The Ivy Coach Daily

June 7, 2024

What Are Harvard Likely Letters?

Harvard sends out about 300 Likely Letters annually (photo credit: Chensiyuan).

In the highly selective admissions game, colleges sometimes vie for the chance of admitting their most promising applicants. Ivy League schools are at both an advantage and disadvantage when it comes to admitting such students. The smart move is always to attend the best college to which you’re admitted, no exceptions. However, some promising applicants are lured away from top schools by lucrative merit scholarships and opportunities at lesser schools that purport to offer the same benefits as their highly selective counterparts. These students are at risk of making a major mistake: attending a lesser school, even when Ivy Leagues or their peer institutions have some of the most robust financial aid programs around. To counteract this brain drain away from Ivy League schools and their peer institutions, some send out Likely Letters that essentially guarantee that a student will be admitted.

How Harvard University’s Likely Letters Work

Harvard’s admissions process is famous for sending out Likely Letters to promising applicants. They send them out after an applicant has submitted a full application, but prior to the release of Regular Decision acceptance letters. Sometimes, admissions officers will call students instead of sending them a letter. According to an article published in The Crimson in 2022, “the College uses likely letters to target students from rural areas or otherwise underrepresented backgrounds. ‘If you’re, say, the first in your family to go to college and come from a very rural part of America, having a little longer period of time might help you start to get your family ready for the idea that maybe you’re going to be going off a long way away,’ [Harvard’s Dean of Admissions] said.”

But underrepresented groups are not the only ones to receive Likely Letters. Harvard also uses Likely Letters to signal acceptance to recruited athletes. In fact, The Crimson writes that Harvard typically sends around 200 letters to recruited athletes, and only 100 letters to non-athletes in a given year. Recruited athletes allegedly do not receive an admissions boost, and the Likely Letters are allegedly just a means of ensuring that the best high school athletes matriculate to Harvard, but as Ivy Coach has long pointed out, athletic recruitment does offer student-athletes a significant admissions edge. Likely Letters are just another manifestation of the special preference given to student-athletes, as coaches tell admissions officers which students they would like to recruit, and these are the students who end up getting letters.

Those who receive a Likely Letter (or phone call) and are not recruited athletes should pat themselves on the back. A Likely Letter is the ultimate form of flattery. Harvard really wants you, and they’re concerned that another institution will snatch you up. 

Harvard Likely Letters and Yield Rate

The Harvard College Admissions Office has no plans to phase out Likely Letters any time soon. It’s one of the only tools in their toolkit to ensure very promising applicants will matriculate. Harvard has one of the highest yield rates in higher education (and the rate is on an upward trajectory!), so if Harvard still relies on Likely Letters, the rest of the Ivy League will not be phasing them out either! However, this high yield rate does mean that Harvard is at liberty to use Likely Letters sparingly, for only a select few applicants who might be at risk of jumping ship.

Class YearHarvard Yield Rate
201576%
201681%
201782%
201882%
201981%
202080%
202184%
202282%
202383%
202481%
202585%
202683%
202784%

If you did not get a Likely Letter, fear not! Many students do not receive a letter and still get admitted in the Regular Decision round — yet rarely at Ivy Coach since most of our students submit applications during Harvard’s Early Action round. But we’ll let our track record speak for itself! 93% of Ivy Coach’s package clients have earned admission to Harvard in the last five years.

How Ivy Coach Helps Harvard Applicants

If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s assistance in optimizing your child’s case for admission to Harvard, fill out our complimentary consultation form, and we’ll be in touch.

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