Demonstrated Interest Topics: College Admissions Essay Help

Updated on Dec 8, 2010

The term demonstrated interest describes a student's efforts in showing that a school is at the top of his or her list. Admissions officers gauge this interest in an attempt to predict who will attend if admitted. It's not surprising to learn that they would rather admit students who are actually planning to put down a deposit if they get in. Many schools even track how many times students make contact, including visits, phone calls, e-mails, website registrations, and college fair meetings. If they don't they may ask you on their application to give the number and dates of contacts you've made.

Some schools use direct essay prompts that are intended to help determine how eager you are to attend their school, and what your contribution to their community will be. These prompts fall into two general types: those that ask why you're applying, either directly or indirectly, and those that prompt you to explain how you'll fit in. With these outcomes in mind, it's important to also consider the challenges common to demonstrated interest topics.

  1. Why are you applying to our school?
  2. This topic appears in many forms, including:

    • "Why Clark?"
    • "What factors have led you to consider Macalester College? Why do you believe it may be a good match, and what do you believe you can add to the Mac community, academically and personally? Feel free to draw on past experiences, and use concrete examples to support your perspective. Additional writing samples (e.g., class papers or creative writing) are welcomed as supplements, but are not substitutes for either essay."
    • "How did you first become interested in Reed, and why do you think Reed would be an appropriate place, both academically and socially, to continue your education? (This essay is instrumental in helping the admission committee determine the match between you and Reed, so be thorough.)"

    What they want to hear: that you will attend if they accept you, that you will graduate from their school, and that you have something meaningful to contribute to the school community.

    This topic typically requires research using resources beyond the school website and other material published by the school. Are there alumni or current students in your area? Talk to them about what the school is really like, and use this material to highlight your unique personality. Does the school host an international science fair every year? Mention it if you are dying to meet and speak with a renowned scientist who frequently attends. Does the literary magazine win top honors at the national level? Include some of your poetry and write about your dream of getting published and working in the publishing industry.

  3. Are you a good fit for our community?
  4. Some schools are looking for particular qualities in their applicants, either because they have a strong sense of mission or they've decided to embrace something specific, such as study abroad or volunteerism, and want to admit students who will willingly participate. But this topic typically won't be worded quite as directly as the question above. Instead, you'll find prompts such as this example from Loyola Marymount University:

    Statement: A motto often associated with Jesuit and Marymount schools is "Educating men and women for others." Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the former head of the Jesuits, once said that "our prime educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God which does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce."

    Question: What do you think Fr. Arrupe meant when he said this? Please give an example of someone you know, other than your teachers and parents, who works for justice for the least of their neighbors.

    The following prompt asks students to explain themselves and their goals in terms of the school's values: "Pitzer College was founded in 1963, the same year Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous 'I Have A Dream' speech, which had a fundamental impact upon our nation and the world. Reflecting on Pitzer's core values (intercultural understanding, social responsibility, interdisciplinary emphasis, and student autonomy), what is your dream for your time at Pitzer and how will that influence you to make a positive impact?"

    When faced with such a prompt, it's important to think about your fit with the school. If you can relate to the topic, and it doesn't take much brainstorming to come up with good essay content, then you're probably making a good choice. Conversely, if the topic seems challenging and you're at a loss for ideas, you might want to reconsider applying. These types of prompts are designed to weed out those who won't fit in—and it's much easier (not to mention cheaper) for you to make that decision before you submit your application.

    Note the strong similarities between these prompts and some of those found on the Common Application. While their intention is slightly more complex (schools are interested in finding out exactly how much you want to be a part of their community), they're still prompting personal responses. Don't miss the opportunity to share something about yourself that isn't evident on the rest of your application, and to make a connection with your reader.

    While the Loyola topic asks you to give an example of someone you know who works for justice, remember the essay's true purpose. Mention that person's good works, but relate it to your life. Do you plan to do similar work? Why or why not? Also be sure to keep the focus on the values discussed—writing an essay that skims over or belittles what are obviously deeply held beliefs won't work here.

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