitrary but the ball is more in your court than you think.  Seize the power my friends!

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