A recent articlein the Wall Street Journalreiterated what many of us already know to be true—colleges and universities commonly track what prospective students are up to online. But the article shed light on a specific practice that fewer of us were previously aware of. In the age of the internet and big data, schools are using online activity to help determine a candidate’s demonstrated interest, a term that encapsulates how frequently and substantially a prospective student has engaged with a school, whether through on or off-campus info sessions and interviews.

As the article describes, it turns out schools in 2019 now have another way to gauge how interested a candidate might be in their institution. From opening an email to clicking on a webpage, students are interacting with colleges online throughout the application process, and the schools are taking note with astonishing precision. Received an email from a school asking if you’d like to schedule an interview? They may be logging how quickly you open the email and how long it takes you to reply. This information can then be used to make an educated guess on how enthusiastic you are about a particular school—which, as you should know, matters a great deal to the vast majority of colleges. Every school—even the most selective—cares about their yield, i.e. the percentage of admitted students who enroll, and a candidate who has demonstrated interest is more likely to do just that.

There isn’t much you can do to change the fact that your online activity is likely being monitored. But you canuse it to your advantage. Make sure to use an email account that you check regularly in all of your communications with prospective colleges. It’s a good idea to check your email at least once every 24 hours. And you probably need to do this anyway when writing supplemental essays, but it wouldn’t hurt to click around on your schools’ webpages, too just for good measure.

Our final and most important note really goes without saying—alwayspromptly accept an invitation to interview with a prospective college. Even if it’s optional and you’re really busy or you think you always bomb interviews or you just don’t feel like it, take the interview. Alternatively, you might send the message that you either are not super invested in a particular school or lack the requisite social graces to succeed in a university setting (not to mention in life more generally).

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