Category Archives: college research

Crafting Your Ideal College List

With over 3500 colleges in the United States to choose from, it’s no surprise that many students struggle to decide which of them to apply to. This blog will provide a step-by-step guide to making this process effective and even fun! We recommend that you explore and visit colleges throughout junior year and finalize your college list in the summer before senior year.

Finding Your “Best-Fit” College Features

The most important aspect of the college admissions process is FIT. Which colleges will be the best fit for you as a unique individual? At which colleges will you be most able to grow academically, socially, and personally?

Start by thinking about your preferences. Here are some features to consider as you build your list of “best-fit” features:

  • Size. A small college (with fewer than 4000 students) tends to offer a more close-knit sense of community, with smaller, discussion-based classes, and closer relationships with professors. On the other hand, a large college (with more than 10,000 students) tends to offer more options of courses, specialized programs, clubs and organizations, and even friends. And a medium-sized college (with about 3,000 – 10,000 students) provides a blend of qualities of a small and large school.
  • Liberal Arts vs Specialized Programs. Smaller colleges tend to offer a “liberal arts” curriculum, with courses in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, such as psychology, history, and biology. On the other hand, larger universities often include specialized, pre-professional colleges within the school, and focus on areas such as business, engineering, communication, and architecture. Your academic interests and preferences for a certain size of college will help you decide which type of school is best for you.
  • Academics: Majors and Minors. What subjects interest you the most? Which classes have you most enjoyed? Research academic programs on colleges’ websites. See how many faculty members are in your areas of interest and review the departments’ courses and research opportunities. If you have a few different academic areas of interest, you will likely be able to pursue multiple subjects at college through a double-major or a major and minor. In colleges in the US, typically you can choose any combination of fields for a double-major or major/minor. For example, I have worked with students with a major in engineering and minor in studio art, a major in physics and minor in dance, and a major in Spanish and minor in biology!In addition, colleges are increasingly offering degrees in interdisciplinary areas, such as Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at University of Pennsylvania, biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis.  An academic area that has been growing at many universities is STEAM, the combination of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
  • Distribution Requirements. In addition to the courses in your academic major, think about whether you have a strong preference for being exposed to a broad-based curriculum, or having the freedom to construct your entire course of study. Most colleges require that you take 8-10 courses (about a third of your total coursework) in a variety of academic areas in order to receive a broad-based education. Colleges range from having no distribution requirements (such as Brown University) to having a prescribed core curriculum (Columbia University). Most colleges fall in between, offering choices of courses in a variety of categories. For example, Princeton University has distribution requirements in the areas of Epistemology and Cognition, Ethical thought and Moral Values, Historical Analysis, Literature and the Arts, Social Analysis, Quantitative Reasoning, and Science and Technology.
  • Study Abroad. Most colleges offer the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or year and provide credit for coursework at other universities. Some colleges, such as New York University, have developed their own programs abroad, staffed by their own faculty. How important is it to you to study abroad? If so, research colleges’ study abroad policies to see how feasible it would be given your intended major, and find out the percent of students who typically do study abroad to determine if it is part of the school’s culture.
  • Internships. Would you like to work for an organization for a semester or more during your college years? This opportunity can be an excellent supplement to your academic coursework and expose you to potential careers. Some colleges build internships into the curriculum by requiring that you participate in one or more “co-op” semesters. Additionally, internships are more available in cities than in remote areas.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Are there clubs and organizations that are very important to you in college? These might include a cappella groups, theater, athletic clubs and intramural teams, religious organizations, or community service opportunities.
  • Location. Do you prefer a certain location in the US or beyond? Do you want to be in or near a city, or do you prefer proximity to nature? Is it important for you to be close to home?
  • Social Life. What is your preference for the social life on campus? How important is it to have strong athletic spirit or the presence of Greek life?

What is your personality like? As you reflect on these features, take into consideration your personality! Are you more extraverted or introverted? Would you prefer meeting a lot of people or spending time with a small group of close friends? Do you prefer a more structured or laid-back environment? Do you like to learn from classroom instruction or do you prefer a more hand-on approach? The more you understand yourself, the better equipped you will be to find a college that is a good fit for you.

Making the Most of Your College Visits

Now that you have identified features that are important to you, what’s next?

