Every college has requirements in order to apply. You'll need to submit your grades from high school and probably letters of recommendation, too. You may have to send standardized test scores and write at least one essay.
But there are more things you can do to improve your chance of getting into your top-choice school that aren't captured on your formal college application. A lot of them fall into a category called "demonstrated interest," a tool used by many — but not all — schools to try to predict how likely it is that a student they admit will enroll at their college.
To understand what this concept is all about, it helps to think of things from the college admissions officer's perspective.
College admissions is a balancing act. Schools have a certain number of openings that they want to fill each year. If they admit too many applicants that they don't have space for, that's a problem; too few and they won't fill their enrollment goal.
Basically, the goal for most colleges is to admit as few students as possible (keeping their acceptance rate low and "prestige" high), while maximizing the odds that the students they do admit will say "yes."
To paraphrase that old song by Cheap Trick, colleges "want you to want them."
But how do colleges know which applicants really want them, and who has them much lower on their college list?
Colleges can't read your mind, but they can guess your motivations by the things that you do. Many colleges keep track of the actions that you take to interact with them, especially the ones that you initiate. When it's time to decide who gets in and who doesn't, colleges will often look at those actions to inform their decision, especially when it comes to applicants on the bubble of getting in. The sum of all the actions that you've taken is referred to as your demonstrated interest in the school.
Read on to learn more about why demonstrated interest matters and what to do — and what not to do — to show demonstrated interest.
Listen To Our Podcast Episode About Demonstrated Interest
In this episode of College Admissions Insider, we'll explore this important concept in detail. Our guest is Lisa Keegan, Bucknell's vice president for enrollment management.
Does Demonstrated Interest Matter, and How Important Is It for Getting in?
It really depends on the school, but it's a significant factor for many.
In a 2019 report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, around 16% of colleges said demonstrated interest was of "considerable importance" in determining who gets in, while around 24% said it was of "moderate importance." That adds up to mean it's a pretty important factor for around 40% of college admissions offices. Less than 1 in 3 schools said it played no role at all.
According to the same report, most colleges consider demonstrated interest a secondary or "moderately important" factor in their decision. It isn't as important as your grades, how challenging the courses you take in high school are or, for schools that require them, your standardized test scores. But it could be as important as your college essays, letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities. Like all of those things, demonstrated interest is another way colleges can get a sense of who you really are — in this case, how interested you are in them.
If your grades are well below a college's normal range for admitted students, then, sadly, attending every information session and peppering admissions counselors with questions probably won't help much. But if you would be a good candidate for them, and especially if the school is competitive, then proving how interested you are could give you an edge over another candidate who looks similar on paper but didn't take those extra steps to show the college that they're interested.
Really, there's no downside to demonstrating interest beyond a slightly more cluttered email inbox. We'll share more about that later, but first, let's look at how to demonstrate interest in a school.
How Do I Express Demonstrated Interest? How Can Colleges Know I’m Interested in Them?
Demonstrated interest is more about what you do than what you say, and creating a record of the steps that you take. Below are some of the best ways you can show colleges that you're interested in them.
- Apply Early Decision or Early Action. This is a great way to demonstrate interest in your top school, because you're indicating a deeper interest in attending if accepted. (Learn more about Early Decision and Early Action in our podcast guide.)
- Visit and take the official college tour. This is the second-best way to show you're interested, after applying Early Decision or Early Action. (For some suggestions on what to ask while you're on campus, look here.)
- Sign up for online events, like virtual visits or webinars. If you're far from a campus and it's not easy to visit, taking part in a one-hour online event is another way to show you're interested. It's right up there with visiting in terms of how much weight colleges will give it, because schools understand that not everyone will be able to visit in person.
- Look for experiences on their website like virtual tours or customized viewbooks. If these experiences ask you to provide your name and email address, then someone in the admissions office may be keeping track of who's signing up. As long as you use the same email, name and birthday when you apply, then it's likely the admissions officer will see that you signed up for those experiences when they review your application.
- Sign up for their mailing list, and don't unsubscribe unless you're sure you won't be applying there. (You can join Bucknell's mailing list by filling out the form here.)
