The Ivy Coach Daily

March 25, 2024

The Meaning of College Likely Letters

A postcard aerial image of Columbia University.
Likely Letters are often sent to the strongest applicants in the Regular Decision pool.

Previously Published on March 8, 2018:

What exactly do Likely Letters mean? If you’re unfamiliar with Likely Letters, they’re notices sent by admissions offices to select students each year. These letters convey to these students that they 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, it means that not only will they receive an offer of admission at the end of March or early April, but it also means they were among the strongest applicants to that particular school in the Regular Decision round. So, yes, a Likely Letter is the equivalent of an offer of admission — and it can be a harbinger of good things to come. Yes indeed!

Why Do Colleges Send Likely Letters?

So, why do America’s elite colleges send Likely Letters? Hint hint: it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts. These letters serve their interests, too. 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 with certainty if you’ll come. There are predictors, sure. Did you visit? Did you write that you wanted to go to the University of Pennsylvania because Ben Franklin founded the school or did you cite specific after specific about the school and how you hope to contribute a singular hook to its unique programs, institutes, culture, activities, traditions, and more in your Why Penn essays?

In the end, however, these are just predictors. They are fairly accurate predictors, but predictors nonetheless. The onus ultimately falls upon the school during the Regular Decision round to convince the applicants it wants the most to enroll.

And these schools know very well that telling students early increases their chances of securing their enrollment. After all, students — like all human beings — are susceptible to the tenets of social psychology, and the primacy effect is very real. People like that which they see first (the recency effect is also real, but it’s harder for these schools to control which decision students receive last).

How Likely Letters Typically Read: An Example from Columbia

While the wording of Likely Letters varies from school to school, they all say the same thing. They’re words of congratulations, albeit with a warning that students must maintain their academics and good standing in their schools and communities.

Here is the wording of a recent Columbia University Likely Letter: “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 maintain your current academic progress and good standing, you can expect to receive favorable word when admissions packets are mailed on March 28.”

Yes, Likely Letters Mean You’re Getting In

At Ivy Coach, we are not about counting chickens before they hatch. We will never tell a family that we think they have an excellent chance of getting in (even if we feel as much) because we believe in underpromising and overdelivering. It has served our firm well for over 30 years.

But when a student receives a Likely Letter, it absolutely means they’re getting in. And it absolutely means they were one of the strongest applicants in the Regular Decision cycle for that school. So it’s also a good omen for the decisions that will follow.

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