Research colleges to decide where to visit:

  • Research colleges online. Look up their websites, and read about their academic programs, extracurricular activities, and college culture.
  • Read college guidebooks, such as The Princeton Review and The Fiske Guide.
  • Speak with college students.
  • Attend local information sessions of colleges.

Plan to visit colleges. Now that you have identified schools that could be a good fit for you, visit their admissions websites to see if you need to register in advance for a tour and information session. Plan to eat in the dining hall so that you can speak with students and get a feel for the culture of the school. Try to arrange meetings with professors in your fields of interest; you can ask them why they chose to teach at the college and how they would describe the student body. You can also meet with staff in specialized offices, such as honors programs or learning centers.

In gathering all this information during your visits, you will begin to discover your college preferences.

Creating Your College List

Now that you have visited colleges and evaluated whether they are a good fit for you, you can develop your college list. Keep evaluating their features to make sure that your colleges suit your needs. The goal is not only to be accepted, but to succeed and thrive at your colleges!

Decide on 10-12 colleges to apply to. We recommend that you end up with 10-12 colleges on your list, with a combination of reach, target, and safe colleges.  Generally speaking, here are your admissions chances at these categories of schools:

  • Safe: more than a 75% chance of acceptance
  • Target: about a 50% chance of being admitted (your profile matches the profile of admitted students)
  • Reach: less than a 25% chance of acceptance

Assess your candidacy!  The most important factors in college admission remain the numbers:

  • Grades, especially in the core curriculum courses of English, history, foreign language, math, and science;
  • Rigor of curriculum, evaluated within the context of what’s offered at your high school;
  • Standardized testing, including the ACT or SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB grades.

Learn about your high school’s admissions history. Most schools use Naviance, a web-based software program that presents the admissions outcomes of students from your school, based on their GPA and test scores. Compare your academic profile with students from your school who have been accepted to colleges in which you are interested.

Below is a scattergram of students who applied to Emory University from Schreiber High School in Port Washington.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the top right of the scattergram, near all the green squares of accepted students, you have a strong chance of being accepted, if you meet Emory’s other criteria.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the lower left below the icons of accepted students, Emory may be a reach for you, unless you have a strong admissions “hook,” such as being a recruited athlete, legacy, under-represented minority, or first-generation student.

Boost your candidacy through your personal qualities. Although colleges place significant emphasis on your grades and test scores in their evaluation of your candidacy, qualitative factors have increased in importance over the last decade.  Colleges are interested in all the ways that you will contribute to campus life outside the classroom. To that end,  engage in extracurricular activities that genuinely interest you.  These activities can play a positive role in the following aspects of your application:

  • Essays and Interviews: you can discuss your involvement in activities in your Personal Essay, colleges’ supplemental essays, and interviews;
  • Recommendations: you can ask for letters of recommendation from people outside the academic courses, such as research mentors, coaches, clergy, supervisors of employment or internships

Balancing “Reach” With “Realistic”

Keep in mind overall admissions trends. The numbers of students attending college has been increasing and is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. More students are applying to college, and each student is applying to an increasing number of colleges. As a result, admissions rates have declined, and selectivity has increased. It has become increasingly more important to have a realistic list.

Make sure your college list is balanced. In a typical college list of 12 colleges, about 5 should be “target” schools (you have about a 50% chance of being admitted), with about 3-4 each of “safe” schools (more than a 75% chance of acceptance), and “reach” schools (less than a 25% chance of acceptance).

Tailor your list. Each individual’s college list should be suited to their academic and personal needs. If you would like a very challenging academic environment and have a strong academic profile, you could have more reach schools. If you would like a more manageable course load, or are trying to manage learning, emotional, or psychological challenges, you may want to increase the number of safe schools.

The process of deciding which colleges to visit, which to apply to, and which college to attend is complex! If you would like individualized guidance, feel free to contact us at As always, we’re happy to help!

A Summer Timeline for Starting Your College Applications

You’re about to finish a hectic junior year of working hard at school and participating in extracurricular activities—not to mention going on college visits, taking standardized tests, and possibly learning to drive! As your summer stretches before you, here are some ways to consider getting a jump start on your college applications so that you are in great shape for early and regular admission deadlines in the fall and winter.

