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  • Writer's pictureJenny Deren

9 Ways to Demonstrate Interest in Your Top-Choice Colleges (and Why It Matters)

Questions I often get from high school students and parents include


Do I have to register with the admission office for a college tour?

Can’t I just walk around on my own? 

Should I sign up for an admission interview?


Yes, you should interview! And yes, you should register -- even though, yes, you could just walk around on your own!


Why? Because many college admission offices track demonstrated interest, or DI, to gauge how likely applicants are to enroll if they are admitted. Registering for a campus tour and signing up for an interview are two excellent ways to demonstrate your interest and maximize your chance of admission.


What is demonstrated interest, and why does it matter?

In college admissions, demonstrated interest is the amount of interaction an applicant has had with the school to which they’re applying – and the level of interest in the school that their interactions demonstrate.


Admission officers care about demonstrated interest because they want to admit students who are likely to enroll in their college. This helps them meet their enrollment targets. It also protects their yield, which is the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll, and which affects the school’s ranking by services like the U.S. News and World Report. 


Think about this way: You’re trying to decide between College A and University of B. You know that last year, one in 10 students admitted to College A chose to enroll. For University of B, nine out of 10 decided to enroll. Even if you have good reasons for choosing A over B, this statistic will likely give you pause. (Why aren’t others enrolling at A? What’s wrong with A that causes 90% of admitted students to go elsewhere? B must be better because nearly everyone who gets in goes there.


Higher yield rates are better for rankings and reputations. So, admission officers try to admit students who are serious about their school, and tracking demonstrated interest helps them identify those students.


Do all colleges track demonstrated interest?

No. And this is important to consider before you embark on a time-consuming campaign to show schools how much you love them. However, as I suggest below, there are good reasons why you might consider demonstrating interest anyway.


As you are finalizing the list of schools to which you will apply, do some quick research to determine how much each school cares about your level of interest. You can try a Google search (“Does University of B track demonstrated interest?”), but keep in mind that admission office policies and procedures can quickly become outdated in news and blog articles. 


You can find the most recent policies on applicant interest in the school’s Common Data Set (CDS), which is publicly available information about their admission, enrollment, retention, and financial aid data, and more. Colleges and universities generally publish a CDS annually, and these are typically found on their websites. But to find the most recent CDS quickly, try Googling the following: School Name + Common Data Set + Current Year (for example, “Ohio University Common Data Set 2024”). In section C of the most recent CDS you can find, look for item 7, in which the school indicates how much they value the “level of applicant’s interest” (and other things) on a scale of Very Important, Important, Considered, or Not Considered. 


Here is C7 in the most recent CDS for American University in Washington, DC, at which applicant interest is marked as Very Important:


Example of CDS showing level of applicant's interest

Colleges at which interest is “Very Important” are likely keeping track of whether and how you interact with them. Colleges at which interest is “Not Considered” are likely not tracking demonstrated interest. For colleges at which interest is “Important” or “Considered,” it’s not clear how much and what kind of interactions are valued, and whether or how those interactions are tracked or assessed. But if you want to play it safe, then you might consider connecting in at least some of the ways suggested below.    


Ultimately, regardless of whether College A or University of B finds demonstrated interest Very Important or doesn’t consider it at all, it’s worth exploring college options about which you’re serious in a variety of ways. Not only will you learn more about whether the school is a good fit for you academically, socially, and financially (and any other way that matters to you!). You will also gain tons of useful information that you can draw on when writing application essays that ask you why you’re applying, why you want to study your intended major at this particular school, or what you’re looking forward to doing on campus. (Yes, that means you should take notes while you demonstrate your interest!)


9 Ways to Demonstrate Interest in Colleges

The good news is that demonstrating interest overlaps in pretty intuitive ways with doing really thorough college research. If you’re digging deep to find out whether College A or University of B is a great fit for you, then you’re probably demonstrating some interest already.


If you know that College A (or University of B) tracks demonstrated interest, and you want them to know that you really, really, REALLY love their school, here are some suggestions for showing them how much you care.


Subscribe to the college’s mailing list.

