What is demonstrated interest? How do I show it? Why should I care?

college admissions

Colleges increasingly rely on calculations of a student’s “demonstrated interest” (or "DI") to make decisions about admission and offers for various merit scholarships. It is important that students and families have a true understanding of DI to see how it can support an application.

What is demonstrated interest?

Demonstrated interest is the college’s calculated formula to determine how likely you are to attend the college if given an offer of admission. It is often an actual calculation based on a number of factors that helps an admissions office to decide if you are truly interested in a school, or just applying because you felt like you “had to.”

How do I show demonstrated interest? Here are five things you can do:

1. Open the emails, read them, and reply to the texts!

There is a hidden “read receipt” on each email you are sent by the college. It tracks whether or not you open the email and how long you keep the email open (if you read it!). Deleting the emails (or opening them for only a few seconds and then deleting them) is an easy way to show the college you do not care. If the admissions office texts you with a fun fact about the school or an update, write them back. Your response does not need to be detailed but a simple “That’s great!” or “I’m happy to know that!” will suffice.


2. Take the virtual tour and attend an information session

The school will check your engagement with the programs they offer. If you simply drive around campus one Sunday afternoon and don’t let them know you were there, they cannot know you visited. Make sure that you engage in the ways they provide (virtual tours, info sessions) so they can mark your attendance.

3. Go to the virtual visit at your high school

Admissions reps will visit high schools (these days via zoom) in the fall. Attending the information session and filling out the accompanying information card is another way to track your interest in the school. If you apply to a college where the rep has visited your high school and you did not attend the visit, they will think that you are not that interested. [Important side note: If you have a test or important lab during the visit, that should take priority. However, you can either drop by the visit and say, “I”m really interested in College X but I have to go to class…..” or ask your Guidance/College Counselor to do this for you. It is never bad to focus on your academics, just be sure they know why you can’t stay for the session!]

4. Write an excellent “Why X College?” supplement

Many schools have a supplemental essay question that asks “Why our school?” This is your opportunity to show your interest/engagement with the school and demonstrate why it is such a great fit for you! Be sure it is not just a “why liberal arts college” or a “why school in the South” essay, but an essay that references specific programs and aspects of that school.

5. Follow up

Be sure to follow up on any engagements you have with the admissions office. If you have an alumni interview, write a thank you note or email that is specific and timely. If you have a question about the school or the program, email your school’s rep and ask! Don’t go out of your way to generate questions to feign interest, but follow up on engagements with all genuine questions and thoughts.

6. One more thing to be aware of!

Some schools will say that a way to demonstrate interest is to apply Early Action or Decision, but that is not always feasible or financially wise. Do not apply early with a rushed application simply to demonstrate your engagement!

Why should you care?

Your DI can be the difference between a “waitlist” and an “admit” decision, or the difference between the offer of admission and the offer of admission plus a merit scholarship. Schools are ranked in the US on their YIELD, or how many students to whom they offer admission actually attend the school, and they do not want to “waste” an admit on a student who is unlikely to actually attend. This is why you might be waitlisted at a school where your academic credentials are in the highest tier of students - the school assumes that they are your “backup” plan, and they don’t want to offer you admission unless they believe there is a legitimate chance you will attend.

Some schools are very transparent about their use of DI in the admissions process, others are a little more cagey. You can always ask an admissions rep if the school uses DI to determine offers of admission, just be wary that you might not be getting the full answer. When in doubt, assume demonstrated interest matters (a lot!) and act accordingly.

Elise holds a BA in Political Philosophy from Williams College and an MEd in Administration & Social Policy from Harvard. She has spent the past twenty years working in top-tier independent schools.

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