Applying for college in a data-driven world
How "demonstrated interest" can make or break your child's acceptance odds
College admissions still relies on grades and test scores, but also new data sources
One of the top considerations for many schools is called “demonstrated interest”
Schools want to know which applicants are most likely to enroll if accepted
With modern technology, assessing “demonstrated interest” can be quantified
Opening e-mails, clicking on links, and social media follows could be key for your child(ren) in their quest to get accepted at their dream college or university
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My son Andrew is a high school senior and currently going through the college application process. Similar to many parents, we are proud of him: he has maintained a high grade point average (GPA) while taking a challenging course load full of AP classes, scored fairly high on his SAT, is active on the varsity basketball team and volunteering at the local food bank. Andrew is hoping to get accepted at the University of Texas at Austin, his top choice, and is also interested in several other large public universities across America. He has been working hard on his essays and completing his college application ahead of the early filing deadlines on November 1st. Andrew has asked teachers and coaches for letters of recommendation and pursuing scholarship opportunities. It’s a daunting process that has been a rite of passage for many high school seniors for decades, and no less stressful than when I went through the same process 30 years ago.
The process for applying and gaining acceptance isn’t that different than when I was looking at colleges - with one major exception. Today, many colleges and universities factor in something called “demonstrated interest” or DI. DI has been part of the evaluation process at some schools for a long time; I distinctly remember being interviewed by two alumni from one of my top choices years ago and I’m sure part of what they were looking for was my level of commitment if accepted. From the school’s perspective, it makes sense: they want to know which students are truly interested in attending if accepted. In particular, the number of applications has risen over time with the development of the Common App, where students complete a single application online and then submit it to several schools at once, rather than having to complete a different application for each school.
Applying for college in the age of automation
So how do schools determine DI? The methods are proprietary to each school but the specifics might surprise you. The Washington Post ran a story a few years ago on the lengths that colleges go to follow and score prospective students before they even submit an application. By monitoring traffic on their school’s website, including which links are clicked, which pages are viewed and the time spent on each one, and cross-referencing this with demographic and socioeconomic data, colleges can build out some fairly data-rich profiles. In addition, colleges also track how many e-mails are opened and which links are clicked on. By capturing this rich set of online information and matching it with more traditional metrics such as tracking visits to campus or contacts with admissions counselors, schools can create a robust marketing database that ranks students by how desirable they are and provides guidance on how much resources to spend attempted to recruit them.
If you are wondering whether DI really makes a material difference in your child’s odds of being accepted into the school of their dreams, the answer is that it can be determinative. According to a 2017 survey of admissions people, DI ranks 6th in order of importance overall with a full 40% rating DI as either “considerably important” or “moderately important” in admission decisions. DI ranked ahead of traditional data points such as teacher and counselor recommendations, extracurricular activities, and class rank! Due to the relative importance of DI, college admissions counselors will advise students on which colleges place a heavy emphasis on DI and top strategies for students to improve their DI ratings. In the advice I have seen, most experts struck a balance in how much they recommended that students pursue some of these e-mail opening, link clicking, and website surfing strategies to improve their chances of admission. In thinking about the data used to measure DI however, I do wonder if there is a potential for misaligned metrics driving “bad” behaviors similar to what I have written about in the past.
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Learning to live with augmentation and AI
In keeping with the recent tradition of addressing a different theme each month that is a current broad-based trend shaping our future in uncertain ways, October will examine the rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) and what it means for the future of work. This builds upon September’s theme of human-machine interactions (you can revisit recent posts in the Forestview archive). While a college education no doubt still holds value, there are increasing questions about whether the large (and rising) costs are justified, particularly in a world where more and more jobs are being impacted by automation. The days of selecting a major, starting a career, and staying in that field for the next 40 years are over. How is automation and AI shaping our everyday lives, at home and in the workplace, and what are some of the implications for the future? I’ll tackle some of these questions throughout the month.
Have you encountered “demonstrated interest” before? What are your thoughts on it? Should colleges be using open rates and website metrics to gauge student interest and factor this into their admissions decisions? Why or why not?