While not completely out of the question, even the most wildly optimistic romantic might think twice about asking a complete stranger to the prom. Why? Because a complete stranger is not as likely to accept the invitation as someone with whom there is a relationship.
In other words, you’re likelier to ask someone to a dance if you know the person a little and have an idea they might be a tiny bit interested in spending time together. It just feels more comfortable.
Similarly, colleges want to know you’re interested.
Stealth applicants who send electronic applications without taking time to get to know a place are a little suspicious. Colleges can’t help but wonder if the student has done any research or put thought into the connection. Is there really a match? Who could possibly know?
If you haven’t shown interest in the months before proposing a relationship, a college has no way of judging if you’re likely to accept an invitation to join their community. And many schools take this very seriously as your decision could affect “yield” or the percent of admits who actually join the freshman class.
In fact, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) found that 78 percent of colleges assigned “interest” at least some importance in the admissions process. In the “considerable importance” column, interest outranked counselor recommendations, teacher recommendations, interviews and extracurricular activities, and was just behind essays or writing samples.
And according to many admissions deans, expect to be sitting on a wait list if you don’t take the time to visit a campus located within 3 to 4 hours driving time of home. Interest quotient (IQ) or demonstrated interest is one important way of differentiating students. In a highly competitive college admissions process where many students almost certainly have similar GPAs, test scores or other numerical “qualifiers,” soft factors like extracurricular activities, recommendations and IQ can become “tipping factors.” For local students, this means expect to visit campuses as far north as New York and Connecticut and as far south as North or South Carolina.
But whether you visit or not, it’s vitally important that you come out of the shadows and introduce yourself. Think of it as less of a game and more of an effort to do due diligence before proposing a long-term relationship.
Here are ideas you can use to demonstrate the kind of interest colleges like to see:
- Visits. Again, there is no
better way to try a college on for “fit” than actually visiting the
campus. Take a tour, go to the information session, participate in a
recruitment event, and definitely accept offers to meet one-on-one with an
admissions representative. Colleges understand if distances make visits
impossible, but if you’re within a reasonable distance of campus, don’t
neglect to see it for yourself.
- Information requests. Register interest by
requesting information and getting on mailing lists. Not only will you
receive glossy print materials and cheery emails, but you also are likely
to get invitations to campus or local events. Warning: some colleges take
communications to the extreme and the load of mail can be overwhelming.
- Open emails. Once you’ve signed up to
receive information or have otherwise gotten on mailing lists, take the
time to explore what colleges send. Open emails and click on the
inevitable links that appear in the messages. Many colleges have fairly sophisticated enrollment
management software that will track how often you click through and
how much time you spend perusing their website. Sending emails to trash or neglecting to
follow through on links may cost dearly if the college gets the impression
you don’t particularly care.
- Research. Colleges create view
books, spend thousands of dollars maintaining websites, and engage in
forms of social media because they want to educate applicants and their
families. Ignoring these information sources hardly demonstrates interest.
Before touring a campus or meeting with an admissions representative, take
time to see what the college says about itself in print and on the web.
- Local events. Because of budget
constraints, colleges are increasingly traveling
in groups. For example, Georgetown travels with Duke, Penn, Harvard, and Stanford,
and UVa travels with Princeton, Yale and
Harvard. Schedules are on listed on admissions web pages. If an event or
reception is scheduled within reasonable distance of home, try to attend
and have a conversation with the representative for your area. And make
every effort to attend college presentations at your school.
Your guidance office or college/career center will post dates and times
well in advance of these visits, so mark your calendar and follow school
rules governing attendance.
fairs are typically scheduled in the spring and fall. NACAC and the Colleges That Change Lives organize some
of the most visible fairs, but many local campuses and high schools also
schedule events. Although often hectic, fairs can provide opportunities to
get face time with admissions staff.
- Social media. Admissions offices are
increasingly using social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,
blogs and online chats to communicate with students. They consider social
media vital to ongoing recruitment efforts. Although engaging colleges
through the use of media is a great way to demonstrate interest, keep in
mind that it’s a two-way street and your personal pages may be subject to admissions
- Connect through applications. In the rapidly-changing world of college
applications, it’s hard to forecast too far in advance which application
tool will best represent your credentials to colleges. Be on the safe side
and register with those applications used by colleges in which you are
interested. Once registered, make
use of the opportunity to connect with colleges by including them on your
“potential” college list and indicating that “Yes” the application
provider may advise colleges of your interest. Registering with a
particular application doesn’t commit you to actually using it, but it
does give you a way to signal additional interest to colleges. Again, be
aware that this signal will result in more email!
- Interviews. “Recommended” or
“required”—if given the chance, schedule an
interview. They can be informational or evaluative. Either way,
interviews offer you an opportunity to learn more while expressing your
interest in the specific programs and opportunities offered by the college
of your choice.
- Early applications. Taking care to
differentiate between binding Early Decision (ED) and nonbinding Early
Action (EA) programs, students who apply early imply
higher-than-average interest in a college. If your high school record
supports an early
application and you’re organized enough to meet deadlines, consider
the advantages of taking the early route. Apply before deadline
- Essays. Here’s a secret:
colleges really care about the specific supplemental essay questions they append to shared
application forms. Take the time to show knowledge of the college by
tailoring your responses based on details of programs and campus life
you’ve gleaned from visits, written materials, or interacting on the
social network. The more specific, the better even if it means creating different
personal statements with shout outs to your favorite colleges.
- Correspondence. It’s not always easy to
differentiate between the college spam you receive and genuine inquiries
from interested admissions staff. Err on the side of courtesy and respond
to those appearing to anticipate a response. Or if you have a question,
initiate correspondence—preferably with someone you’ve met in admissions
or the representative from your area. Again, be brief and to the point.
And do check spelling and syntax.
- Faculty and staff contacts.
On those occasions you have the opportunity to
interact with faculty or staff representing programs or majors in which
you are interested, make an effort to follow-up the contact and keep in
touch. The interest expressed is
obvious, and you never know when the person might be moved to contact
admissions on your behalf. You may also have the opportunity to describe
your connection in an essay and suggest the beginnings of a relationship
you hope will grow in the future.
- Financial aid deadlines. In the old days,
colleges could take a measure of interest by looking at where the
applicant listed their school on FAFSA.
That’s no longer possible. But colleges still use the financial aid
process to judge an applicant’s interest by paying attention to whether or
not the family adheres to published “priority” financial aid deadlines.
With FAFSA launching on October 1 this year, these deadlines will almost
certainly shift forward. Make sure
that you complete all financial aid applications including FAFSA and provide
any required supplementary information well in advance of when it’s due.
Missing these deadlines could not only cost you money, but this kind of a
lapse could also result in a deferral or denial of admission if the
college wonders about the sincerity of your interest.
- Thanks. If you’ve had the opportunity to meet with an admissions staff person, take the time to follow-up with a brief thank-you note. Get a business card or look up the address and send a short email or hand-written note.
Parents please take note—the interest being demonstrated is the applicant’s not yours. These should be student contacts and as much as it hurts, resist the urge to take over.
Also, demonstrated interest is not meant to be a license to harass colleges and admissions staff. Daily contacts, obsessive texting, calling or emails won’t win you points. Use commonsense and don’t risk turning off the object of your affection.