If you get a letter from a college that reads something like this and you’re not sure what this letter is, you’ve just received what is known as a “Likely Letter.”
I am writing to inform you that your application to Columbia University has been carefully evaluated and that you have earned designation as a likely candidate for admission to Columbia College. As long as our midyear review finds that you are maintaining your current level of academic progress and good standing, you can expect to receive favorable word when admissions packets are mailed on March 30th.
The Committee on Admissions was deeply impressed with your scholastic and personal achievements, and we look forward to all you might add to our rich campus community. I offer you my sincere congratulations on your accomplishments thus far and eagerly anticipate those that lie ahead.
If we can be of any help to you, please do not hesitate to contact the Admissions Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-854-2522. Please save these dates for Columbia College Days on Campus for admitted students: April 10th and 11th or April 17th and 18th, when events will include a hosted overnight visit, a chance to sit in on classes, tours of New York City and much more. I hope you can join us.
All of us here wish you the best during the exciting months ahead.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions
Likely letters are a way for colleges to let you know that they want you, that barring a major drop in your senior year grades, you will in all likelihood be admitted. In the Ivy League, in particular, where athletic scholarships are not offered, it is quite common for recruited athletes to receive likely letters between October 1st and March 15th.
Why do they do this? Because, as Cheap Trick’s lyrics go, the colleges want you to want them. In order to facilitate that, they’re giving you this heads up. It’ll allow you to take a deep breath, to enjoy your senior year of high school (even though you must keep up your grades or risk the likely letter turning into a letter of rejection).
The Ivy League colleges are particularly motivated to send these letters out to their sought after athletes because other Division I schools that are not in the Ivy League can often essentially grant admission to recruited athletes whereas in the Ivy League, every student is admitted through the Office of Admissions. Each team has a certain amount of slots and each team carries a certain amount of weight. A point guard from Oaks Christian Academy who can help revitalize a basement dweller basketball program at Brown has a stronger chance of admission than a :49 second 100-yard freestyler because basketball takes precedence over swimming. Basketball is a revenue generated sport, swimming isn’t.
When Harvard and Princeton eliminated their early admission programs four years ago, this proved another setback for coaches at these universities hoping to secure the best possible talent for their respective teams. Said Harvard women’s volleyball coach Jennifer Weiss, “Now that we don’t have our early action program, it’s very important to have likely letters. We’re still competing against schools that [do]. People are making decisions early. They can’t hold out a decision from Harvard until April.”
Should you receive a Likely Letter, know that you are under no obligation to attend that college just as they are under no obligation to admit you. In fact, in the Ivy League, colleges are not permitted to ask for a commitment when they send you a likely letter. Admissions offices will not even inquire if you plan to attend when they send out a Likely Letter. Does that mean a coach won’t call and ask you if you intend to matriculate? It doesn’t. Coaches are human. They want to help their team and secure the best possible class of recruits. So yes, they will ask, but you don’t have to answer in the affirmative.