June, July, and August

  • Continue to visit colleges. For an in-depth look at how to make the most out of your summer college visits, read our blog. Take copious notes and research your programs of interest. These noted details will come in handy when writing an academic “match” essay, which will be your persuasive argument about why you are a great “fit” for this school and academic program.
  • Prepare for standardized tests. If you plan on taking the ACT or SAT in the summer or fall to raise your scores, continue your test prep.
  • Research national and local scholarships. Create a list of deadlines and required materials, such as essays or recommendations. See our blog about the benefits of seeking local scholarships.
  • Set up a Common Application account. Even though colleges do not release their supplemental questions until August 1, it is a good idea to set up your account in advance and familiarize yourself with the Common App platform. You can fill out your personal information and begin to create a college list. This information will be saved when account rollover occurs on August 1. Do not begin to answer any supplemental questions specific to a college, as this information will not be saved during account rollover.
  • Draft a College Resume. Not all colleges accept a resume on the Common Application, but it is still a great tool to have for college interviews and for applying to jobs and internships. Additionally, having a resume will also make it easier to complete the Common App Activity Sheet. In your resume, be sure to include high school honors and awards, as well as any summer courses that you have taken for credit or enrichment.
  • Begin to brainstorm your Personal Essay topic and create an outline. Look at the personal essay prompts from the 2018-19 application cycle. These prompts tend to remain the same from year-to-year, with minor changes. You will use your personal essay for every application that you submit, so spend some time thinking about topics that really speak to how you would like to best present yourself.
  • Look at the supplemental essays previously required for your top schools. Check the Common App or a college’s website to see which supplemental essays were required by your top schools for early and regular admission during the previous application cycle. This will give you an idea of how to prepare for the types of essays that you will be asked to write. For example, the University of Michigan has previously required a supplemental match essay, activity essay, and community essay. Occasionally, colleges do change their essay requirements from year to year. Washington University in St. Louis has not required any supplemental essays in the past. However, beginning in the fall of 2019, WashU will now require a supplemental essay about an academic area of your choice. This essay will be used in considering all applicants for merit scholarships.
  • Begin to brainstorm your Activity Essay for use in a supplement. Narrow down which of your activities is most meaningful to you and create an outline with specific accomplishments and leadership moments. Describe why you love the activity and how it has impacted you.
  • Begin to brainstorm your College Match Essay for use in a supplement. One of the most common supplemental essays is the “match” essay, which asks why you want to attend the particular college; in other words, why is the college a good match, or fit, for you? Check the Common App to see if your top schools for early or regular admission had an academic “match” essay for the previous application cycle. If the college has had this type of essay in the past, outline a “match” essay for this school. Think about what you will bring to this institution and what this college will offer you in terms of academics, culture, and activities. Identify the specific features of this school (for example, urban setting, Greek life, strong athletic program/school spirit, or religious affiliation) and discuss why these factors appeal to you.

Research your field of academic interest at the school and mention specifics like courses offered, professors, research, and relate this to your plan for a major/minor and future career goals. Mention activities that you are involved in now, which you would like to continue, as well as new activities offered by the school that you would like to try. The more specific details that you use, the better! You are demonstrating your high level of interest by showing how much you have researched a particular school.

  • Begin to fill out the Common Application. On August 1, the Common App “goes live,” which means that all information, including essays, is ready to be input. If you have not already done so, fill out your personal information and activity list. Complete the Common Application form by September 1.
  • Finalize your College Resume. Ask at least one person to look over your resume.
  • Complete your “core” essays. Draft, create multiple edits, and finalize your Personal Essay, Activity Essay, Community Essay, and College Match Essay (for a favorite college). Many of these core supplemental essays can be tweaked for various colleges.

Enjoy your summer! Completing your college applications in a timely manner can alleviate much of the stress caused by the college application process. Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are always happy to help!

Choosing a College: Why Graduation Rates Matter

When considering colleges, students look at many factors – location, size, academic programs, athletic spirit, and financial aid packages. One important factor that often gets overlooked, however, is how long it takes students to graduate. It may not be obvious, but a college’s 4-year and 6-year completion rates can actually tell you quite a bit about the school.

Students Take Longer to Graduate

Let’s take a step back. Undergraduate education is traditionally thought of as a four-year experience; most people assume that, barring some sort of dramatic, unforeseen circumstance, students will complete their programs of study on time. The reality, however, is that many students, particularly at public universities, actually take five, six or even more years to attain a degree. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 41% of students who enter college each year graduate within four years, while nearly 60% of students graduate in six years. At public schools, it’s even more common for students to take longer than 4 years to graduate.

And in recent years, the average length of time to graduate has been increasing. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here), cites a number of reasons, including decreases in collegiate resources, which in turn lead to reductions in course offerings needed for degree progress and increased competition for spots in required courses. Additionally, high tuition costs may lead students to work part- or even full-time, thereby reducing their ability to take the full course-loads necessary to graduate on schedule.

That average, however, reflects a huge range of completion rates, with the highest performing schools often graduating about 90 percent of their first-time, full-time students in 4 years (see chart below). On the other end of the spectrum, some schools report percentages in the thirties or below.

Schools with the Best Completion Rates

The reasons for this discrepancy have to do with schools themselves.  Here’s a look at the 4-year colleges with the highest completion rates, according to data from the Chronicle of Education’s Almanac of Higher Education:


Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 1.02.19 PM

The first thing you might notice is that these colleges tend to be among the best and most selective institutions in the country. This is consistent with recent data from US News and World Report.  Of the 10 schools with the highest four-year graduation rates, all but one appeared in the top 25 in either the Best National Universities or Best National Liberal Arts Colleges rankings:

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 1.43.00 PM

These colleges, however, have more in common than their prestige. They are all private, and have a smaller student population as well as smaller undergraduate classes. In fact, seven of the top 10 are “national liberal arts colleges,” and have total student enrollment ranging from 1200 to 3000, with the other three in the medium-sized range of 5,000-7,000. Not only does this make it more likely that students will be able to register for courses necessary to earn their degrees, smaller class sizes also allow for more personal attention from faculty and administrators, which can help students stay the course. Moreover, many of these colleges offer some of the best financial aid packages, meaning that students are more likely to be able to afford tuition without having to lighten course loads or take time off from their studies to work.

On the other hand, the nation’s largest universities, which tend to be public, state-supported institutions, do not perform nearly so well. According to the article, Arizona State University and the University of Central Florida, which have among the largest undergraduate student bodies, also have some of the worst completion rates: only 33.5 percent of Arizona State’s first-time, full-time students graduated within four years. Central Florida reported 35.3 percent.

Choosing the right college is an enormously important, and deeply complex decision. For more information or guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help.

Attention High School Juniors: How to Visit Colleges

Juniors! By now you have begun to research colleges and develop a preliminary list of schools to which you may soon be applying.  It’s now time to plan some college visits!

Here are some suggested steps to help you get started:

  1. Look up the Academic Calendar of each college to find out when the college is in session. It is far more preferable to visit colleges when students are on campus so that you can observe students in action!  You can ask yourself: Would I relate well to the students on campus?  Do I find myself reflected in these students, in terms of how they behave and talk with each other, how well they mix together, how diverse they are – even how they dress?
  2. Check the schedule for tours and information sessions. This information is available on the admissions home page. Typically, tours are led by students, and information sessions are led by admissions officers.  Find out if you need to register online in advance.
  3. Schedule meetings with professors in your field of interest.  Go to the home pages of departments you are interested in and look through the list of faculty members to find one or two who teach or conduct research in areas that interest you.  Email them to ask if they might have a few minutes to chat with you.  You can find out useful information about academic programs and about the college environment from informal discussions with faculty members.

Once you are on campus, and have attended the tour, info session, and meetings with professors, here are additional ways you can learn about the college:

  1. Speak with students about their experiences at the college and ask them questions related to your interests.
  2. Eat in the dining hall. This not only gives you a chance to see what the food is like, but also provides an opportunity to observe students.  Would you enjoy hanging out with these students?
  3. Stay overnight with a student or in the surrounding town, if you have the time to do so.  Try to get a feel for the environment. Is the local town or city appealing to you.
  4. Take notes throughout your visit. Keep track of the features of the college that are a good match for you, as well as features that you do not feel would suit you.
  5. Take pictures.  As you continue to visit colleges, you may not remember the specifics of each college.  Taking pictures is an excellent way to help you remember what features differentiate each college.  Capture the architecture, as well as buildings where you would spend time, such as the student center, museum, gym, stadium or other places that interest you in particular.

Visiting colleges is a learning experience.  Try to visit a variety of colleges – large and small, located both in cities and in more remote areas, small liberal arts schools as well as larger research universities – so that you can decide what features are best for you.

For additional guidance and information, contact us or call 516-708-1228.

Transfer Admissions Part I: Your Chances

An increasing number of students are seeking transfer admissions, according to Alexander Ott, a past president of the New York State Transfer and Articulation Association. In fact, about a third of all college students transfer at some point in their college career, including transfers between community colleges and four-year colleges, as well as between four-year colleges themselves. Students transfer for a variety of reasons, including changes in their financial or family circumstances, evolution of their academic interests, and/or growing self-awareness about their “best-fit” college environment.

If you are considering transferring to a different college, what are your chances of acceptance? According to NACAC’s “Special Report on the Transfer Admission Process,” published in April 2010, “the average acceptance rate for transfer applicants was slightly lower than the rate for first-year students (64% versus 69%).”  For first-year freshman admission, public and private colleges had equivalent acceptance rates; in contrast, transfer admission rates were less favorable for private colleges (62%) than for public colleges (70%).

In order to learn more, Collegiate Gateway conducted its own research, evaluating about 100 four-year colleges that are among the most popular colleges for freshman admission among our students, and compared the transfer and freshman admit rate. For ease of comparison, the higher (more favorable) admissions rate appears in red.

Public Institutions: Most public institutions have a higher (or more favorable) transfer admit rate than regular admit rate.  These schools tend to receive thousands of transfer applications:


# Undergrads

# Transfer Applications

Transfer Admit Rate

Freshman Admit Rate

SUNY Binghamton 12,356 4905 48% 40%
Univ of Connecticut 17,528 2278 59% 54%
UCLA 18,503 3169 43% 34%
Univ of Florida 32,776 5996 41% 38%
Univ of North Carolina 18,503 3169 43% 34%
William and Mary 6,171 929 44% 34%


There are always exceptions to the rule, and a few exceptions of public institutions with a lower transfer admit rate than freshman admit rate include: University of Colorado, with a transfer admit rate of 64% vs. a freshman admit rate of 78%; University of Michigan, with a transfer admit rate of 35% vs. freshman admit rate of 41%; University of Wisconsin, with a transfer admit rate of 46% vs. freshman admit rate of 57%.  This could be attributed to the relatively high percentage of returning freshman at these colleges (84%, 96% and 94%, respectively).


Private Colleges:  Interestingly, most private institutions have a lower (or less favorable) transfer admit rate than regular admit rate. These schools tend to receive fewer than 1500 transfer applications:


# Undergrads

# Transfer Applications

Transfer Admit Rate

Freshman Admit Rate

Bowdoin University 1751 177 3% 20%
Colgate University 2,871 245 9% 33%
Haverford College 1,205 77 12% 26%
Middlebury College 2,516 424 6% 17%
Northwestern 8,600 1,435 12% 26%
Tulane Univ 8,423 1,475 16% 26%


Students seeking to transfer would be encouraged at the following relatively rare exceptions of private colleges that have a higher transfer admit rate than freshman admit rate. These include Connecticut College (36% transfer admit rate, 32% freshman admit rate), Elon University (56% transfer, 49% freshman), Emory (36% transfer vs. 32% regular), Northeastern (47% transfer vs. 38% regular), University of Miami (59% transfer vs. 44% regular), Vanderbilt (26% transfer vs. 20% regular), Wesleyan (28% transfer vs. 22% regular). Certainly, each of these institutions has a unique circumstance that encourages transfer students – a future blog may explore this further!


Most importantly, regardless of the statistics, you always have a shot at transferring to your dream school, if you engage fully in the academics and activities at college, strive to reach your potential, and become more knowledgeable about the college features that are a good fit for you.


Most Selective Colleges.  Students often seek to transfer in order to be at a more selective and academically challenging college. Here are the admit rates for a selected group of colleges considered to be among the most “elite” and academically rigorous. Note that freshman admit rate is higher than transfer admit rate for all these selective universities except Cornell. This could be attributed to the fact that all but Cornell are private institutions; of Cornell’s seven undergraduate colleges, four are public institutions within the SUNY system, and are especially welcoming to transfers.



