Feb 16, 2010

How To 'Demonstrate Interest' in the Admissions Process

You wouldn’t ask a complete stranger to the prom. Why? Because a complete stranger probably wouldn’t accept your invitation. You’re more likely to ask someone to the dance if you know the person a little and if you have an idea they might be a teeny bit interested in you.

Similarly, colleges want to know you’re interested. Stealth applicants who shoot off applications without taking time to get to know a place are a little suspicious. You can’t help but wonder if the student has done any research or put thought into the application. Is there a fit here? Who could possibly know?

If you haven’t shown interest in the months before proposing a relationship, a college has no way of judging whether you would accept an invitation to join their community. And many schools take this very seriously as your decision affects “yield” or the percent of admits who actually matriculate and join the freshman class.

In fact, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) found that 52 percent of colleges assigned interest “considerable” or “moderate” importance in the admissions process. Interest outranked counselor and teacher recommendations, interviews, and extracurriculars, and was just behind class rank and personal essays.

So come out of the shadows and introduce yourself. Here are some ideas you can use to demonstrate the kind of interest colleges like to see:

1. Visits. 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 interview or 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 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.
5. College fairs. 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 an opportunity to get face time with admissions staff.
6. School visits. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.

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, control 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.

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