To do this, go to the school’s admission office web page and look for a button to “Request Information.” Requesting info will look different for different schools. For example, for Bowdoin College in Maine (where interest is “Considered”), you’ll fill out a form, whereas for American University, you’ll create a prospective student account. But regardless of how you’re subscribing, the purpose of doing so is the same: to let them know that you’re interested, so they can send you more information. 


When you subscribe to the mailing list, the college will ask you for your name, location, email address, and other contact or background information, and possibly about what you are interested in studying or getting involved in on campus. Signing up for emails may clog your inbox for the next little bit, but remember that you can unsubscribe when the admission process is over. And the beauty of answering a few questions in the “Request Info” form is that the emails you receive are likely to be tailored to the intended areas of study or extracurricular interests that you indicated (in other words, they’ll be doing some of your school research for you ;).


Open emails and click on links.

Sure, these are likely mass (e)mailings, but opens and clicks are trackable. Plus, you might find valuable information that will help you with your supplemental essays or announcements about prospective student programming that you may not have seen otherwise.


Meet admission representatives at college fairs or rep visits to your high school.

At many colleges, admission officers are assigned to specific geographic regions. Often, they both recruit students from those regions and review the applications submitted by students from those geographic areas. This means that the admission officer who is likely to evaluate your application may also turn up at local recruiting events, such as college fairs, or even at your high school on a visit coordinated by your high school counselor. 


Ask your school counselor for a schedule of admission rep visits, and sign up to meet reps from schools you’re interested in. Or, attend college fairs that include schools of interest, and spend a few minutes visiting those schools’ booths or tables. Say “hi” to the admission rep, ask questions, make conversation, and fill out an interest form if they offer you one. Your regional admission rep will know you before you apply, and they’ll remember you for your consistent and genuine interest in their school.


Register for (and attend) an information session, campus tour, and/or other prospective student program.

Ideally, you will do this in person, but if traveling is not an option, then many schools offer virtual versions of their on-campus info sessions and tours. Either way, signing up through the admission office demonstrates your interest in a tangible (and trackable) way. You can register by going to the admission office web page and following links to “Visit” or “Plan Your Visit.” 


If you’d like to visit over your high school spring break, it’s worth planning ahead, as sessions and tours do fill up! (If you find that the session or tour you wanted is full, it doesn’t hurt to pick up the phone or send an email to ask if you can be added on, especially if the school is not local and you’re unlikely to be in that area again; see below for more on how to contact an admission rep). 


In addition to information sessions and tours, many colleges and universities also offer more specialized admissions programming, such as webinars, Open Houses, Senior Visit Days, and faculty meet-and-greets. These are great ways to learn more about how the school can help you work toward your specific academic or extracurricular goals – and to demonstrate more interest in the school.


Email your admission rep and ask a question.

First, make sure your question is not something that can be easily found in informational emails or on the school or admission office web page. Then, look for your regional admission rep online, and write up a polite, respectful, and grammatical email that voices your question. Not all colleges post admission rep contact information online, so don’t worry if you can find it. It’s ok to email a general address, such as “admissions@collegename.edu.” But many schools do post individual reps’ email addresses or phone numbers. For example, Michigan State University, for which interest is “Important,” enables you to search for your rep by high school name or by homeschool association. 


If you’ve already met your regional rep at your school or at a college fair (see above), you might have their contact information already! In this case, consider reaching out just to say “thank you” or “nice talking to you.” 


Not sure what else to say, or what you can ask? Think about your specific interests at that school: academic, extracurricular, or social. You could ask about the existence of student organizations or academic programs that you’re having trouble finding online. For example, a student I worked with recently was hoping for an on-campus, student-run cultural dance troupe at her future college so she could feel more “at home” and continue exploring her cultural identity with like-minded peers. These were sometimes hard to locate on college webpages, so she reached out and asked about them. 


If your question feels too specific for an admission rep, ask whether the rep can put you in touch with a current or recently graduated student or a faculty member who might be willing to speak with a prospective student like you.


Follow one or more of the school’s social media pages.

Consider “liking” or sharing posts that resonate with you. This will help you track down information that you might want to include in supplemental essays – with the added benefit of potentially gaining you visibility with the admission folks. (Don’t forget to make sure there isn’t anything on your social media pages that you wouldn’t want the admission office to see!)


