For many (though not all) colleges, your demonstrated interest in that particular school is an important factor in the admissions decision. This is particularly true for schools that have a strong interest in maintaining a good yield rate.
Showing your interest in that particular school encourages them to believe you’re likely to accept their admission offer if they make it — which, in turn, makes them more interested in offering you a spot there.
So, how do you demonstrate interest? Perhaps the clearest (and most obvious) way is to apply Early Decision. This tells the college that you’re so committed to going there that you’re not even going to consider other options if you’re accepted.
That isn’t the only way, fortunately. There are less binding methods that allow you to demonstrate interest in multiple schools rather than just one.
Explain Your Interest
When you’re writing your “why this college?” essay, be specific.
Avoid vague statements like “I really look forward to taking challenging classes and studying with great professors, and I know Vassar can provide me with that opportunity.” If you just changed the school’s name, you could copy and paste this response to just about any college.
Instead, be specific: “I’ve shown through my independent study classes in high school that I’m capable of self-direction and passionate about both philosophy and literature. Vassar’s Independent Program option is a perfect fit, because it will let me combine these passions and do groundbreaking research in the areas where they intersect.” See the difference? This demonstrates that you’re interested enough that you’ve looked deeply into what the school can offer and have solid reasons for wanting to go there.
A great way to demonstrate interest in a school is just to show up in any way possible.
Go on a campus tour, if you can. And don’t just walk around on your own; contact the admissions office and go on one of their official tours. This way they’ll have a record of the fact that you were interested enough to show up and take the tour.
If there’s a college fair at your high school, show up and go to the booths of any colleges you may want to attend. Talk to the people staffing the booths, but also make sure there’s a record of your visit (for example, by filling out a contact card for more information, or by signing up on the mailing list at the booth).
Email or call your admissions representative once with one or two good, insightful questions about the college. Don’t ask things that you can easily find out online (“How many students attend Vassar?”); the point is to get helpful answers to genuine questions and demonstrate your interest while doing so. Asking questions you could have answered for yourself does the opposite by suggesting you can’t be bothered to research the school.
Request to be added to the school’s admissions information list. You’ll probably get lots of brochures and ads from various schools without requesting them, but be proactive and make sure you get on that list for your top few picks.
Attend the Interview
Many schools claim that interviews are not a deciding factor in admissions and that not having one won’t hurt you. Directly, this may be true. However, declining an opportunity for an interview is missing out on a great chance to demonstrate your interest in this school.
Think of it this way: from the school’s perspective, attending an interview shows that you’re committed enough to that school that you’re willing to put in all the time, effort, and energy involved in the interview process.
Don’t Go Overboard
It’s very possible to show too much interest — and doing so definitely doesn’t work in your favor.
Think of it like flirting; someone paying you the occasional compliment and remembering your birthday is great. Someone you barely know showing up at your home in the middle of the night to serenade you and cover your whole front porch with flowers is creepy and overboard.
Contact your admissions officer once (or twice, if necessary); don’t send emails every day or even every week. You don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons.
Similarly, send one polite follow-up or “thank you” email to your interviewer or the person you met at the college fair. Include a couple of points that you like about the college, and reference the specific conversation you had. Don’t reiterate your whole “why this college?” essay, or send repeated emails.