Admissions college admissions Demonstrated Interest

College Admissions and Demonstrated Interest

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Juniors: now is the time to start showing colleges some love! Demonstrated interest – yours – increasingly is a factor in the admissions selection process. 

Although admissions officers are fully engaged in the review of applications for the Class of 2025, the recruitment of the Class of 2026 is underway. Whether managed by digital and print marketing firms or by members of the admissions staff, there’s no question that the virtual recruitment initiatives launched during the pandemic are here to stay. Why? Those colleges and universities that invested in digital outreach saw huge returns on that investment.


According to Mark Dunn, director of outreach and recruitment and associate director at Yale University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, virtual information sessions and outreach events reached significantly more prospective students than in a typical year — 47,000 prospective students registered for joint virtual events featuring Yale in 2020, compared to around 8,500 in 2019.

The expansion in digital outreach, along with test-optional admissions policies, clearly helped drive up application volume at top colleges this year. Additionally, it injected much more volatility into the yield models that most schools use to help them figure out which – and how many – students to admit. Over the next couple of months, admissions committees at many colleges and universities will ask themselves which of the many strong candidates in this year’s applicant pool would be most likely to attend if admitted.  And, note that this year they have record numbers of applicants.  We anticipate this trend to continue for the Class of 2026.


Essentially, many colleges (even highly selective ones) will use your digital breadcrumbs and other evidence of engagement to assess the seriousness of your interest. Why? They want to carefully manage the numbers of students offered admission to keep their admit rates as low as possible. The reality is that colleges are hesitant to admit well-qualified candidates whom they believe are unlikely to attend. It’s all about yield.  Will you attend if they accept you?

Even the handful of schools that state on their websites that they don’t consider demonstrated interest, actually do. First, their supplements to the Common Application specifically ask you to indicate the sources of information you used to learn more about the school. Second, many schools ask for a 200-600 word supplemental “why” essay. What are the factors that led you to apply? Why do you believe this school is the perfect fit for you? How will you use the resources and opportunities of the school in pursuit of your educational goals?

With this in mind, we always advise students to act as though the school does value demonstrated interest, even when official materials say it does not. The worst that happens is that the student learns more about the school and can make a more informed decision about whether it’s a good fit for him or her — and that’s never a bad thing!

So, how can you show colleges some love? Let us count the ways.

  1. Sign up on the college’s admissions mailing list. It seems obvious but this is actually a great way to learn about the schools on your preliminary list. Be prepared for lots of email messages – you can even set up a dedicated email account for your college search process.
  2. Open the emails you receive from the schools on your list. If you don’t, then you’ll stop getting these emails. If the email includes a call to action – “click here,” “register,” “RSVP,” etc. – take that action, especially if you are being invited to events and programs that relate to your academic and extracurricular interests!
  3. Sign up for an online information session and a virtual campus tour. These are the “bread and butter” of admissions recruitment programs and will give you in key programs, facts and figures about each campus.
  4. Join a more interactive virtual Q&A with current students. Don’t ask the basic questions that you can find on the school’s website – “can I double major?” – but instead, ask current students about their favorite professors, courses, and how they take advantage of research and other curricular opportunities.
  5. Sign up for an interview. Many schools offer interviews to prospective students in the spring, summer and fall. If you’re on the email list, you’ll get an email telling you when the interview schedule opens up. Most likely these will continue to be virtual interviews, making it very convenient to schedule.
  6. Many admissions representatives will schedule virtual high school visits. Check with your college counseling office to see who’s “coming” to your school. If it’s a school on your list, make plans to attend.
  7. Attend virtual college fairs with multiple schools in attendance. Think of it like a buffet – a chance to graze and sample from a variety of different options.
  8. Follow colleges on their official Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook sites. These are fantastic sources for campus news full of interesting stories of current students, faculty, and alumni.
  9. Join any special interest groups that match your own, if an option, and ask questions. 


At some point, colleges will roll out the physical welcome mat for prospective students and their families who want to visit the campus in person. But this past year has shown colleges how they can democratize access to their programs and so these pandemic-era recruitment innovations will no doubt only continue to grow. So, log on and let the colleges count the ways you love them!

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Class of 2025 – The Big Squeeze

Another year for the record books, as top colleges and universities see their overall application volumes soar in this most unprecedented cycle. Among the eye-popping statistics we’ve seen, NYU tops 100,000 applications, Harvard’s pool grows by 57 percent, and Colgate receives double the number of applications as compared to last year.

Class of 2025 Growth in College Application Volume


This year’s across-the-board test-optional admissions policies at top colleges are driving the increased volume, but so is nervousness about getting in. After record early admission application growth in the fall that saw greater numbers of students deferred or denied than in previous years (80 percent of Harvard’s early applicants were deferred, for instance), students naturally sought to maximize their regular decision admissions prospects by casting as wide a net as possible. Although we haven’t seen any data from the Common Application on the average number of applications submitted per student, we’d wager that its higher than last year given the heightened uncertainty.

