Disruption in admissions: demonstrated interest gains importance

This month, Altus Assessments is looking at disruption in admissions. As more and more institutions are moving to a holistic approach, many new factors are playing a key role in how admissions professionals assess applicants. But, how are institutions approaching holistic admissions processes, and where is there still work to be done? This series looks at letters of intent and personal statements, demonstrated interest, and new laws surrounding admissions that focus on holistic practices to ensure integrity.

This week we discuss one of the biggest disruptions to the admissions process coming from the holistic model: demonstrated interest.

According to a survey from The National Association for College Admission Counseling, 50 percent of admissions teams consider demonstrated interest to have a considerable or moderate importance on the admissions process. At the same time, a recent study claims that demonstrated interest is a tool for wealthy students to get an edge in the admissions process. So, with a new focus on demonstrated interest, is this disruption hurting disadvantaged students, or a new tool all students with vested interest can use to get accepted?

The good news is, demonstrated interest is not an option that only wealthy applicants can access. A variety of strategies and methods exist to show interest and offer opportunities for all applicants. We look at the different ways applicants can show demonstrated interest, and how students without the financial means can still benefit from the process.

Why demonstrate interest?

There are a few different reasons admissions teams care about demonstrated interest. The first, and probably largest factor is yield rates.

Admissions teams are not just concerned with making sure the right students are accepted, they also want to know that the students they accept will attend their institution. Since applicants are applying to more schools than ever before, to hedge their bets and get accepted somewhere, they also tend to receive multiple acceptance letters. Then, they will choose which of the institutions they want to attend. This, of course, negatively affects yield rates.

This problem is not unique to undergraduate programs. Graduate programs, as they become more competitive, are finding it harder to maintain high yield rates and keep their classes full. Recently, medical schools in the US had to change their admissions process to deal with the growing trend of last minute changes. Applicants to medical schools would often wait until as late as possible, sometimes even after the semester had started, to select which school they would attend. This left some seats empty in the program, and waitlist students with nowhere to go.

A focus on demonstrated interest gives admissions teams the insights to figure out if an applicant will enroll.

Demonstrated interest can also give admissions teams insights into an applicant’s future success in the program. If an applicant is truly interested, there is a high chance they are prepared for the course work and will take the initiative needed to succeed.

Tulane University’s Director of Admissions, Jeff Schiffman, put it this way: “We use demonstrated interest as one tool in the application review to get a better sense of a student’s likelihood of enrolling at Tulane, their ability to graduate from Tulane and to get a sense if they ultimately will be happy here.”

How can I demonstrate interest, and can I afford it?

Going back to disruptions in admissions, the holistic process is very focused on leveling the playing field. Giving all applicants a fair review is important for both undergraduate and graduate programs. So, saying that demonstrated interest is a tool for the wealthy to get an edge is just untrue. Demonstrated interest comes in many forms, so applicants can adjust their strategies to fit their budget and time. Below are the different ways to demonstrate interest to help applicants form their strategy.

Visiting a campus

Studies that claim demonstrated interest is a tool for the rich, often rely on the price of campus visits. Which is a completely valid point. If an applicant is thinking of attending an institution far from their home, or current institution, the price of flights and accommodations can quickly add-up.

Back to disruption, again, thanks in part to institutions recognizing the high costs of visits, and new VR tools, applicants can now visit hundreds of institutions virtually. And, since these virtual tours often require some form of registration, institutions can track this as a type of demonstrated interest.

It’s a great way to save on costs, but still show you are interested and dedicated to attending an institution.

Even if the do not have a VR option, no institution will discriminate simply because an applicant does not have the funds to visit a college. If an applicant is applying to a school in Vancouver, but they live in New Brunswick, the institution understands that a visit is probably not possible.

Following a college or university on social media

In a data-driven world, almost every interaction an applicant has with an institution is measurable. Institutions and admissions teams spend a lot of time and energy on developing their social media content and interacting with that content is a great way for applicants to demonstrate interest.

On the strategy side, applicants can gain insights on the institution by following their social media presence, and using this information to guide their decision. Understanding how a program presents itself on social media, or through blog posts, can help an applicant know if the program is the right fit for them.

On the disruption side, applicants have never been able to interact, and create an online dialogue, like this before. Not only can applicants follow a University’s multiple social media channels, they can also interact with this content by making comments, sharing interesting posts, and contributing to the social conversation in a variety of ways.

Larger institutions sometimes look at these interactions and get insights on your interest. Plus, some institutions have multiple social media platforms related to academic departments, clubs, or athletics. This gives applicants the option to follow a variety of accounts from the same institution, to show true interest and learn more about a specific program.

Apply early

While it’s perfectly normal to apply to “safety schools”, or to send out numerous applications, applicants should always prioritize and apply early to the institutions they really want to attend.

While the perfect application can take time to craft, admissions teams do consider early application a sign of demonstrated interest. An early application is a signal to admissions teams that an applicant is serious about attending.

But, disruption has had an impact on early application as well. While early application used to be one of the major factors in determining demonstrated interest, it’s now just one of many considerations. So, there is no need for applicants to worry if they are closer to the deadline, but really want to attend, because there are other ways to show seriousness.

Join the mailing list and open emails

Most applicants are unaware that admissions teams look at click rates when it comes to emails. While joining the mailing list is a great way to show interest, an applicant who never opens an institutions emails is clearly not invested.

This is especially important at the higher education and postgraduate level. Every correspondence from an admissions team or institution is important at this level, at least for them. So, applicant’s need to make sure to check, and open, any emails the institution sends.

Correspond with college admissions representative

Finally, the one area of demonstrated interest that has seen little disruption. Visiting admissions fairs, or emailing admissions representatives, and asking questions that show engagement is a great way to show demonstrated interest.

Applicants should try to create a relationship by asking questions and letting the admissions representative gather insights from conversations and correspondence. Also, applicants should remember to respond to any email or correspondence from an admissions representative to show that their demonstrated interest is ongoing.

Admissions officers are concerned with their yield rates, and making sure applicants are the right fit to succeed in their institution. And, while an applicant may not be able to accomplish all the goals and tasks listed above, developing a strategy for showing demonstrated interest is a powerful tool to help give them an edge in a holistic process.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash