Admissions

What is a Stealth Candidate -- And How Can You Avoid Becoming One?

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Do you feel like applying for college is just a (never-ending) series of boxes that need checking? That’s not far from being accurate! However, I find all too often that students forget one crucial box that’s not explicitly laid out on a traditional application: demonstrated interest. This can be the key that ensures you don't become a "stealth" candidate.

Demonstrated interest is, well, pretty much what you’d expect: Providing measurable evidence to show a school your interest in attending. Some students think that submitting an application is enough to demonstrate that interest. News flash: It’s not anymore! Schools want to find candidates who bring the most to their campus, and it’s no surprise that those students tend to be the candidates who are excited about being a part of it. By contrast, stealth candidates are students who may have that excitement but don’t let it show.


You don’t want to miss out on getting into your dream school just because someone was more eager to grab a spot on the class roster. Here are some ways you can demonstrate your interest and avoid being a stealth candidate.

Be an Active Visitor on Campus

You’ve compiled your list of schools and planned your campus visits — that’s great! While there are plenty of ways to make the most of your campus visit, it’s important to give yourself an advantage over the others in your tour group. A suggestion I always give is to schedule an interview that coincides with your campus visit. Admissions interviews are usually optional, but getting a face-to-face introduction with an admissions officer will give your name more weight and recognition when they’re reading through applications later. The list of names for those applications is sure to be long! But if the office has a face associated positively with your name, you’ll have an extra advantage.

Opportunities don’t stop at interviews, though. You can also sit in on classes or even schedule an overnight stay with a current student to truly experience the campus. A campus visit may require a lot of effort (and expense), so if you’re going, take advantage of every minute you’re there!

Leverage Your Online Presence

Maybe you’ve heard rumors that admissions offices are your newest online stalkers. I might not describe it exactly that way, but your online presence plays a role when it comes to admission decisions. This doesn’t mean you can’t be yourself on social media; it just means that you might also want to think about things you can upload to supplement your application or show some demonstrated interest, if an admissions office happens to look you up online.

Find an interesting article that ties back to your chosen major or college path? Share it! That campus visit I mentioned earlier? Document it online and tag the school! Doing so can be another great way to grab the attention of someone in the admissions office and really bring your name and face into clear focus among those monotonous applications they’ll have to sift through.

Hit Your Essays Out of the Park

Given the ridiculously high number of applications, admissions officers are facing a mountain of essays to read. Now, there are plenty of tips on how to make your essay unforgettable. But one thing that is absolutely essential is that your essay should read with the tone of a student who is excited to attend that university. Those last words are important, so let me repeat them: excited to attend that university.

If your essay reads like it could be used for any college in the country, chances are good it won’t have much impact on your admission decision. Use specifics about the school that you’ve learned through your campus visit or even through your online research. Ultimately, your college experience is about you, but schools want to know that they can provide you with the experience you want, and there’s no one better to tell them that they’re able to do that than you.

A lot goes into finding your best-fit school — you’ve spent plenty of time researching to narrow your list! ­— and schools will do similar work when seeking their best-fit candidates. Make sure you do all that you can now so that you stand out in the crowd trying to make its way through those campus gates later. Want more answers to tough (but common!) admissions questions? Check out our book College Admission 101.