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Every year, the Reddit early decision application threads for certain public universities are filled with tales of academically qualified applicants being rejected. This isn’t just at the most elite public universities like UCLA and the University of Virginia. It is also at schools that many applicants see as more attainable, including the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Maryland at College Park, and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. While these schools are all very well-regarded, their middle 50% ACT and SAT score ranges indicate that they should be attainable to applicants with high GPAs and test scores. Why is a student with a 3.9 UW GPA and a 35 ACT score getting rejected at Wisconsin when its middle 50% ACT score is 27-32, and its acceptance rate is 60%? It might be for any number of reasons, including bad recommendations or a poorly written essay, or something else. But it is also very likely that the student did not prove to Wisconsin that they might actually attend if offered admission. In industry terms, this is called “demonstrated interest,” and if you don’t show it to the college, you probably are not getting in.
Michigan application readers had only six sections to comment on students - and demonstrated interest was mentioned in four of them.
Students demonstrate interest in a college by interacting with it. Attending a virtual or in-person information session, taking a formal campus tour, showing up if a college rep visits your high school, and countless other ways all count towards demonstrated interest. Many elite colleges will tell you that they don’t consider demonstrated interest, and indeed some likely do not. But most colleges do track how you’ve interacted with them, right down to how many of their emails you’ve opened and clicked through. Colleges want to protect their yield (which is the % of admitted applicants that actually enroll). So if they perceive you are using their school as a safety on your list, they are likely to reject you even if you are academically qualified. Many students believe that high scorers are simply rejected in mass to protect yield from kids who are likely to go elsewhere. But this is not usually the case. Top students who have shown real interest will get in.
We are continually reminded of how even top colleges value demonstrated interest, especially if they do not have an Early Decision (ED) program, which binds you to attend and is the most forceful show of demonstrated interest that a student can make. We recently came across a YouTube video of a student at the University of Michigan that had petitioned to see her application file under FERPA rules. In the video, the student goes through all of the reader comments for her application. The comments are interesting and shockingly frank, but what stood out to us was just how often the readers handicap her likelihood of attending if offered admission.
In this particular app, both readers commented on her interest at least four times. Here are the real, exact comments they wrote about the applicant:
This was an academically strong student (4.0 UW GPA and 1550 SAT). Still, after reading the comments, we get the sense that without her strong demonstrated interest in Michigan (which one of the readers questioned at least a little bit), we doubt she would have been admitted.
If you take a step back to consider these comments, it is clear just how important yield is to Michigan and likely to the other schools we mentioned earlier. They don’t want to admit someone who they don’t think will attend. This shouldn’t matter, theoretically, but it does, and that is why those high scorers with rejection letters populate Reddit every year. If you want to avoid this, make sure that you are showing love to every college on your list.