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How to Show Demonstrated Interest & Why It Gets You Into Colleges

Read Up on College Admissions

How to Show Demonstrated Interest & Why It Gets You Into Colleges
Brad Schiller
How to Show Demonstrated Interest & Why It Gets You Into Colleges

If you’re looking for a relatively easy way to boost your college admission chances, then you need to know about an under-appreciated factor that’s crucial to many schools: demonstrated interest.

Demonstrated interest is admissions-speak for “Will this applicant likely enroll if we offer them a spot?” 

This can be powerful for 3 reasons:

  1. Since most students don’t know about demonstrated interest, you get a leg up on the competition.
  2. Demonstrating interest is, as we said, relatively easy — we’ll give 11 concrete tips and tricks below. 
  3. For schools that care about demonstrated interest, they care about it a lot. Getting this right can give a big boost. 

To be clear: not all schools do care about demonstrated interest. An easy way to see if it’s a factor is to Google [school name] + “demonstrated interest.” For example, Boston University looks for it; Brown doesn’t. Tippy top schools are less likely to care.

A school that weighs demonstrated interest in admissions is also likely to ask you to write a “Why Us”-type essay. (We have a comprehensive guide to the “Why Us” prompt that lays out how to make your answer shine.)

But you need more than a strong “Why Us” essay to score those easy demonstrated interest points. It’s a holistic factor, and the things colleges look at to assess your interest in them may surprise you. This blog post will show you exactly what to do. 

Schools move up the rankings when more applicants accept their offers;11 tips and tricks for showing Demonstrated Interest as you apply;How to write a strong “Why this school” essay
Schools move up the rankings when more applicants accept their offers;11 tips and tricks for showing Demonstrated Interest as you apply;How to write a strong “Why this school” essay

Demonstrated interest is admissions-speak for “Will this applicant likely enroll if we offer them a spot?” To some colleges, this is an important admissions factor. To others, they don't care or look for this. Let's dive into the why and how of demonstrated interest.

Schools move up the rankings when more applicants accept their offers

Colleges really, really care about offering admission to students who want to enroll. That’s because “yield” is a critical factor in the influential college rankings of U.S. News and World Report. Yield is the percentage of accepted students who actually enroll. It shows which schools students prefer over others (i.e.: what school does a student choose when they have competing offers?). 

Moving down in the rankings can lead to a death spiral. Research shows that, as a school goes down, their yield decreases. They then need to give more tuition aid to entice students to attend. In other words, lower yield lowers rankings ... which lowers yield. And a lowered yield costs a school money. 

Bottom line: a college’s ranking = money. For many schools, this is serious stuff.

True, the Harvards and MITs of the world have such high yields that they don’t care. Applicants always prefer them. 

But many excellent schools just below that tippy top echelon do care. Examples include prestigious places like Tulane, Cooper Union and Kenyon, which all compete for students with Stanford and the Ivys. 

For schools that care, they often give “demonstrated interest” the same weight as they do to counselor recommendations and essays — a lot. (That’s more than they give to extracurriculars, class rank, and teacher recommendations.) Unfortunately, this system skews who gets admitted. Students who seem likely to attend get a boost; others who seem unlikely get denied. Ultimately, it’s a trap for the unwary — students can get rejected by their top-choice school simply because they didn’t know how to “demonstrate” their “interest.” 

Here’s our 2-part strategy for avoiding this trap, and getting an application boost:

  1. Follow our 11 tips and tricks below for showing demonstrated interest +
  2. Write a strong “Why this School” essay if the school has one.

11 tips and tricks for how to show demonstrated interest as you apply

Don’t look now but … they’re tracking you

Schools use CRMs (customer relationship management tools) in which they populate every interaction you have with them. What schools track may differ, but they’re becoming increasingly similar and sophisticated. 

For example, a 2017 study found students with the highest SAT scores raised their admission chances the most from visiting campus. This suggests colleges are less likely to accept students if they think they’re that student’s “safety school.” 

Once you know you’re being tracked, you’ve got a huge advantage! For schools that do care about demonstrated interest, here are 11 tips and tricks that will help you check that box:

Tip #1: Make sure their website cookies do track you. Give them your email address somehow when visiting their site. You can do this by:

  • requesting information from the school,
  • clicking on a link to the website from an email they’ve sent you, or
  • creating an account for a college’s website, if it’s an option.

In addition, make sure you visit the college’s website at least a few times before you apply — and always from the same computer, tablet or phone (the college must know it’s you). Poke around the website; investigate stuff you’re interested in. You will do this deeply if you write a Why Us essay, but just know that diving into a college’s academic offerings is a great way to show interest. 

Tip #2: Start your application early — once you add the school on the Common App, they can start connecting with you (and tracking you). You don’t need to complete or enter any information on your actual application for this to start helping you. 

Tip #3: Attend events put on by the school + follow them on social media. Be sure to use your same email address, so they can track you easily. It goes without saying that if the school visits your high school in person, you should show up. 

Tip #4: If possible, visit the school in person. Take the official tour so the college has a record of you. If it’s financially or otherwise out of reach, attend a virtual tour. The 2017 study showed that visiting both in-person and virtually gave a boost to those students’ admission chances (though less so for virtual). 

Tip #5: Open all emails from the school quickly. And click on the links. Yes, they can track your opens. When you open the email the same day you got it, you show more interest. Also yes, they can track your clicks. While you’re at it, you might as well read the material. It can be quite helpful, especially for your all-important Why Us essay (more on that below). 

Tip #6: Attend summer programs put on by the school. You may not have the means or time to attend a summer program, but it can be a helpful connection to a college and a reason for applying.

Tip #7: Get to know your region’s admissions officer. Make sure they know you really want to go there. If it’s your top choice, say so. If your admission officer has got to know you, they’ll be able to put in a personal good word for you, which can help significantly when the school reviews your application. 

Tip #8: Tell your recommender you love that school. If your recommender is sending a letter to an individual school, you should let them know you're excited about it. Don’t be afraid to tell them that they can include a word on that in their letter. You can even include a blurb on this in your outline for your recommender.

Tip #9: Tell your counselor you love that school. Similarly, let your counselor know which school(s) you care about most in case they're in communication with those schools.

Tip #10: Be enthusiastic in interviews. This is true for any interview, but particularly so if the school considers demonstrated interest. Sell your interviewer on the fact that you’d love to enroll.

Tip #11: Write a great Why Us essay. Students tend to write poor Why Us essays because they don’t do their research. But with our comprehensive guidance, you’re going to do an excellent job here. If the college is your top choice, make that clear and explain your reasoning. 

Finally, applying early decision, which is binding, is a strong way to show demonstrated interest. But weigh this decision carefully. This decision has a lot of serious implications, financially and in terms of how it limits your choices. 

This may all seem like a lot. Don’t let it stress you out. Ultimately, we’ve shared a secret that can only help you. If you feel you need even more help, the best way is to have us read over your essays and give you direct feedback. Take a look at our process, and decide if it would work for you. 

Brad Schiller
Brad Schiller graduated from MIT with a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Management Science with a concentration in Operations Research. He has worked in business consulting with McKinsey, founded two businesses, and written a book. He started Prompt with two fellow MIT people, Jordan and John, to make people better writers. Their premise was simple: give everyone access to on-demand feedback on their writing from subject-knowledgeable Writing Coaches. Years later, Prompt is the largest provider of feedback on admissions essays in the world. Come and join us on our journey by emailing