Reading a College Admission Office’s Mind

In my last post I talked about the benefits of visiting colleges before applying — particularly at schools where you can collect brownie points for showing up. If you missed it, here it is:

Which Colleges Should I Visit?

Today I’m directing you to a couple of resources that can help you pinpoint whether a school really cares if you show interest in their institution before it receives your application. Here are the two resources:

College Board


Both websites share the admission factors (19 in all) that individual colleges care deeply about and those that aren’t terribly important to the institutions. If a school states that an applicant’s level of interest is very important, I’d highly recommend visiting before mailing the application or at least take other steps that would indicate that this school is high on your list.
I’m showing you two examples of what you can find at these websites. Both sites obtain their admission information from each school’s Common Data Set. If you have never heard of this document, here’s a previous post that I wrote about the Common Data Set: Researching Colleges With the Common Data Set.


Here is an example of what you can find at COLLEGEdata when you click the Admission hyperlink once you’ve called up a school’s profile. This is Cal Tech’s admission factor preferences:

As you can see, Cal Tech doesn’t apparently care if you express interest in its school in advance. What’s most important to this elite science and engineering school is that a student has taken a rigorous course load of classes that would obviously include advanced science and math classes.

College Board

Here’s an example of what you can find at the College Board when you click the Admission hyperlink once you’ve called up a school’s profile. This is the United State’s Naval Academy’s admission factor preferences:

The Naval Academy puts many more admission factors into the very important category – 10 in all. And in contrast to Cal Tech, the Naval Academy considers level of applicant interest to be very important. That makes sense considering it is a military academy.
While COLLEGEdata and College Board use the same admission information for each school, the College Board leaves out the admission factors that a school dumps into the Not Considered category. Other than that, the only difference is the lay out.

Bottom Line:

You can get a sense of what a school is looking for in candidates by examining how they rank their admission factors. Every school is going to have different preferences so be sure to check them out when you are researching schools.

More Reading:

The Real Cost of Attending an Expensive East Coast University
Anatomy of a Stingy College and a Generous One
Financial Aid Chances with a 2.9 GPA

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also write a college blog for and US News.

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  1. One important additional point should be made about “demonstrated interest” – it means different thing to different schools, so you should contact a school’s admissions office to find out what it means to them and how they track it. For example, many schools that list it as a very important criterion will track how many times a student has visited, emailed, or contacted that school. However, consider a school like Brown – they list demonstrated interest as very important, however they do not track student contact at all. To them, demonstrated interest is measured by how much a student’s “why Brown” essay in their application shows what they know about the school and how they show their fit to Brown.

    1. Hi Rich,
      Great observations. It’s my impression that colleges are more interested in a teenager showing up to their campuses. Colleges have smaller number of applicants, which allows for a more holistic review of applications. I wouldn’t imagine that any of the Ivies would care if people took a tour at their schools. Interesting point about the Brown essay.