What is Demonstrated Interest?
Simply put, demonstrated interest is something that many colleges and universities use to track a) how much you (prospective student) like their school and, more importantly b) how likely you are to enroll if the school admits you.

Why do schools want to know which students are likely to enroll?
A few reasons:

1. Schools have a target enrollment number, which means that each year they want a certain number of students to enroll. Why? Think about it: if they enroll 200 (or even 20) too many students, they’ve got a problem: where do they put everyone? Similarly, if they enroll 200 (or even 20) too few students, then they’ve got a different problem: 20 or 200 empty dorm beds. And when you multiply that number times that many tuitions, it can add up to a really big reason (or, if you like, millions of reasons) why schools want to try and hit their target enrollment number.

2. Schools want to protect their “yield.” What’s yield, you ask? It’s the percentage of students who decide to enroll at a particular college or university after being accepted. So, for example, if Northwestern offers ten spots to ten students and all of them accept, that’s great for them! That means Northwestern is a great place to be and everyone loves Northwestern yay! But if the school offers ten spots to ten students and only one student accepts, then that’s bad. Why? Because then they seem like that one giraffe at the zoo that none of the other giraffes want to play with. #sadgiraffeemoji Why else is it bad? Because yield is tied to a school’s ranking in US News and World Report, which is a place that some parents and students look when deciding which schools they should apply to. (Here’s a better way to build a college list, bee tea dubs.) Put simply, if their yield gets worse, this can have a negative impact on their rankings.

In short, colleges want to know:

Who really loves us?  

And can you blame them? If you were running a college, wouldn’t you want to know who was not only likely to enroll, but also likely to stay all four years and graduate?

Quick personal anecdote: In college I applied for a job at a Mongolian BBQ restaurant in Evanston, IL and they required me to come to not one, but four interviews. Four interviews! The first interview went great, but I was ten minutes late to the second interview and, when I showed up late, the hiring manager said, “Sorry, we won’t be hiring you.” I asked why and they said, “We just really value punctuality and this shows us you don’t really share that commitment.” And at first I was like, “Daaang,” but then I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.” By showing up late I was basically demonstrating a lack of interest in the job.

That hiring manager was saying what schools are saying: Show us you care. Like, actually care.

Okay, so you may be wondering: How do I do that? I’ll tell you in a sec. First, I want to share…

A Few Ways That Colleges Track Demonstrated Interest (DI)
Note: this info is from a presentation given at a conference in 2015 by a few college admission counselors who track demonstrated interest. If you’re really into this stuff, click here for the presentation, as it shows screenshots from the computers of actual reps showing the details. But here’s what they track:

  • Interaction and inquiry card submission (or scan) at college fairs

  • Campus visit during junior year or summer after junior year

  • Early application

  • Supplemental essay: showing your particular interest in that college and how you have researched that school specifically

  • Speaking with alumni or students who may share information with admission office

  • Campus info session/tour in fall of senior year

  • Interview with admission rep/alum

  • Second visit to campus in senior year

  • Overnight program

  • Contacting admission rep

  • Meeting with faculty on campus or by phone

  • FAFSA form–how student ranks the school on the form (Ethan note: NOT true anymore. This was stopped in early 2015, so ignore this one. Source.)

  • Oh, and you know those 42 questions that you answer when you sign up for the SAT? Some colleges pay for that info too. So those are, y’know, 42 other things they track.

Side note–and you can skip this if you wanna’ get to the practical stuff: At a party last night (yes, actually) I met a business analyst for the development office of a highly selective school (and “development office” folks are those who call alumni asking for donations) and she let me know that student engagement is tracked even while students are on campus and–get this–even after you graduate. Why? Because a student who attends alumni events may be more likely to donate. Fun fact: they even use something called “wealth screening” to find out how much money you might have. Yay for data!