So now what happens? Will anyone get in? Is it even physically possible to read all those applications in the time allotted?

Admissions staffs will surely be working overtime, hiring additional outside readers to get through the volume, and looking for systematic ways to speed-read their way through their applicant pools to figure out who’s a viable candidate and who’s not. Some have even pushed back their notification dates. We know so far that Harvard, Penn, and Princeton will release decisions in early April, giving themselves one additional week to complete the process.


Most likely, as admissions readers first glance through files, they’ll be looking for the following:

  • Markers of academic achievement: grades, rigor of program, and any standardized testing that students share (SAT, ACT, subject tests, and APs)
  • High-level academic awards and recognition
  • Evidence of impact and distinction beyond the classroom
  • Hooks – legacies, underrepresented students, first generation to college, low income (most recruited athletes are admitted in the early process)
  • Demonstrated interest – especially at colleges where yield is more variable

If you have them, you advance. If not, you don’t.

It was interesting to note that despite its test-optional admissions policy this year, Georgetown released data on its early admissions cycle noting that only 7.34 percent of applicants who did not submit standardized test scores were actually admitted. They also made note of the average test scores of those who were admitted—middle 50th percentile on the ACT between 33-35 and for SATs, 720-750 (reading) and 730-90 (math)—continuing to reinforce the importance that Georgetown places on strong scores.


Another way that admissions officers will look to make sense of these large applicant pools is to review students in their school groups. If 20 students applied to Colby from a single high school or 100 students applied to NYU from the same school, it’s a sure bet that applicant data will be sorted in descending GPA order (remember, applicants were asked to self-report GPA on their Common Application). Readers will focus attention on the students at the top of the pack in each high school – those students whom they see as most likely to be admitted — and only have time for a cursory peek at the others.

No doubt about it. To make sense of this record-breaking volume of applicants, colleges and universities will have to be more objective and data-driven in their decision making. You simply can’t hire enough people to read all those applications and schedule enough hours of committee meetings on Zoom to talk about each one.

With artificial intelligence finishing our sentences, detecting tumors more accurately than doctors, screening resumes at large corporations, populating our playlists, and driving our cars, can AI-driven changes to the selection process at top schools be far behind?

There’s nothing artificial about Top Tier’s intelligence as we strive to make the admissions process less confusing for families and help students create an action-based roadmap to college success. Learn more about our work here.

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Class of 2025 Early Admissions Trends

It’s here! What you’ve all been waiting for, Top Tier’s annual deep dive analysis into this year’s early admissions round. Let’s get started…

Looking at the chart below, which of the following can you infer?

  1. More students apply early to a dream school and application volumes soar.
  2. Selectivity increases as admit rates plunge, especially when these schools don’t materially increase the number of students admitted early.
  3. Virtual recruitment events proved to be highly successful, with top schools reporting greater engagement with prospective students than ever before.
  4. An even more challenging RD round is in store for everyone, the result of continued increases in application volume and the need to admit fewer students to create space for students who took gap years and to carefully manage admit rates and yield.
  5. All of the above.
Early Application Volume - Class of 2025 vs 2024

*UC = University of California system. Although the UCs don’t have an early program, growth in their 2025 application volume is included for comparative purposes.


If you chose “5”, you’re right. The robust growth in applications to top private and public universities around the country in the early round shattered records. Driving the growth in application volume: COVID-19. Just like every other aspect of our lives, the pandemic upended application projections and yield models.

Early in November, the first data released by the Common Application pointed to a 7 percent drop in the number of low-income students along with those who are the first in their families to attend college and a decrease in applications at the less selective public and private universities that draw a greater proportion of disadvantaged students.

These are important data points that underscore inequities in access to education but don’t tell the entire story.


Among the top private universities and public universities that have shared their early data, a clearer picture emerges. Applications have soared at selective and well-resourced universities. Fueling the growth are likely at least three factors: 1) pandemic-era test optional admissions policies at every top college and university in the country; 2) strong need-based and merit aid programs that make top public and private universities even more appealing in this time of significant economic disruption; and 3) aggressive virtual recruitment efforts on behalf of top schools to reach prospective applicants everywhere.

A note about virtual recruitment caught our eye. Yale reports that over 47,000 prospective students registered for joint virtual events featuring Yale, as compared to only 8,500 in 2019.

Without a doubt, testing has always been a real or perceived barrier to entry at the nation’s top schools. As colleges have shared details about who they admitted in the early rounds, we can see that in this new, test-optional admissions environment colleges pushed aggressively to increase the diversity of their early cohort (a typically non-diverse group of students). Some data points that underscore this push:

  • At Brown, 48 percent of early admits are students of color – an 8 percent increase from last year. The applicant pool saw record numbers of first-generation students and low-income students.
  • Dartmouth notes that almost 26 percent of accepted students are from low-income household. 36 percent of accepted students are Black, Indigenous, or people of color – a historic high.
  • The numbers of admitted students who are Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian American have all increased at Georgetown in this early cycle.
  • The percentage of first-generation college students admitted to Harvard increased nearly 7 percentage points to 17 percent in this cycle. Admitted students identifying as African American increased 4 percentage points to 16.6 percent.


Short term, top colleges will need to contend with bloated applicant pools and fewer spots than normally anticipated at this time of year, the result of record numbers of students in the Class of 2024 who postponed their matriculation to the fall of 2021.

One admissions dean offers insight into the challenges that lie ahead. As reported in The Hoya, as of Dec. 16, Georgetown had already received approximately 20,000 applications for the Class of 2025, putting the university on track to receive a record-breaking number of total undergraduate applications, according to Dean of Admissions Charlie Deacon. The squeeze is on as his office must take into account spots reserved for students who chose to defer matriculation. Approximately 115 students who were admitted as part of the Class of 2024 decided to defer enrollment until fall 2021. 

Many other deans are mum on this topic, but it’s likely that each one of them is trying to figure out just how to best shoehorn the 2024 gap year students into the Class of 2025.

Longer term, will test-optional admissions policies remain in place at top colleges post-pandemic? That’s clearly a critical question being discussed this winter by university leaders across the country, so look for new policies to be announced this spring.

Several top universities began to shift their testing policies pre-pandemic. MIT, CalTech, and Yale, for instance, no longer considered SAT subject tests. Last May, the Board of Regents of the University of California extended the test-optional policy through 2022. In addition, the entire UC system suspended the standardized test requirement for in-state applicants in fall 2023 and fall 2024, and the ACT or SAT test requirement will be eliminated beginning in 2025 if those tests are not replaced by a new test the system is considering developing.


Whether your metaphor of choice runs to toothpaste in a tube or a genie in a bottle, having sampled test optional admissions policies and seeing the opportunity to increase both the size and diversity of the applicant pool, there’s likely no incentive for colleges and universities to turn back at this point. As always, we’ll share more insights as more data emerge in this most unprecedented of admissions seasons.

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Top Tips for Virtual College Admission Interviews

This year’s admissions process certainly looks different. Schools have gone test-optional, campus tours have moved online, and college admissions interviews — traditionally held in-person with alumni or admissions officers — have shifted to a virtual format. For many students, this last change feels particularly challenging. Interviews are stressful at the best of times; connecting with your interviewer and making a strong first impression over Zoom can seem impossible.

The good news: you can absolutely have a strong interview over Zoom! To help you through the process, we’ve listed below some of our top tips for virtual college admission interviews.


1. Prepare for the interview: The format of your interview might have changed, but your interviewer will still be looking for the same thing: a smart, engaged student who is seriously interested in attending their institution. Knowing this, you’ll want to take some time before your interview to think about your own interests and experiences. What have you done that shows your love of learning? What experiences can you talk about that present you as a thoughtful, active community member? Also make sure to do some research on the school itself so that you can clearly explain why you are interested in attending. What field would you like to pursue there? What research opportunities and clubs would you explore? Do you have any questions for your interviewer about the school’s offerings?

2. Pay attention to your setting: Your brilliant conversation should be the focus of your interview, but don’t discount the importance of setting. Make sure you take your Zoom call in front of a neutral background that’s as professional as possible. (If you’ll be in your bedroom, make sure to clean it up before the call!) Also check your lighting and your computer angle. Can your interviewer see you clearly, or are you backlit like an anonymized witness in a documentary? Will your interviewer be able to look you in the eye? Feel free to bring in lamps or to prop your computer up on books, if necessary!

3. Dress for success: Sweatpants may be de rigueur for virtual learning, but your interview is an opportunity to put some of your more formal clothes back into rotation. Dressing nicely shows your interviewer that you care about this meeting — that’s important! At the very least, you will want to wear a nice top (a button-up, a blouse) to the interview, since your interviewer will be able to see it during the call. It’s also wise to wear a nice pair of pants, just in case you have to stand up during the interview. The last thing you want is for your interviewer to see your pajama pants as you chase your dog out of the room!

4. Make sure you’re not interrupted: This can be challenging, especially for those with large families, but do try to avoid interruptions during your Zoom call. Ask your family to stay out of your room during your interview, as movement in the background of your call can be distracting. It’s especially important that your parents don’t speak to the interviewer on your behalf, as this can suggest that you aren’t mature enough to handle the interview (and, by extension, college) on your own.

