Just like making friends or dating, colleges like students who like them back. The more enthusiastic a student is about a particular school, the more the college will want to accept that student. Of course, demonstrated interested is not going to help a C-average student get into an Ivy League school, but it certainly could give a strong candidate a slight bump over his or her competitors. Colleges want to know how interested applicants are in their school because it helps them determine how likely a specific student will attend. Yield rate, or the percentage of accepted students who actually enroll, is important for college rankings, distribution of college resources, and evaluation of the admissions department. To increase the yield rate, schools need to accept students who they feel are fairly likely to attend. Colleges know that students are applying to six, ten, sometimes even more schools; superficial demonstrations of interest tip off the admissions officers that a student is considering many, many schools.
Here are a few ways to demonstrate interest in a school:
College Websites – Many colleges have a place for students to “register” for their mailing (email) list. This is a light-touch, but certainly is an easy way to begin communication with the school.
College Visits – Visiting schools instantly communicates interest. If a student (and family) has taken the time (and sometimes significant expense and travel) to hear an information session and take a tour, admissions officers know that the student is a serious candidate. Not only does it intrinsically convey interest, visiting schools will give applicants a much better picture of the campus, student life, academics, and extracurricular activities – all of which should be addressed in the “Why University X” essay. More about the “Why” essay later. Staying overnight with a current student, if available, is probably the best way to learn about a school.
College Fairs – Sometimes physically getting to a school is too difficult. Whether a student has visited in person or not, s/he should definitely go to college fairs, find the schools on his/her list and talk to the admissions representative. The fairs are a great place to hear the differences between schools in a very short time period. Students should take notes on the keywords that different schools use so that they better understand the school’s institutional priorities. Students should complete any cards or sign-in sheets so that the admissions officers can keep track of the interaction.
Interviews – Not every school requires an interview, but many have optional interviews. Taking the time to sit down with a representative of the school, whether it is an admissions officer or an alum, is a clear sign that a student is interested and wants to learn more. Interviews go both ways – students should tell their interviewer about themselves and their accomplishments, but should also ask specific, pre-planned questions to learn something a little bit more than what’s exposed on a website.
Why Essays and Supplements – Many colleges have supplemental essays to the Common Application (or other application). And many of these essays essentially ask, “why do you want to attend University X.” Students must be specific in these essays, directly referring to majors, programs, extracurricular activities, housing options, etc. offered by that school. Talking about the surrounding city and sports team are great additions, but schools want to make sure you will fit in academically. Students should write about the academic options they find exciting, the learning communities (housing, informal groups, study abroad programs) that will enhance their classroom studies and the extracurricular options that will support their academic interests. Each college is unique and this is one of the few places for students to acknowledge their appreciation for that particular school and what it has to offer.
An application has many parts; demonstrated interest is just one. For students who are in the middle-to-top of the range, showing your passion for a school (beyond its football team) is going to be incredibly important.