Submitted College Planning Question of the Week: Does “Demonstrated Interest” Matter?- by Justin M. Buffer, Cambridge Owner and Professional College Planner

Is “Demonstrated Interest” a significant factor in admissions? 

Dear Mr. Buffer:

  “  I was at a lunch recently and one of the parents was asking another parent about “demonstrated Interest.”  I was worried because during our initial meeting I told you my son wants to go to Cornell or John Hopkins, and some others prestigious schools.  Is this something we should worry about?  Should we be showing these and other colleges we are “interested” to increase my son’s chances of admissions? “


  This is a good question and one that I frequently get. Let me say first that “demonstrated interest” is something that is often very misunderstood and a concept, I have found, that many families unfortunately and needlessly worry about. Let me try in my answer here to allay your worries and give you a more clear and more panoramic picture of what “demonstrated interest” actually is and how it applies to the college application process. 

      Demonstrated interest is a term used to describe a student’s level of effort and interest toward a particular college or university. It is a factor that some- but not all – schools consider when making their admission decisions and reflects a student’s genuine enthusiasm for enrolling. Some examples of ways that colleges assess demonstrated interest include visiting the campus, attending events or informational sessions, communicating with the admissions office, participating in campus tours, and expressing interest in specific academic programs or extracurricular activities, as well as interacting with the university via social media or email. This can also be done through a student’s supplemental essay for the particular university by providing specific and unique reasons why they are interested in attending the college.


      The first thing to understand – and I hope this immediately gives you some calm- is that the vast majority of schools do not take demonstrated interest into account. Additionally, the ones that do are not the most prestigious schools. You can see the list on our website here. 


  This is not to say that the schools that do look at demonstrated interest are not reputable universities, but they are not the most academically competitive. So, now that we understand this, the next thing to understand is the simple reason why some universities look at demonstrated interest: they don’t like students whom they admit rejecting their offer!   Universities get rated, ranked, and perceived based on how many of the applicants they admit accept their offer. Thus, smaller, less selective schools may use demonstrated interest as a way to predict students’ enrollment, as the number of enrolled students directly affects their budget and resources (some colleges have recently closed their doors due to low enrollment). So, if these colleges that do take “demonstrated interest” into account can predict which students are more likely to accept an offer of admission, they can make more accurate projections and allocate resources accordingly.


   Selective colleges and universities, on the other hand, do not have this problem because they generally have a large enough pool of highly qualified applicants and can afford to admit students based solely on academic merit and other factors without considering demonstrated interest. These institutions, such as the ones you asked about- Cornell, Harvard, John Hopkins- often receive many more applications than they have available spots and have much more stringent admission criteria, such as high test scores, grades, and a rigorous course load.


So, if a student finds that one of the colleges they are interested in from the list provided is one that takes demonstrated interest into account they should, by all means, take steps to show the university they are interested in. By showing interest in the college through various actions, such as visiting the campus or communicating with the admissions staff, a student signals to the college that they are serious about attending if admitted.


      But, as I said above, for the schools that our students at Cambridge and locally apply to, “demonstrated interest” will not be a factor, and admissions officers that I have spoken to at very prominent schools have consistently told me they know driven students are very busy and have a lot on their plate. They are not measuring applicants’ interest in accepting their offers, as they know they will have many students whom will have to put on a waiting list.   


     I hope this alleviates your concerns and worries, and I will explain all of this soon more in depth during out college planning meetings.