Likely letters aim to recruit top applicants

Caroline Simon

March 2, 2015

Not all regular decision Penn applicants must endure a three-month wait for their admissions decisions.

This year, Penn will send likely letters, which virtually guarantee admission, to approximately 400 applicants in total. About half of this group was notified on Feb. 12, and the other half will receive notifications early this month.

Likely letters provide outstanding applicants with additional time to consider their college options by offering a decision earlier than originally expected. However, they also aim to ensure that Penn snags more top students than its competitors for its incoming freshman class.

“They’re colleges basically showing their insecurity,” Brian Taylor, director of Ivy Coach, a New York-based college consulting firm, said. “They want to get these students to attend their college over every other college because these students have options.”

Taylor believes that reaching out to applicants early is a very effective way to attract their attention. “When you hear from Penn very early that they love you, that’s very powerful,” he said.

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said that the purpose of likely letters is to initiate early communication with some of the most desirable prospective students.

“We’re going to get a start on some students who are going to have a number of options,” he said.

Taylor added that likely letter recipients tend to have special qualities that will enhance the reputation of their chosen college, such as top-ranked athletic abilities or Intel Science Fair awards.

These applicants are “the kids who they can brag about,” Taylor said. “Those are the kids who get the likely letters, the kids who are exceptional.”

Veena McCoole, an applicant for the Class of 2019, received a likely letter in the first round of distribution. Although she has not officially decided to go to Penn, she said that receiving the message has made her more excited about possibly attending.

“It took me awhile to process it but obviously the congratulations in really big letters was hugely exciting,” McCoole said. “I was ecstatic.”

McCoole believes the likely letter succeeded in achieving its goal: convincing her early that Penn is a top option.

“It definitely worked in terms of getting me very psyched,” she said.

Although Furda is excited about the Office of Admissions’ likely letter program, he mentioned that it often discourages students who did not receive likely letters.

“This is a tough message,” Furda said. “I need to let all the other students know that this is a small fraction of the overall admits, that they still have a chance.”

Applicants who did not receive likely letters can access their admissions decisions on March 31 at 5 p.m.