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Demonstrating Interest

By Robert LeVine

Beyond an applicant’s resume of academics and activities, the most important factor in college admissions is the ability to present oneself clearly to the admissions representatives. However, the second most-important factor is demonstrating real interest in a college.

College admissions is competitive for applicants, but it is also competitive for the colleges. When well-qualified candidates apply to several schools, they often receive multiple offers of admission. The colleges then compete to “yield” acceptances from the offers they have distributed. Although the top five most-selective colleges collect around 80 percent of their admitted students, the next five or 10 (including most of the Ivy League) are chosen by barely 50 percent of the students to whom they extend offers. For colleges that are not in the top 20, the yield percentages are small.

As a result, when they evaluate applications, admissions representatives are looking for more than just qualifications and personal qualities. They are evaluating the sincerity of the applicant’s interest in the college.

For the best private universities, admissions decisions are not linear. Students are often accepted by “better” colleges but rejected by lower-ranked ones. Last year, one of our students was accepted to both MIT and Oxford, but was rejected by Northwestern University, a fine school but one with a lower reputation. Her mother wanted to understand why. I told her that the Northwestern essay, while pretty good, felt like Northwestern was the student’s “back-up” school. Mother laughed. “It was!” she said. And Northwestern can tell.

Letting a college know that you are deeply interested results not only in an admission offer, but also more money through merit scholarships. One of our students received a very healthy scholarship from Tulane University, while her four roommates – all of whom had higher test scores – received no money.

Why does this happen? Because the admissions representatives choose the students who sincerely want their college.

There are myths everywhere about how to get the attention of a college. One of the craziest I’ve heard was this one: “Keep clicking through the college’s website. They’ll see your interest!” No, they won’t. All they will see (if they bother to count your clicks) is your IP address.

How do you demonstrate interest effectively? Here are three successful strategies:

First, connect with the admissions representative covering your area. This does NOT mean that you have to visit the college. If the college visits your school, show up and talk with the admissions rep. Get a business card. Send an email. Even if you can’t meet them in person, contact the admissions office, identify the person who evaluates your high school, and send them an email, call them, or perhaps try to schedule a video chat. Don’t worry about “selling” yourself to them; get them to sell the college to you by asking intelligent questions. Remember, whenever you communicate directly with a school, be prepared and mature. They evaluate every communication you make.

Second, when writing an essay explaining why you want to attend a college, give your personal reasons for wanting to enroll. Do not regurgitate what they say to you on their website or brochures; they are trying to convince you to apply. Also remember that the college experience (and education) goes beyond the classroom. Demonstrate not only your sophistication about their curriculum, but also your understanding of their campus environment (its assets and community, not its beauty).

Third, be timely. Filing your application right before the deadline indicates that the college is NOT your first choice. Moreover, because admissions reps become tired later in the season, your brilliance might be muted by their fatigue. You don’t have to apply “early” to demonstrate interest, but don’t file your application at the last moment.

Think of the application process as more than merely showing your qualifications. The best results come when you let them see your sincere interest.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email BobLeVine@SelectiveCC.com or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com

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