The Meaning of Likely Letters

Likely Letter, Likely Letters, What Likely Letters Mean

Likely Letters are often sent to the strongest applicants in the pool.

What exactly do Likely Letters mean? If you’re not familiar with Likely Letters, they’re sent by admissions offices to select students to convey that these students will — in all likelihood — earn admission when the school releases its admissions decisions. When our students at Ivy Coach receive Likely Letters, they often ask us, “What does this mean?” What it means is they’ve gotten in. In fact, not only will they be receiving an offer of admission come the end of March or April but they were among the strongest applicants to the university in the Regular Decision round. So, yes, a Likely Letter is the equivalent of an offer of admission. Yes indeed!

Why Colleges Send Likely Letters

You see, colleges — even the most highly selective among them — are insecure. They want to be loved. They want to know that you’re going to come if offered admission. But in the Regular Decision round, there’s no way for a college to know if you’ll actually come. There are predictors, sure. Did the student visit? Did the student write he wanted to go to the University of Pennsylvania because Ben Franklin founded the school (nonsense!) or did he cite specifics about the school and how he hopes to contribute to the campus in his Why UPenn essay? But, in the end, these are just predictors. Accurate predictors. But predictors. The onus ultimately falls upon the school during the Regular Decision round to convince the applicants it wants the most to matriculate.

Did you receive a Likely Letter? If so, congratulations! It means you’ll be getting in. And we’re not about counting chickens before they hatch. So when we say it means you’ll be getting in, know that it means something.

As an example, this year’s Likely Letter for Columbia University begins, “I am delighted 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. The Committee on Admissions was deeply impressed with your scholastic and personal achievements, and we look forward to all you might add to our remarkable campus community. We are sending you this email—which only a small percentage of our applicants receive—in order to celebrate your accomplishments thus far and to begin introducing you to the many features that make a Columbia education both distinctive and transformative. As long as you continue to maintain your current level of academic progress and good standing, you can expect to receive favorable word when admissions packets are mailed on March 28.”

One of the ways savvy schools like Columbia convince applicants to matriculate is by letting these select students know early on that they’ll (in all likelihood) earn admission. It takes stress off the student during the highly stressful college admissions process. And it is a move that well reflects the tenets of social psychology, specifically the primacy effect. The first school to tell a student that they love them, that they want them often earns bonus points in a student’s book. Those bonus points could mean the difference between matriculating to the school that sent the Likely Letter and choosing to matriculate to a school that offered the student admission but did so weeks later. Yes, it’s a smart marketing move of universities. And, once again, yes, if you get a Likely Letter, it sure does mean you’ll be getting in.


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