5. Take advantage of the virtual format: Zoom interviews can feel less natural than in-person interviews, but they do offer you some advantages. You can, for example, keep a few notes or your resume on-hand to refer to if you need reminders about important points. You can also make sure you have an arsenal of items (water, tissues, etc.) nearby, just in case you need them. Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities to make yourself more comfortable during the interview. That will make the whole thing feel less stressful!

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What To Do If You Were Deferred

You applied early to your top choice school and the news back wasn’t what you wanted to hear. You were deferred. Take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Let us guide you through the steps to respond to this college admission decision. 


Colleges can respond to your early application with a number of decisions: accepted, rejected, or deferred.  A deferral is when a school postpones making a decision about a student’s application and pushes it off until the regular round where they will take another look. Students can be deferred for any number of reasons:

  • The school received more early applications than anticipated, and this year there have definitely been more early applications as you can see from our prior post. (link)
  • The applicant’s scores were low, yes even during COVID some schools have the luxury of still reviewing scores and yes, some students had scores to submit.
  • Perhaps grades weren’t quite high enough and the school wants to see more data before pulling the YES trigger.  
  • For non-binding early action schools, a low level of demonstrated interest could be the reason it was a deferral – they weren’t convinced that if they gave that applicant a seat he/she would actually accept.
  • Admissions officers might have been looking for more high impact extras and are waiting to see what the student might add to his/her achievements.
  • They couldn’t figure out the student’s academic niche – application was not specific enough. We are happy to help you refine this in your follow up to the school in our Deferral Program.
  • The student was a legacy, but not up to the school’s standards so it was a “courtesy deferral” vs a full-on rejection which well-connected families wouldn’t like much.
  • The applicant was swept up in the media’s portrayal of NO STANDARDIZED TESTS THIS YEAR and thought he/she could get into Harvard just because he/she was a top student.  Takes a lot more than that to get in


Schools typically accept only 5-10 percent of students they deferred. And though early round admission rates are much better than regular they are still extremely competitive. For instance, Harvard’s early acceptance rate is typically around 13% versus 3% in the regular round.

For very top schools, admissions is competitive in both early and regular

If you are deferred, reflect on our above list and have a reality check with yourself. Why do you think you were deferred? There are still plenty of things you can do to increase your odds of admission during the regular round. If you do nothing, however, chances are your results will be an ultimate denial. We’ve laid out some action items for deferred students below.


Hopefully your deferral will serve as a reminder to go back and review everything you have in place for your regular applications.  In addition, begin to work on the following:

  1. Kick into gear to bring up grades. Grades are the most important factor in admissions decisions, so you’ll want to finish the semester with the strongest grades possible. Now is not the time for senioritis. Put a pause on your video game habit and double down on studying. 
  2. Review opportunities to retake or take standardized tests. Were you shut out of spring and summer Subject Tests? Need to retake the ACT? Don’t assume just because of COVID you get a free pass on testing.  If testing sites are open in your area, take the tests. 
  3. Pursue any last-minute contests, articles to publish or other ways to stand out in your area of expertise. Schools want to brag about their incoming freshman class.  Make yourself brag worthy by going the extra mile in something you’ve already begun. Let us know if we can help you identify some ways to do so.
  4. Find out why. Ask your counselor at school to call the school and find out any information he or she can about why you were deferred. Were items missing from your application? Did the school see a huge rise in applicants from your state? Not all counselors will do this, but it’s worth the ask. Best case is that he/she can advocate for you on the call, in addition to finding out what happened.
  5. Get another recommendation. Have you spent the semester taking a college course, or doing research with a local professor? If so, ask him/her to write a recommendation on your behalf.  How about a senior year teacher who knows you well?  Another recommendation is definitely in order.   Make sure to stick to one recommendation only, though! You don’t want to overwhelm the admissions office.
  6. Follow the rules.  It goes without saying that you want to review each school’s deferral policy.  MIT, for instance, does not require a student to opt into being reviewed again in the regular round. 

By mid-January (or whenever first semester grades come out), submit the following materials to the admissions officer covering your area (always reviewing their policies, however):

  1. A one-page deferral letter that includes:
    • Updates on grades, awards, standardized test scores, extracurriculars
    • Details on why they are your first choice.  Be specific and focus on your academic match. 
  2. An updated school transcript that includes your fall-semester grades
  3. One letter of support from a senior-year teacher, if applicable


  1. Advocate for yourself, but don’t become a pest. It’s okay to send a deferral letter to the admissions officer covering your area; it’s not okay to stake out his or her office for the next few weeks.
  2. Consider an Early Decision 2 option and perhaps adding more schools to your regular list.
  3. Stay confident. While this feels like a gut punch, rise up and keep on refining your application package based on what you now know.

Review our Deferral Program and let us guide you. Time is critical, however, and we work with a limited number of students so call us quickly.