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What Exactly Does A College Mean When It Talks About 'Demonstrated Interest?'

While reviewing publications from a colleague's son's college search, I noticed a handful of colleges referred to "demonstrated interest" in the visit section. I realized it's likely that most students and families have no clue what that entails. If I didn't work in college admissions, I know I'd be asking, What is demonstrated interest and how do I demonstrate it? And, does demonstrated interest make any difference at all? These questions deserve some explanation.

School counselors and policymakers tend to think demonstrated interest provides some students (those in the know or those who are affluent) with an advantage in the college search and selection process. There may be some truth to that, but I believe demonstrated interest has evolved well beyond activities like visiting campus or participating in an admissions interview. In fact, technology and engagement have probably made some of the traditional measures less relevant than they once were, which I think levels the playing field.

So, one might ask, what is demonstrated interest? In short, it's a fancy way for colleges to say they are paying attention when prospective students do what they are asked to do. For example, colleges suggest lots of things to prospective students, such as when to apply, when to visit the campus, when to meet a visiting college counselor at their high school or hometown. They might ask a prospect to answer a short poll question, or see if they can send text messages. Colleges that value demonstrated interest are going to pay attention (oftentimes more attention) to those prospects who are following directions and engaging.

Colleges want to make sure they are communicating with students who are engaged and interested. Sometimes when I talk about demonstrated interest with prospective students and parents, I describe it as "showing a college some love."

In the case of the institution where I work, we make a very clear statement about demonstrated interest. We also reach out to applicants and ask some pretty straightforward questions to learn more about interest:

• What attracted you to apply to our college?
• What are some of the important factors that will go into making your final college decision?
• When do you plan to visit campus?

We ask these questions with genuine curiosity and a desire to get to know our applicants, so we can serve them effectively.

Another question related to demonstrated interest often is: Does it matter? There may not be a universal answer, but my instincts tell me that if a college goes to the trouble of mentioning demonstrated interest, then it matters. How might it matter? How about this example: Let's say an admissions counselor has two comparable applicants for admission, and there are a limited number of spots left. Wouldn't you want to admit the student who has done the things you've asked them to do, whatever that might be--visit, phone interview, pick up the phone, visited a rep at the high school, etc.?

I think it's probably pretty rare for demonstrated interest to be the sole determinant of an admissions decision, but I do think showing or not showing interest can sway an admissions decision.

As a prospective student, you will want to pay attention to statements about demonstrated interest that might appear in publications or on the website. And, if you are uncertain about a college's policy, you should ask. Finally, please think about demonstrated interest as a way to show a college that you are following directions, paying attention and are genuinely interested in a particular college. Those of us who value demonstrated interest like that--a lot.

This is one in a series of short posts in which Kent Barnds will provide honest, candid insight into the college admissions process. Watch for more "True Admissions" from Barnds, and listen to his podcasts.