# Undergrads

# Transfer Applications

Transfer Admit Rate

Freshman Admit Rate

Amherst College 1,817 509 4% 15%
Brown University 6,435 1867 5% 9%
Cornell University 14,261 3579 21% 18%
Dartmouth College 4,193 799 4% 12%
Harvard University 6,658 1486 1% 7%
MIT 4,503 443 10% 10%
Princeton University 5,336 Does not accept transfers 10%
Stanford University 7,063 1512 2% 16%
Swarthmore College 1,552 191 9% 17%
Univ of Pennsylvania 9,682 2096 9% 17%
Williams College 2,052 257 4% 20%
Yale University 5,405 970 3% 8%

*Information for Columbia not available


Whether you’re considering regular or transfer admission, the application process is ultimately about finding the right fit for YOU, so that you can get the most out of your college experience possible.  For more information and guidance, contact

Trends in International Students at US Colleges

The U.S. enrolled the highest number of international students in its history during the 2012-2013 school year, with China as the top source. For the first time, the number of international undergrads exceeds the number of international grad students on US campuses.

819,644 undergraduate and graduate students from other countries were enrolled in 2012-2013,  40% more than 10 years ago, according  to the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) annual survey “2013 Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange.”


Much of the increase in international students enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities comes from China. The number of Chinese students enrolled increased to 26 percent of all international students at the undergraduate level and 21% overall (undergraduate and graduate combined).

Many Chinese students come to study in the U.S. because they are eager to develop their own views and experience a variety of academic opportunities, according to a US News article, “U.S. Sees Record Numbers of International College Students.” Yige Li, a freshman at Westminster College and originally from Beijing, China, says, “Many students in China have to decide their major before entering into college. They don’t have any more chances to discover what their views are and what kinds of opportunities they have.” She values that the U.S. universities provide freedom for students to choose their own paths.


The Open Doors Report identifies California and New York as the top states for international student enrollment, followed by Texas, Massachusetts, and Illinois. The University of Southern California has led the enrollment numbers for the past 12 years, with the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University, New York University, Columbia University and UCLA not far behind. See chart below.


City, State

International Student Total

University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA


University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL


Purdue University West Lafayette, IN


New York University New York, NY


Columbia University New York, NY


University of California – Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA


Northeastern University Boston, MA


University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI


Michigan State University East Lansing, MI


Penn State University – University Park University Park, PA


Arizona State University Tempe, AZ


Boston University Boston, MA


Indiana University – Bloomington Bloomington, IN


University of Washington Seattle, WA


Ohio State University – Main Campus Columbua, OH


University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN


University of Florida Gainesville, FL


SUNY University at Buffalo Buffalo, NY


University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA


University of California – Berkeley Berkeley, CA


University of Texas – Austin Austin, TX


University of Wisconsin – Madison Madison, WI


University of Texas – Dallas Richardson, TX


Texas A&M University College Station, TX


Harvard University Cambridge, MA


While international students can benefit greatly from studying in the U.S., their presence can also add to the experience of the American students on campus. The director of the Office of International Advancement at University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign’s says, “The international students are incredibly talented. They bring a different perspective in the classroom and a great amount of cultural diversity to campus.”

During the NJACAC Fall 2013 Conference, Janet Rapelye, Dean of Admission at Princeton University presented a study of international demographic trends in US college attendance. She reinforced that the experience of students from all over the world studying together and living together is vital, and concluded that “our collective future depends on our ability to educate students to find commonality not differences.”

How (and Why) You Should Demonstrate Interest to Colleges

Why is it important to demonstrate interest to colleges?

“Demonstrated interest” has become increasingly important in the college admissions process over recent years.* But the importance placed on demonstrated interest varies greatly depending on the type of college. Demonstrated interest typically is more important to colleges that are private, smaller and more selective.

With increased numbers of students applying to colleges, demonstrated interest helps colleges assess the likelihood that students will:

  • Attend if admitted (yield), which helps the admissions office craft its class, and is a leading factor for US News & World Report rankings
  • Be a good fit and engage in activities on campus
  • Be loyal to the school and become an alumni donor

How can you demonstrate “informed interest” to colleges? 10-point plan!

All the colleges on your College List should be schools you would be happy to attend.  Your goal should be to demonstrate genuine “informed interest” that shows you are knowledgeable about the college’s unique features and how you would contribute to campus life.

