The same bias afflicts schools’ increasing reliance on “demonstrated interest”—another tactic colleges use to raise their yield by looking for proactive indications that a student will enroll if accepted. “It used to be that applying was how you demonstrate interest, but it’s just not the case these days,” says Knox, the educational consultant. In fact, some admissions officials say that “demonstrated interest” is now almost as important as an essay or teacher recommendation in determining who gets admitted.
The best way for a student to demonstrate interest is to visit the campus. The problem is that while a college tour might be a rite of passage for middle-class and affluent students, it’s far less feasible for students without the resources or support to visit prospective schools.
In addition to campus visits, colleges are also creating elaborate systems to track and measure students’ interest in other ways. “Colleges now have these sophisticated electronic dashboards so that every interaction with them is logged into the system,” says the NACAC’s Hawkins. “Even something as simple as liking a college on Facebook—that’s a little checkmark in your dashboard. It’s part of a very comprehensive recruitment strategy that colleges are now engaged in because of this uncertainty around yield.”
“We also know every interaction students have had with the university,” says MacLennan, from the University of Colorado Boulder. “Maybe they’ve come in and visited the campus for an information session. Maybe they’ve toured the campus. Maybe they’ve shown up on a high-school visit or brought their parents to one of our hotel programs. We have a record of not only how many times we have contacted them but how many times they’ve contacted us, and that will begin to show the strength of their interest.” These records can begin as early as ninth grade.
Of course, most students have no idea that this is how colleges are judging them. Some do, however, because they have the means to hire private educational consultants who can explain the rules of the current admissions marketplace.