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The Ivy Coach Daily

March 20, 2024

Do Colleges Track Applicants’ Website Visits?

In our experience, elite college admissions officers eat cookies but don’t track cookies.

Previously Published on October 14, 2019:

Are you a high school senior going on many college websites, like the Harvard or Brown websites, just so these colleges know you’ve expressed interest by visiting the sites? If so, and if you’re clicking on these sites just so that these schools can check to see if you’ve visited, please spend your time more wisely. Read a book. Watch a play. Bake a cake. Netflix and chill (no, don’t do that!). But you get the idea.

Five years ago, in 2019, The Washington Post ran a story by Douglas MacMillan and Nick Anderson that focused on how college admissions offices track visits to their websites. The piece highlighted how some schools track applicant data, even going so far as to figure out which student from a given area is on their website at a given time.

Some Schools Do Track Applicant Website Visits

To illustrate one ridiculous example, McMillan and Anderson wrote, “To learn more about prospective students, admissions officers at the University of Wisconsin-Stout turned to a little-known but increasingly common practice: They installed tracking software on their school website. When one student visited the site last year, the software automatically recognized who she was based on a piece of code, called a cookie, which it had placed on her computer during a prior visit. The software sent an alert to the school’s assistant director of admissions containing the student’s name, contact information and details about her life and activities on the site, according to internal university records reviewed by The Washington Post. The email said she was a graduating high school senior in Little Chute, Wis., of Mexican descent who had applied to UW-Stout.”

But Don’t Get Unnecessarily Stressed Out About Demonstrating Interest

Yet, no offense to UW-Stout, most highly selective colleges don’t have the time, energy, or interest to figure out who is on their website at a given time. No, admissions officers at Penn are not in a dungeon-like room right now saying to themselves, “Ooooohhh, Tiffany from Marina del Rey, California just went onto our site. Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. She’s clicking on the button to learn more about our institution! She did it. She did it. She really did it. Tiffany loves us. She really loves us.”

That’s just not happening. There are effective and powerful ways to demonstrate interest to colleges — like physically visiting schools and writing super specific Why College essays. But clicking on their website is not one of those ways to demonstrate interest — no matter what this particular well-circulated article in one of our nation’s most prestigious publications may have had students believe over these last five years. So stop getting so stressed about clicking on college websites. Click as you wish, at your leisure. Namaste!

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