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Of Prom Dates and "Demonstrated" Interest

Posted by on Wednesday, January 14, 2009 in Application Process, College Confidential, Demonstrated Interest, File Reading Explained, Nashville.

Don’t judge me but I love Family Guy. I’m not like “overzealous Simpsons-guy” or anything like that, I don’t own any of the DVD’s (although I do have all seasons of Entourage and Arrested Development). Peter Griffin has a short stint on the local news doing stand-in op-ed pieces called “What Really Grinds My Gears” which involved nonsensical rants about Lindsay Lohan and Star Wars. Demonstrated interest, in its current incantation in college admissons, is one of mine.

Demonstrated interest as a concept is not inherently pernicious. In fact, we all use the construct in everyday life. A measurement of demonstrated interest comes in handy when you’re: 1) making small talk in an elevator (arms folded, looking at the front right corner = “I didn’t see the game last night and I wouldn’t admit to it if I did”) 2) merging in traffic (to make eye contact or not to make eye contact) or 3) asking someone to the prom (more on this in a minute).

As it exists in college admissions, demonstrated interest can be applied as simply as having a “Why us?” essay, or as complex as a contact tracking system, where every phone call, email, and personal interaction is noted and accumulates to a greater interest score. The greater the score, the greater the love. I suppose the logic goes that there are only a small number of admissions slots available and you want to be pretty certain that the offers you extend have a higher likelihood of acceptance.  To cast it in a more personal light: in my junior year of high school, I asked three people to the prom before the fourth person said yes. I asked people who I thought were cool, attractive, low maintenance, fun, and who generally met my “good prom date” threshold. In retrospect, I apparently did not consider “demonstrated interest” enough as my prom date yield was a pathetic 25%.

In a recent post on VU’s College Confidential message board a poster vented about the concept of demonstrated interest, arguing that it adds another layer of complexity to an already confusing process at best and overly advantages individuals with the financial means of visiting colleges at worst. So in addition to being introspective but social, funny but humble, a capable leader and occasional follower, you also have to make sure that College X knows how pumped you are about their genetics program.

I will admit that the systematic application of demonstrated interest, and the resulting game playing I believe it reinforces in college admissions, is a frustation of mine. In my opinion, it “puts the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle.” The accumulation of contact points to build demonstrated interest versus better communicating your more enduring intellectual interests (politics, science, the arts, etc) is akin to playing Guitar Hero over rocking an actual guitar – you know, the one with strings? One’s a game where you press the right buttons and get a ton of points and “win,” whereas the other actually makes you cooler. In other words, point based demonstrated interest seems to value how much you are interested in a college, when it should be the college’s job to learn how interesting you are.

Where is Vandy in all of this? While we do keep track of all contacts an applicant has with us, that does not aggregate into a score that is used in the admissions review. Visiting campus is encouraged, but only because we wholeheartedly believe it is the very best way to learn about Vandy, its professors, students, campus and about Nashville, not because it will give you a better chance of admission. Not visiting campus will not harm your chance of admission.

Post your thoughts in the comments section. Be well friends & hang in there, April is only 11 weeks away.

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  • Hillary

    January 14th, 2009

    I can understand what that person was getting at, though.

    I think that some of us who have Vanderbilt as their top choice just want the admissions people to realize that we’re applying to Vanderbilt out of genuine love of the campus and everything about it, not as a back-up to the Ivy League.

    You definitely have a good point, as well. It would be better to admit an intriguing person than a boring-as-a-bag-of-rocks person who has tons of demonstrated interest towards a campus.

    These are going to be a long 11 weeks.

    Thanks for the update!

  • Matt

    January 15th, 2009

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading that, and at 3:40 in the morning, I rarely enjoy reading anything at all. At 3:40, I also tend to lump all of my ideas together when writing instead of following a cohesive and organized flow, so forgive me for the ungodly syntax sins I am about to commit. I think typically colleges want a prospective student to convey to them why their school is different from others and why that difference makes their school so very special to that student. However, when applying to the stronger schools in the nation, like Vandy, there is usually little to differentiate for a student who has visited campus MAYBE once and has learned everything their is to know about the school from other students on college confidential who, more often than not, really don’t seem to provide a great deal of knowledge on the said school except the “fact” that with a 2400 SAT and 15 AP classes the student has no chance of getting in. My dad and I visited many colleges (Northwestern, Brown, Cornell, JHU, U of C, Wesleyan, etc.), and I truly seemed to LOVE each one after I finished the campus tour and info session. However cliche this may sound, though, I think I only loved the idea of attending a prestigious university, as I was so focused with the name and not what the school truly had to offer until I started really talking to students and professors at each school. All of those schools are fantastic (I mean look at the US News rankings! – just kidding), but I decided to apply ED to Vanderbilt over the others because I felt I’d be most at home and happy here. So I think it’s many times hard for a student to gauge which school is most “interesting” and better suited for them based on a 2 hour tour (or sometimes none at all); in my application and in my interview, I conveyed the truth that I think I’d be very happy here and that I suspect to find Vanderbilt an all-around excellent experience. At another school I visited a while back in Boston, they told the parents and their children in the information session that it’d be a good idea to write that we had enjoyed Brian, our tour guide, in the school’s supplement asking us why we wanted to attend. Besides making the effort to visit the school, I don’t understand how writing this would imply any enthusiasm about the school whatsoever. Another woman at an ivy league institution told me to write to all my college that I would absolutely attend if accepted; here, it would be almost impossible for the admissions officer to gauge my true interest in the school because saying this would have been a blatant lie on my behalf (I didn’t end up doing this by the way)! I can’t offer a solution to the whole demonstrated interest conflict, but it’s usually very difficult to gauge a student’s true interest in attending the school. I’m glad I started looking at schools very early, as I knew I wanted to apply to Vanderbilt ED, which I think was successful in showing my enthusiasm for the school. Eww, it’s horribly late and I should probably get to bed, but I will conclude by saying that I think the University of Chicago does an amazing job finding out what is “interesting” about their prospective students through their essays. Again, I apologize for the disgusting extended paragraph format and probably countless grammatical errors strewn throughout.

