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Colleges evaluate “demonstrated interest.” Here’s how to impress your favorites.

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Families don’t always realize that many colleges evaluate students on demonstrated interest: basically, how genuinely colleges think you want to enroll at their school if they accept you.

40% of colleges and universities evaluate students for demonstrated interest on either a “considerable” or “moderate” level (NACAC 2022). You might be thinking that’s a lot, especially if you’re just now hearing of it.

Let’s break down demonstrated interest, a silent but important part of the evaluation process, into action steps so you can show your favorite colleges how much you’d love to be on their campus.

How should I approach demonstrated interest?

The best approach is to incorporate demonstrated interest into your college research. That way, you’re genuinely learning about the school deeply, and you’ll be able to use this information to decide which schools are really the best fit for you.

I find that students have a hard time finding the energy for this if they think of it as checking boxes. If you look at it that way – as opposed to learning about your future college campus – it’s just going to feel like a lot of legwork.

What are the best ways to demonstrate interest?

Here are ten ways you can show colleges you really care:

  • Most effective: When possible, visit campus in person and participate in a tour and info session. If you live far, you may not be able to pull this off for all your colleges; but if you live nearby, colleges could even expect this before admitting you.

  • Easiest: Sign up for the school’s email list and read the emails. Click the links and explore the college’s website. And, actually, they might be paying more attention than you realize.

  • Reach out directly to your regional admissions representative. You can find out who this is on most colleges’ websites. If you’re unsure, call and ask. After making an introduction, you can ask your regional representative thoughtful questions. They may even be able to meet you for a chat on Zoom or in person in your area.

  • Complete the virtual tour and other virtual events hosted by the college.

  • Visit the college’s booth at a college fair or a college event on your high school campus.

  • Follow and engage with the college on social media.

  • Sign up for an optional interview or informal chat, when offered.

  • Write a compelling Why Us essay on the application, when they ask.

  • Complete all optional application essays and similar tasks.

  • Apply Early Action or, if you really love them, Early Decision.

How do I know whether a school evaluates demonstrated interest?

You can check whether the school has evaluated this in the past by searching Google for the school name and “common data set.” (Here’s an example CDS. Universities release this every year, independent of each other. The CDS is lagging information about the previous year, but this probably won’t have changed suddenly.) When you’re in the school’s CDS, you can ctrl + F to find the word “interest” on the page, where you’ll see how strong a consideration the level of interest in the school is. If it’s unclear, you can always call the admissions office and ask them directly… this is not a bad question!

As a broad generalization, larger schools (10,000+ students) don’t have the bandwidth to look at this closely; for example, UC campuses don’t evaluate demonstrated interest, and the UC Application will actually never ask you to discuss a specific campus. However, there are always exceptions (e.g. Northeastern University, NYU).

Curious why and how colleges track demonstrated interest? Learn here.

Where do I start?

Start with the college you love most! After you learn all about the one you love, carry your positive mindset on to a college you know less about, making sure to keep an open mind and a spirit of curiosity. This doesn’t need to be a chore. It’s fun and exciting to learn about the place you’ll call home after high school.

Want to make sure you have a strong college plan and don't miss any of the important milestones? Download my completely free College Admission Timeline below!

Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college consultant at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. Parents, join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.

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