Here’s the college consultant’s answer: it depends.
According to NACAC (Nat’l Association of College Admissions Counseling), 21% of colleges rated demonstrated interest as considerably important to their evaluation. Demonstrating your interest will show that you’re engaged and interested in the college. You may, therefore, be more likely to attend this college – which is a big deal to colleges when they’re figuring out who to admit (# of admits who attend affects their ranking).
Ways to demonstrate interest include college visits, alumni receptions, follow-up phone calls from your school counselor, communication with admissions officers and professors, writing “optional” essays, legacy connection and the timing of your applications (e.g. Early Decision 1 or 2).
Even when a college does not formally consider demonstrated interest, it can count favorably for you to find a way to interact with the college directly. Any interaction you have will ultimately help you build a strong case within your essays, and help you to confirm your fit with a particular university.
It’s almost always a good idea to demonstrate your interest in a college – even if it’s not formally considered.