A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reiterated what many of us already know to be true—colleges and universities commonly track what prospective students are up to online. However, the article shed light on a specific practice that few of us were previously aware of. 

What is demonstrated interest?

Many schools use 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. Traditionally students have demonstrated interest through on- or off-campus info sessions and interviews, but in the age of the internet and big data, schools have a new metric for gauging a student’s interest.

How do colleges determine demonstrated interest in the digital age?

As the article describes, it turns out schools now have another way to gauge how interested a candidate might be in their institution in 2019. From opening an email to clicking on a webpage, you’re leaving clues about your intentions 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. College websites also use cookies, meaning they can see how long you spent on their website as well as track which website you went to after theirs. If you spent two minutes on Harvard’s page then hopped over to Yale’s, Harvard might wonder how truly invested you are in their university. This isn’t anything worth obsessing over; it isn’t going to make or break your chances of getting into your dream school. However, it’s helpful to conduct your college research mindfully. 

Why does demonstrated interest matter?

Colleges then use this information to make an educated guess on how enthusiastic you are about a particular school which matters a great deal to the vast majority of colleges. Every school—even the most selective—cares about their yield rate, i.e. the percentage of admitted students who enroll. It’s similar to why you probably follow Instagram accounts you think will follow you back—it’s all about the ratio, or, in this case, the yield rate. If you demonstrate significant interest, they’ll expect that you’re likely to enroll.

How do I increase my chances of college admission by demonstrating interest?

There isn’t much you can do to change the fact that your online activity is likely being monitored. But you can use 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. Make an account on the school’s website or sign up for a mailing list if they have one. Any way you engage with a school via their website will help show them that you’re committed. That being said, you don’t have to engage only with schools you’re 100% committed to. Demonstrate interest in your match and safety schools so that you set yourself apart even further from the other applicants.

Our final and most important note really goes without saying—always promptly 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).

P.S. Even though colleges take advantage of the internet to confirm your level of demonstrated interest, you shouldn’t worry about them googling or insta-stalking you. According to our sources, colleges will only google you if they see something incredulous on your application that they want to confirm through further research.

You may also like

What do I do if I get waitlisted?

How do I choose a college?