The Ivy Coach Daily

March 12, 2024

College Letters of Interest: What Getting Mail from a School Really Means

Students lay on the lawn at MIT.
Colleges send out letters of interest to qualified and unqualified students.

Previously Published on July 13, 2011:

If your child recently received a letter in the mail from an admissions official at one of America’s elite universities, maybe even a dean of admissions, you might be jumping up and down with joy. Understandably, you think your child has a genuine shot of earning admission to the school that took the time and effort to send them a letter of interest through the post. But is that, in fact, the case?

The Truth About Getting Mail from Colleges

While we at Ivy Coach hate to burst bubbles, we are in the business of demystifying the elite college admissions process. As such, we’ll tell it like it is now just as we’ve done for over three decades: receiving a letter of interest in the mail from a top university does not — in any way — indicate that your child has a strong likelihood of earning admission to that institution. So, why do colleges send out these letters? Why do they inundate you with glossy brochures and mailings?

Why Do Colleges Send Letters of Interest?

The truth is, elite colleges send out such letters because they know they inspire students to apply. In short, these letters give students hope. It’s simple math, if you think about it. The more students who apply, the lower the school’s admission rate will invariably be, and, taking into account other factors, the higher the school will be ranked in the annual all-important US News & World Report college rankings.

So, these letters are a school’s way of marketing (they buy names from companies like The College Board and ACT, Inc.) — to boost application numbers. And it’s not as though elite colleges are particularly discriminating about which students they mail these letters to: they’ll send them to qualified and unqualified students. After all, the annual total application figure doesn’t factor in the strength of a student’s candidacy. It’s why whenever someone suggests a particular admissions cycle was the toughest ever, based purely on application figures, it’s conjecture. More C students applying to Duke University doesn’t make Duke more competitive — just seemingly more competitive.

It’s Wrong that Colleges Mislead Applicants with Letters of Interest

Now, you might think, “Isn’t it wrong that admissions leaders market to students who don’t necessarily have a shot? Aren’t they leading them on?” And you’re not wrong! That’s precisely what admissions leaders are doing, and it is wrong. But colleges are businesses and now that you know the reality of college letters of interest, you can better manage your expectations and maybe avoid jumping for joy!

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