Students and parents know that test scores, grades, course rigor, teacher recommendations, and essays are factors that colleges use to determine which students they will accept, wait list, or deny. A smaller group of student and parents know that colleges use demonstrated interest, aka DI, another criterion they factor in to who they admit. Demonstrated Interest is exactly what the name sounds like it is: have you demonstrated enough interest in the schools that you are applying to, such that the school believes you are serious and will, at a minimum, seriously deliberate over accepting an admissions offer to matriculate, should one be extended?
Let’s start by talking about why DI is so important. The overwhelming majority of colleges in the country are “tuition dependent” schools. In other words, far less than one percent of the colleges have enough money from their endowment, fundraising, and state and federal appropriations to fund their operating budgets. This puts incredible pressure on every admission office to enroll the right number of students. Over-enroll and you have a PR nightmare. UC Irvine over-enrolled their freshman in 2017 and they ended up rescinding 500 acceptance offers before they received so much blowback that they re-accepted the students whose offers they had rescinded.
If you under-enroll, you either get fired or your college is forced to lay off faculty and cut academic and extracurricular programs because they don’t have the money to afford them. This puts severe pressure on colleges to enroll the right number of students. Some colleges use programs like Early Decision and Rolling Admission to help predict their numbers, but they also rely on sophisticated other means of gauging who will come.
You can utilize online sources like section C1 of the Common Data Set to find yield data for many schools, but even if a reputable online source says that a college exercises DI as part of their evaluation, how do you know how much weight they put on it? You can ask an admission counselor, but while some schools like Lafayette and Lehigh are unapologetic about the weight they give to DI in their evaluation process, other schools are much more coy and evasive when responding to this question. Well, that’s all well and good, but how are you to know how DI is used by the schools you apply to?
Every admission officer watches a number very closely known as their “yield.” Yield is admissions parlance for a basic but essential admission statistic. If a college accepts 100 students and 40 students chose to enroll, their yield is 40 percent. The average yield in the country was close to one in two applicants 15 years ago, and now it is close to one in three applicants. This is because of the proliferation of online applications and the ease of applying. Also, the more frenzy there is about how hard it is to get in certain colleges, the more students apply to more schools, lowering the “yield” for the colleges they apply to.
Most years, schools like Stanford, the military academies, Harvard, and Brigham Young (because of their brand strength) have the highest yield, close to 80 percent. DI is really a non-factor for these schools—they work off the assumption you are coming. But for most schools, yield matters, and it matters a lot. If you want to know how much DI matters, ask admissions officers or use online sources to see if they factor this in, but then make sure you look at their yield. Here is the secret most people don’t know. The lower the yield is for a college, the more weight they will put on DI. If a college has a 25 percent yield, they are only enrolling one out of every four students they admit. These schools get excited when they see signs that a student is likely to come if admitted.