Showing Demonstrated Interest in a College Helps Prevent Being Labeled a “Stealth Applicant”

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Showing Demonstrated Interest in a College Helps Prevent Being Labeled a “Stealth Applicant”

Published June 5, 2023 | Last Updated June 23rd, 2024 at 11:19 am

Woman listening intently to a man speaking.

There’s nothing secretive about applying to college. So, what do admissions officers mean when they refer to some students as “stealth applicants?” And what does demonstrated interest have to do with it all?

See It From the College’s Point of View

Stealth applicants are students who apply to colleges without showing demonstrated interest or engaging in meaningful interactions with the institutions. This may or may not be intentional, but the result is the same: the student doesn’t seem into the school. 

So why would a student choose not to engage with a college? Some think they can increase their chances of getting into highly selective schools if they don’t appear “needy.” Others simply don’t realize that by not doing research or outreach it looks as if they have put very little time or effort into their search and choice of school. 

Regardless of the reason for not engaging, admissions officers will compare students who don’t show demonstrated interest to those who do. This means:

  1. If there are two almost-identical applications, the student who shows the most interest has the advantage.
  2. If a student gets into the school but still doesn’t engage much, their potential for merit awards,  and chances of getting into special programs (like the honors program) may be negatively impacted.

All in all, there’s really not any good reason to be a stealth applicant. For colleges that value community and want to see their students eager to participate, it not only sends the wrong message, but it’s easy to prevent.

How to Avoid Becoming a Stealth Applicant

Fortunately, there are many things a student can do to show demonstrated interest in a college, and in this digital age, it’s easier than ever before. That’s because much like major shopping websites, many colleges use digital click tracking and marketing software to see when students open emails, click links, or visit a specific website. This helps them gauge interest and see which students are most likely to send an application. With this in mind, here are some ways for your student to stay out of the “stealth” bucket and only apply to schools that they’re ready and willing to say yes to.

1.       Do the Research

It doesn’t make sense for a student to engage with a college that won’t be a good fit. Using tools like R2C Insights (CI) and the Common Data Set, families can create lists of schools that fit their most important criteria, narrowing the field down to just those schools they are most likely to attend. This makes it easier for students to genuinely and enthusiastically interact with these schools because they are top contenders in the field.

2.       Open Those Emails

Students are bombarded with marketing materials these days. And while colleges can’t easily track those hundreds of postcards and mailers that go out each week, they can see what emails get opened and how often they interact with their website. Even if a student doesn’t have time to read every email from every school, encourage them to open those from the schools that top their list and click on a few links to read more about them.

Bonus tip: Colleges are also watching what students do on social media. Following the college on Instagram, liking posts, or even commenting–it all shows demonstrated interest.

3.       Engage Face-to-Face

You may not be able to hop on a plane and do an in-person tour of every school on the list, but a virtual tour counts as showing demonstrated interest and also serves to inform your family about offerings at each institution. If you can visit in person, aim for a personal tour where you are able to interact with staff, especially those in the departments your student is most interested in. 

4.       Contact Admissions

Admissions counselors get paid to help students with their college entrance journey; they are there to answer questions, so take full advantage of this service. From quick emails to phone calls, most reps are happy to hear from your student and help guide them.  

5.       Personalize Applications

What if your student relies on the Common App or the Common Black College Application to apply to schools? Use essays and letters of recommendation to include the school’s name and at least one school-specific fact or detail to show that they have done their homework. 

For example, your student can mention they heard about a recent award the college received, or an innovative new course they’re offering, or an adjunct professor joining them. It all shows the school that your student is paying attention. 

Colleges value applicants who take the time to connect. By explaining to your student what demonstrated interest means, and relaying these tips, you can help increase your student’s visibility and decrease their chances of being labeled a stealth applicant.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

👉 Looking for expert help on the road to college? See our Preferred Partner List!

Other Articles You Might Like: 

7 Simple Ways to Show a College Demonstrated Interest

How to Pick a College That Loves You Back

Three Established Facts about College Selection from an Expert




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