  • VISIT the college; register in the admissions office. Many, but not all, colleges track campus visits as one of the highest measures of demonstrated interest.
  • ATTEND info sessions at your high school or local college fairs.
  • REGISTER on the undergraduate admissions website.
  • FOLLOW colleges on social media, including twitter, blogs, Facebook.
  • INTERVIEW on-campus or with an alumni interview.
  • RESEARCH the college thoroughly when you write your Supplemental Essays. Write as specifically as possible about the programs and culture of the college; and about the strengths and interests you would bring to campus.
  • THANK college officials after college visits and interviews.  Include specific topics that were meaningful to you.
  • APPLY EARLY!  Applying Early Decision or Early Action shows interest, because you are sufficiently motivated to prepare and submit your application earlier than required.
  • CONTACT the regional admissions officer after you apply by sending an occasional email if you have substantive developments to report or a genuine question that is not answered on the website.
  • CHECK your online portal for your application status.

For more information on how to evaluate your fit for colleges and demonstrate interest, contact

* 2012 State of College Admissions report by NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors).

A Primer on College Admissions Plans

Need help sorting out the different ways you can apply to college? Admissions plans include early, rolling, and regular. Each plan has its own timetable regarding when students apply, when students receive decisions, and whether students are required to confirm attendance.  Each plan has its own requirements about whether students can apply early to other colleges, and whether students are committed to attend if accepted (known as “binding”).

Regular Decision

Regular Decision Plans are the most traditional option. Students typically submit an application by January 1 or January 15, and hear by April 15. Students are not restricted from applying to other colleges, and have until May 1 to confirm attendance. Students can receive one of three decisions: accepted, denied, or wait-listed.

Early Admissions

Many colleges now offer early admission plans in addition to Regular Decision. Students apply in the fall (usually by November 1 or 15), and typically receive a decision by December 15.  With early admissions programs, students can receive one of three decisions: accepted, denied, or deferred to the regular applicant pool. Each college has its own policy of the percent distribution of admissions decisions, and policies vary year-to-year based on factors such as institutional goals and prior year’s yield.

Early admissions plans include the following options:

  • Binding Early Decision: students make a commitment to a first-choice institution, and commit to attending if accepted.  ED1 deadlines are typically November 1 and 15.  Many selective colleges offer ED, including most of the Ivy League colleges and small liberal arts schools, such as Barnard, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Lehigh and Pomona.  Increasingly, colleges such as Colgate, Tufts, and Vanderbilt, are also offering an ED2 option, in which students apply by late December or early January, and receive decisions in January or February. While Early Decision restricts a student’s admissions options, ED candidates typically receive a strategic advantage of a higher admissions rate because they have indicated that the college is their first choice and that they are committed to attending. Colleges use ED to help craft their incoming freshman class.
  • Restrictive Early Action: students apply to a top-choice college, are restricted from applying early to another institution, but have until May 1 to decide whether to attend. Examples include Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford. Students can apply simultaneously to any college with a non-binding rolling admissions process, as well as any public institution with an early notification program.
  • Non-Binding Early Action: Students apply early and receive a decision early.  Students can apply to other colleges through early admissions plans, and have until May 1 to decide whether to attend. Examples include University of Michigan, Northeastern University, and University of Vermont.  Non-binding Early Action is the most flexible early admissions plan. Aside from the advantage of receiving decisions in December, there is typically no statistical advantage to applying to schools under their early action programs.
  • Early Decision and Early Action. Some colleges offer both Early Decision and Early Action options, such as University of Miami, Colorado College and Fairfield University.

Rolling Admissions

The third category of admissions plans. Institutions review applications as they are submitted, and notify students throughout the admissions cycle. Examples include Penn State and Indiana University Bloomington, University of Pittsburgh and Rutgers University. The earlier students submit rolling applications, the more beneficial – unless students wish to strengthen their admissions chances through stronger first quarter grades or standardized testing scores.

See the NACAC chart of Definitions of Admissions Options in Higher Education.

Colleges Receive Top Donations

Nearly half of the 65 gifts of $5-million or more in 2010 went to colleges and universities, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.  Knowing which colleges are well-endowed and which colleges receive ear-marked funds can provide useful information about the financial health of each college, the ability to provide financial aid, and trends in academic research.  For instance, a few universities that received large donations for scholarships include Tufts, University of Chicago Law School and New York University Langone Medical Center.  Cornell received $80-million to establish a new energy institute, reinforcing a current trend of increased academic research interest in clean energy.  For more info, see