- When you get admissions emails, open them and click a link now and again. Colleges may be tracking how you interact with their emails, and clicking a link within shows them you were interested enough to take that next step.
- While Bucknell doesn't offer interviews, many institutions do. Because these interviews are often optional, signing up for one is a great way to show you're interested.
- Interact with them at college fairs or events in your community. Just make sure you sign in when you do so; otherwise they won't know you were there. Even if you had a memorable interaction, the person you met at that college fair might not be the one who reviews your application. Documentation is important.
What probably won't help:
- Following or posting about them on social media. Following a college's official accounts is a great way to learn more about who they are, but most of the time they aren't looking at who's following them, and they likely aren't going to look at your online profiles when you apply. Following a school you're interested in is still a great idea, but don't expect it to make a difference in your application. (Learn more about the role of social media in applying to colleges in our podcast.)
- Plastering admissions officers with repeated emails and calls. If you have a genuine question about a school or its admissions policies, you absolutely should contact the admissions office, and a few calls or emails might also show them that you're interested. But constantly checking in isn't going to score you extra points.
- Anything that the college can't document (see below).
What Not to Do
There's no way around it: Colleges send a lot of mail. You might have started getting flyers, brochures and letters as early as your first year of high school, and the pile has only kept growing. A free sticker now and then is cool and all, but you might be hesitant to volunteer for more, especially when you're just starting out exploring a school and aren't sure you're that into them yet.
You might be hesitant to give away your address, phone number, email and birthday to a school you're just getting to know, especially knowing they're going to keep track of it all. You might be tempted to just … fake it.
You may want to use a made-up name or temporary email address to try out that virtual tour — or to skip signing in at a school's table at a college fair, even if you had a nice talk with the admissions counselor there and took a keychain on your way out.
Don't. If you don't use your real credentials, colleges will have no idea it was you who did those things when it comes time to apply. And you'll be missing out on whatever credit they might give you for taking those actions.
If you don't want all those marketing emails cluttering your inbox, the best thing to do is to create a new email address at the start of your college search. Use that email whenever you sign up to be on a college's mailing list or sign in for a campus tour or information session. And when you apply to colleges, make sure you use the same email address on your application. That way there will be no doubt that you were the one who skipped hanging out with your friends to attend that Friday evening info session or spent all Saturday driving to and from their campus, and you'll get the credit you're due for doing those things.
You should also avoid what admissions counselors call "stealth" visits, when prospective students visit a school but don't do the official tour or sign in at the admissions office.
There's nothing wrong with visiting a friend at their college for the weekend — it's a great way to find out whether you'd enjoy being a student there. But take the hour to do the official tour, too, or if you really don't have time, at least stop by the admissions office to pick up information and see if they have a self-guided option, and sign in while you're there.
Besides applying Early Decision or Early Action, visiting is the No. 1 way to show a college you're interested in them, but they'll never know you were there if you don't document it.
What About Schools That Don’t Factor in Demonstrated Interest?
Some schools don't document demonstrated interest or factor in things like visits, email clicks or college fair conversations when deciding whether to admit you.
But there are still ways to use these actions to boost your chances. When you visit a school, take careful notes about the visit, including specific details about people you met or things that stood out to you. Then include these details in your application — either in the supplemental essay or when answering why you are interested in attending that school.
This way, you're demonstrating interest and proving that you took the time to visit the campus — even if the school wasn't formally tracking that action.
The Big Reason You Should Show Demonstrated Interest in Your Top Colleges
There's also a more important reason for you to show demonstrated interest in colleges: You're going to be spending the next four years of your life there, and probably a lot of money too. All of the things you do to demonstrate interest — touring the campus in person and virtually, talking to people in the admissions office, signing up for their emails and marketing swag — help you learn more about the schools on your list. And you want to learn as much as you can to help you decide which colleges are the best fit for you.
If you want to learn more about Bucknell, start by checking out our Virtual Welcome Center, where you'll find all of the information you can pick up in our admissions lobby as well as links to unique ways to explore Bucknell, like our one-of-a-kind Virtual Reality Experience and a video version of our on-campus preview session.
Click here to request information and here to schedule a visit to campus.