    Oh, quick question (that, yes, I already posted on college confidential) – should we send midyear grades or, like Michigan and other schools, just send a final transcript at the end of the year? Thanks!

  • Thom

    January 15th, 2009

    Matt, your stories about visiting colleges (and especially what they told you to say in your essays), are fascinating, thanks so much for sharing. I don’t begrudge a school for using demonstrated interest in the admissions process – as long as they’re up front about it (which it seems these schools were). Each college has to do what is in its philosophical best interest to best shape its class. It just seems to set up a game-playing framework though to me.

    As for Mid-year reports, if you’ve already been admitted ED, you just have to submit your final transcript. If a student is currently applying ED2 and Regular, we encourage Mid-year reports, but do not require them (in other words, we would not consider an application incomplete if we did not receive them).

    Hillary, thanks also for weighing in. Hang in there, April will be coming up soon.

  • Quintarrius

    January 15th, 2009

    Coming from a home that makes $22,000K a year, I have seen so much… I know that I showed my passion for Vanderbilt in my essays… basically the whole application. WHEN, not if, they accept me, I will be the first person in my family to attend a private school… While I may not have the ACT score to match other competitors, I made sure that character stood above all else. I know Vanderbilt is a fit for me. If I get rejected, however, I will know that something just as good, if not better, is waiting for me… It seems like it will be forever before my ED II letter comes.

  • Jim

    January 16th, 2009

    ^^^ IF not when they accept you.

    ..”While we do keep track of all contacts an applicant has with us, that does not aggregate into a score that is used in the admissions review….”

    So you tell us it doesn’t aggregate into a score. Well since Vandy thinks it worthy of tracking all the contacts, when and how exactly is this information being used in the admissions process ?

    I suspect the admissions staff looks at the contact information and thus makes some type of impression or judgment, even though it “doesn’t aggregate into a score” – is that basically it ?

  • Thom

    January 16th, 2009


    We track contacts for our recruitment purposes. Students who have had contact(s) with us get more in-depth info sent to them about Vandy, as it is assumed that the student has a greater level of interest in us. These contacts do not hold any point value (individually or in aggregate) that is then used in the admissions review. Our evaluation is holistic, so I can’t say in good faith that a student’s interest level has never factored in to a decision (perhaps gleaned from an essay, or a personal conversation with the student), we’re human after all. Honestly though, the emphasis for us is considerably more often on a student’s intellectual interests, and what makes that student interesting (etc.) than it is about the student’s demonstrated interest in VU. It’s a balance. Sure, we want to find students who want to be at Vanderbilt, but we don’t want to systematically disadvantage students who can’t afford to fly out to Nashville (for example).

    Thanks for the question,

  • Kara

    January 26th, 2009

    Hi Thom!
    Vandy is my absolute number one choice for college, and I recently had an interview for my RD decision application to Vandy. Does the fact that I applied RD hinder my application at all, and how much does an interview really weigh in on my admission decision?
    Thank you!

  • Thom

    January 26th, 2009

    Hi Kara,

    Thanks so much for posting your question (and for reading the blog). I’ll start with your last question. Interviews definitely factor in to our evaluations if a student has one. They are not required, but they are definitely recommended.

    I know people must roll their eyes when I say this, but we don’t read too much into why a student applies RD versus ED (i.e., that they must not be that into VU if they apply RD). We know that there are a lot of really interested students whose college search dynamics are such that they can’t apply ED. For example, if a family feels that they need to weigh financial aid offers from Vandy and other places, we’re pretty up front that they should not apply ED. Applying ED is clearly a statement of interest, but we don’t believe the inverse, that applying RD means you are not that interested (you are applying after all).

    So to try and answer your question of whether you have hindered yourself by applying RD, I would tentatively say no. You have to keep in mind that the RD pool has traditionally been stronger than our ED pool, and it is likely to be that way again this year. My advice is to focus on the things you can control, your essay, your recommenders, whether you get an interview, etc and resist the temptation to worry about who else is applying and what they are like. St. Francis de Sales once wrote “Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” Ultimately your challenge (and opportunity) is to convey “what you are” (as you know it right now) in the most genuine and clear terms, and let things fall where they may.

    Hope this helps!