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What is “demonstrated interest” in college admissions and why it matters?

interstride logo by Interstride
August 24, 2023

Are you thinking about applying to colleges in the US as an international student? You may or may not have heard of demonstrated interest. It is one of several factors that admissions officers use to determine whether an applicant gets accepted to a college or university and may even determine how much financial aid the applicant is awarded. Keep reading to learn exactly what demonstrated interest is and how to show demonstrated interest to college admissions officials.

What is demonstrated interest?

As the name implies, demonstrated interest is the desire or excitement you show for attending a given college or university. Simply wanting to attend the school does not demonstrate interest. You must convey your interest by contacting the school and engaging in meaningful ways. This could be in the form of reaching out to an admissions officer with researched questions or attending a virtual information session and introducing yourself to the facilitator(s).

Why does demonstrated interest matter?

Demonstrated interest shows the college or university that you are seriously interested in attending that school. 68% of US college and university admissions offices take demonstrated interest into account to some degree. Depending on the school’s admissions policies, exhibiting genuine interest in the institution may:

  • Increase your likelihood of acceptance
  • Increase the financial aid package the school offers you
  • Increase your chances of acceptance if waitlisted

At highly selective schools, most of the students will have excellent academic qualifications. Demonstrated interest is one way to set yourself apart from the other applicants. This is a great opportunity for admissions officers to get to know prospects beyond their GPA and test scores. If two applicants have similar qualifications, demonstrated interest may lead to admissions choosing one over the other.

How important is demonstrated interest compared to other admissions factors? The data below shows the percentage of colleges that rated each factor to be considerably important in admissions decisions:

Admissions FactorConsiderable Importance
Grades in all classes74.5%
Grades in college prep classes73.2%
Strengtd of curriculum62.1%
Admissions test scores45.7%
Essay or writing sample23.2%
Student’s demonstrated interest16.1%
Counselor recommendation15.1%
Teacher recommendation14.2%
All otder factors including class rank and extracurricular activitiesLess tdan 10%

Source: 2019 NACAC State of College Admission Report

Of all the colleges surveyed, 23.9% ranked demonstrated interest as moderately important, and 28% ranked it as having limited importance. So, while demonstrated interest is not the most important factor in college admission, it should not be ignored.

How is demonstrated interest measured?

Remember that not all schools track demonstrated interest, and those that do may measure it in different ways. Generally, demonstrated interest is measured by the quantity and quality of contact between the school and the prospective student. The more specific and genuine you can be in your interactions with school representatives, the better. Make sure you are showcasing your best English skills when communicating with admissions officials.

Some well-known US institutions that consider demonstrated interest important or very important include:

  • American University
  • Boston University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Ithaca College
  • Syracuse University
  • Trinity College

How to demonstrate your interest

Because you cannot know exactly how each school measures demonstrated interest, try a variety of tactics from the list below.

1. Apply early

Applying early action or early decision is one of the best ways to show your seriousness about attending that school. With early decision, you are making a binding agreement to attend that school if accepted. You cannot show more interest than that! Early admissions often have a higher acceptance rate, so there is a benefit for you to apply early as well. International students should consider applying early if they are sure of what school they want to attend and have adequate time to complete the application and all other requirements.

2. Visit the campus virtually

In-person visits are difficult for international students. Instead, they can participate in an immersive online tour to get a feel for the entire school. To show admissions officers that you took the time to explore the campus virtually, reach out and ask questions about specific facilities or features that you noticed. Avoid generic comments like “the campus is beautiful,” and try a narrow focus such as “the purple flowers remind me of a garden in my hometown”.

3. Attend informational sessions or webinars

Many colleges and universities offer webinars that provide general information about the school and ones that focus on specific topics such as:

  • Certain academic programs
  • On-campus and off-campus housing options
  • Financial aid assistance options
  • Transitioning to the school for prospective international students

Some schools offer virtual opportunities to meet with university representatives for prospective students who cannot travel to campus. Many schools also have a team of student ambassadors who are current and/or former students that can support you in the admissions process. Interactions with these ambassadors may also be noted in the evaluation of your demonstrated interest.

4. Reach out directly

Email the college admissions office, introduce yourself, and ask good questions! Avoid asking questions that can easily be answered by scrolling the university’s website. Ask questions that are specific to your situation. The admissions staff who read and respond to your emails may be the same people who will read your college application in the future. Make sure to follow up on emails from the school promptly to show your interest. Another great gesture is to email the facilitator(s) of a webinar or information session after you attend to thank them and express your appreciation.

5. Connect on social media

Many colleges and universities in the US now market through social media such as Facebook and TikTok. Interact with the school on social media in thoughtful and meaningful ways. Consider leaving insightful comments or questions rather than simply liking posts. Not all colleges will track social media engagement, but even if they don’t, following a school’s account is an easy way to learn more about that institution and what it’s like to be a student there.

6. Leverage your essays

Hopefully, by the time you apply for college, you have made an effort to learn all about your top-choice schools. The essay part of your application gives you a chance to show off what you learned. In your personal statement and/or supplemental essay(s), be sure to highlight why you think you would be a great fit for that specific school. You can include mentions of specific courses you are excited to take or a campus research lab that you want to take advantage of. The more details you can provide, the better.

Pitfalls to avoid when demonstrating interest

Remember that demonstrated interest is about quality as much as quantity. Do not send too many emails to the admissions office. And, do not exaggerate your accomplishments or your interest in the school. People can usually tell if someone is being genuine. Be truthful and sincere in your interactions with admissions staff and student ambassadors. Admissions officers may also check your social media, so you can post your interest in the school there as well. However, make sure to do so in a professional way.


Demonstrated interest is the measurement of how much you want to attend a particular college or university. The majority of US schools consider demonstrated interest to some degree in the admissions process and many consider it to be a very important factor. You can easily show demonstrated interest by learning about the school via marketing emails, its website, and social media pages. You can also attend online events, introduce yourself to admissions staff, and ask pertinent questions. All of these actions will show the admissions office that you genuinely want to attend that school.