By Pat Walsh

On January 26, 2019, The Wall Street Journal published an article “Colleges Mine Data on Their Applicants” reporting on how colleges are collecting and using student data to inform admission decisions. The ability to track student data has been around for years and is made possible by software platforms like Salesforce and Slate Technolutions.

Some time ago, I had the pleasure to attend a talk given by Alexander Clark, the Founder and CEO of Slate Technolutions. Seeing the higher education institutions in the audience paired with Technolutions growing client list, it was clear the practice of capturing student data is here to stay. In fact, colleges and universities across the country (yes, even the highly selective schools) will develop more nuanced ways to collect and decipher student information.  

The reason hundreds of schools across the country are utilizing these software platforms is in part to manage complicated admission processes but also to quantify a student’s demonstrated interest. Colleges use this set of data to track demonstrated interest, or the applicant’s enthusiasm about a particular college. Demonstrated interest is a predictor of yield—the likelihood that students will attend the college if admitted. The Wall Street Journal pointed to tracking emails, website presence and social media engagement as some of the data points that are frequently collected.

It is incredibly important to know that tracking a student’s social media and internet footprint is only part of the data collection story. Indeed, some of the most important student data collected involves a student’s college visit. There are a number of ways to show demonstrated interest during the campus visit. Colleges and universities use a wealth of practices to track demonstrated interest and not all of the methods are the same. Here is a small sample of ways to standout on the college visit:

Fill out the official visit registration form. Registration forms are clunky and take a long time to complete, but they are essential for documenting demonstrated interest. As a College Admission Counselor, the thing that peeves me the most is to hear that a family visited a campus without officially registering. Colleges use this data point in a variety of ways and can extract an incredible amount of information to quantify demonstrated interest. From the distance you traveled for the visit to the time of year that a student conducts a visit, it is essential to fill out the registration form.

Engage in student-initiated activities: Colleges do track email open rates and web presence. These passive and responsive activities can help to maintain a student’s interest, but these behaviors are minor compared to student-initiated activities. Student-initiated activities are understood as a behavior or action triggered by a student’s interest as opposed to responding to a college or university’s marketing or recruitment activities. There are a number of student-initiated activities related to the visit, from opting into an optional visit activity to sending a thank you note after the visit.

If available, do the admission interview: If your student is looking to really capitalize on using the visit to showcase demonstrated interest, the best way is to sign up for an admissions interview. Every college calls the admissions interview something a little different, but it is essentially a scheduled conversation between the student and an admissions representative. This 30-60 minute conversation is a time for the student to express their interest in the school as well as ask any questions related to the admissions process. The admissions interview is typically documented and rated by the admissions representative. The admission interview is a fantastic way to standout and showcase your demonstrated interest.

Opt-in to receive texting on the visit registration form: Colleges across the country are starting to use SMS texting to engage with students. Unlike email, colleges are required to ask a student whether they would like to receive text messages from a higher education institution. Texting is generally understood as a more significant form of demonstrated interest because, unlike emails, the student has to say yes. Most students are invited to opt-in to receive texts when they fill out the application but also when they register for a visit.