Request or sign up for an admission interview.

It doesn't matter if you interview with a current student, an admission officer, or an alum, or whether the interview is informational or evaluative (more on interviews here). What matters when you interview is that you are making an effort to connect and to learn more about your future college or university. Essentially, interviews are conversations about the school and its representatives, and if you’re really, really interested in going to that school, why wouldn’t you want to talk to someone who is deeply knowledgeable about it? 


Perhaps more importantly, if the admission office contacts you for an interview, do not ignore their request, especially if the request is clearly individual and personalized. This happened to me when I was a volunteer interviewer for my alma mater, and you bet I let the admission office know that – after several attempts to reach the applicant by email and by phone – I never heard from her. If you have a good reason for turning down the interview (and there are sometimes good reasons), then by all means, politely say “thank you” and turn it down. But nothing says “I don’t really care about you” more than an applicant not returning your call.


Apply early!

Most colleges and universities have two or three (or more!) application deadlines from which you can choose. The majority of applicants to any given school apply by the Regular Decision (RD) deadline, which is typically between January 1st and February 1st for most schools. Students who apply RD are usually notified of their admission decisions and financial aid offers in March or April. 


In addition to RD, many schools offer earlier admission plans (with earlier deadlines), which enable students to receive admission and financial aid offers earlier than they would otherwise. Early plans come in many flavors, including Early Decision (both ED1 and ED2), Early Action (EA), Restrictive Early Action (REA), and Rolling (the distinctions and nuances between which are a fitting topic for a future blog article!). These early admission plans are best seen as opportunities for students to do one or more of the following: 


  • Indicate that they are so interested in this college that they agree to attend if admitted. This is true for Early Decision, which is binding in the sense that students are committing to attend and are not permitted to apply to other schools under the ED plan. Applying ED is a very clear indication that this school is your top choice, and some colleges admit the majority of their first-year classes in the ED round. 

  • Secure coveted spots in popular or competitive academic programs at schools that admit directly to majors or that have Honors Colleges. (Such schools often refer to their EA deadlines as “priority” deadlines). 

  • Snag limited scholarship or financial aid money, especially at schools that offer merit-based aid. (Such schools often refer to their EA deadlines as “priority” deadlines for financial aid). 

  • Signal that they’re so interested in attending that they’re applying before most of their peers.


Other advantages to applying early include finishing the application process early and with less stress and – in some cases, for qualified applicants – an increased chance of admission to selective colleges and universities.


Write detailed, robust, and well-researched supplemental essays.

After in-depth college research and everything you’ve learned from the many interactions you’ve had with the schools you’re applying to, writing your essays will be a piece of cake! Many application essay prompts specifically ask “Why are you applying to our college?” or “Why do you want to study your intended major at our university?” or “What are you excited about getting involved in on campus?” Those that don’t ask these specific questions are still looking for an indication of what appeals to you and why you’re a good fit for their school. 


Whether you’re answering the “why this school?” question directly or indirectly, you’ll be able to provide clear, compelling reasons, supported by specific examples based on your experience: the admission office information session or other program you attended, the campus tour you took, the conversation or email exchange you had with the admission rep you met at the college fair, the interview, and the school knowledge you gained from social media and mass mailings. Pulling it all together, your essays will successfully demonstrate your strong interest in attending the colleges to which you’re applying.



Demonstrated interest may not “make or break” your chance of admission, but it will give you an edge over applicants who have not gone out of their way to visit, connect with, and explore the college and its offerings as much as you have. 


This is especially true for colleges that track demonstrated interest, but also for those that don’t. If you’ve engaged with the colleges you’re applying to in some or many of the ways above, your knowledge of, familiarity with, and interest in those schools will be evident throughout your application, from questions about your intended major to your supplemental essays. This means that demonstrating interest will pay off in the ease and confidence with which you complete compelling applications, the lower stress level accompanying a smoother admission process, and enrollment in a college or university that is truly a great fit for you.


If you have questions about demonstrated interest, or about the college planning or application process in general, please reach out and ask!



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