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The Ivy Coach Daily

March 25, 2024

College Likely Letters: Everything You Need to Know

A view of Baker Library at Dartmouth College.
Likely Letters are good omens (photo credit: Gavin Huang).

Previously Published on April 25, 2014:

If your child recently received a Likely Letter from an elite university, you’re likely excited but curious about what it means. Does it mean your child is a sure bet to earn admission to the school? Is it a harbinger of forthcoming acceptances from similarly or more competitive universities?

Which Students Receive Likely Letters?

Elite colleges send Likely Letters to some of the strongest applicants in their Regular Decision pools. These applicants are the ones the admissions committee would most like to enroll in the fall.

The admissions committees send out these letters because the tables turn toward the end of the Regular Decision cycle. For months, applicants have been waiting to hear from colleges, but these colleges will soon be waiting on the final decisions of their most coveted students. These students’ decisions aren’t due until National College Decision Day (or May 1st).

So, the schools are trying to get a jump start on their competitor institutions since the game switches from admitting the most competitive class to hoping to sway the most alluring admits to matriculate.

The Psychology Behind Likely Letters

America’s elite college admissions offices send out Likely Letters because they’re familiar with the tenets of social psychology. One such social psychological phenomenon is the Primacy Effect: the tendency of people to remember the first piece of information they encounter more so than those that follow.

So, if a student hears from Duke, Penn, and Cornell (in that sequence), the primacy effect will give Duke the edge. It’s why each school wants to one-up the others by sending a love letter to a student — who they know has yet to commit to any school since they’re applying in the non-binding Regular Decision round — that hits the student’s inbox first. 

In short, speed matters. And students appreciate the notice because it immediately lowers their anxiety surrounding the elite college admissions process. After all, they secured admission to a top school. They’re now playing with the house’s money.

Likely Letter FAQs

Are Likely Letters reserved for the Regular Decision round?

Yes, Likely Letters are only sent out by colleges in the Regular Decision round. They don’t send out Likely Letters to Early Decision candidates because these students are already bound to attend. They also don’t send out Likely Letters to Early Action candidates because even though these students aren’t bound to attend, they’ll learn of their decisions under a short time frame anyway.

Does a Likely Letter mean a student will be getting in?

Yes, a Likely Letter is as good as an offer of admission. A student who receives a Likely Letter will be getting in when the college releases decisions at the conclusion of the Regular Decision round.

Is a Likely Letter a good omen of acceptances to come?

Yes, receiving a Likely Letter means a student was among the strongest applicants in a school’s Regular Decision pool. So it’s indeed a harbinger of good news from other schools.

Can a student lose their admission after receiving a Likely Letter?

Yes, any offer of admission (or a forthcoming offer of admission in the case of a Likely Letter) is conditionalEvery college decision, irrespective of the institution, comes with a caveat that students must maintain their academic performance and behavior. If students do not meet these conditions, the college reserves the right to revoke their admission.

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