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What is a College “Likely Letter?”

Top colleges are competitive, but so are top applicants – and universities know this. So, in an attempt to attract top students to their schools, colleges may send out “likely letters.” These are only sent to a select number of students before actual admissions decisions are released. Such letters indicate that someone has a better-than-average chance of being accepted to a university. Perhaps you are wondering:  Does a “likely letter” guarantee admission?  What does it mean if you don’t get one? Keep reading to find out!

What is a “likely letter”?

Likely letters are essentially “love letters” that universities send. They let you know that they’re interested in you and may want to pursue a relationship. Just kidding, but not really…

Simply, “likely letters” indicate that a student is “likely” to receive an acceptance from a university they’ve applied to. So, if you get one, be excited! You’ll likely be accepted by the college that sent you the letter.

However, remember that receiving a “likely letter” does not mean that you have a 100% chance of acceptance into a university. For this reason (and many more), you should remember to keep putting effort into your senior year of high school – and to not let your grades drop. If college is a door to many more opportunities, then consistency is the key. So, keep at it – you’re almost there!

See Also: Do colleges look at senior year?

Why do colleges send “likely letters”?

Selective colleges are selective in who they choose to send acceptance letters to. As a result, they often expect students to accept such offers. So, how do “likely letters” play into this?

Well, one of the major reasons colleges send out “likely letters” is to increase a school’s yield rate, or the percentage of admitted students who decide to enroll in the school. Yield rate is important to colleges as it represents their “desirability” to top applicants. To them, if they want to secure the top applicants of future graduating classes, they must seem like an attractive choice to the top students of the current graduating class. As a result, and perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the nation’s top universities have the highest yield rates (see Harvard’s 85% yield rate, or Stanford’s 80% yield rate).

Besides impacting yield rate, “likely letters” are a way for schools to keep students engaged and interested in them. To top colleges, the months between application deadlines and admission decisions are a time in which other colleges may be trying to attract and steal away their top applicants. So, “likely letters” are an attempt to counter this, and make top schools stand out from their counterparts. Specifically, “likely letters” are intended to give students a more positive impression of a school, demonstrate a school’s interest in particular students, and increase the chances of students eventually enrolling. 

Last, but certainly not least, “likely letters” often include invitations to school events and programs, or all-expenses-paid visits to campus. These allow students to visit the university, see what opportunities are available on campus, and get a feel for what the school is like.

Do “likely letters” guarantee admission?

While “likely letters” do not guarantee admission to schools, they are a good indication that students will be accepted to a particular school. This is, of course, as long as students keep being ideal students (i.e. keeping their grades up, not getting arrested). If you do that, though, a “likely letter” is nearly a guarantee that you will be accepted into the university that sent the letter. For that, we wish you an (early) congratulations!

What makes a “likely letter” different from an “early write”?

Perhaps you didn’t receive a “likely letter”, but instead were sent an “early write” from a university. So, what exactly is the difference between the two? Let’s see.

The primary difference between a “likely letter” and an “early write” is the definiteness of the acceptance. If you received an “early write”, congratulations! “Early writes” are official acceptance decisions from a school – just received earlier than a typical acceptance. “Likely letters,” on the other hand, indicate that a student will likely gain admission later on. However, the difference lies in that likely letters are not official acceptances.

For both “likely letters” and “early writes,” however, students may not gain admission to schools if they do something negative after receiving them. Just as is the case of a “likely letter,” students should try to avoid letting their grades drop or getting into legal trouble after receiving an “early write.” While “early writes” are an official acceptance decision, universities can still rescind student’s acceptances as they see fit. 

Another similarity is when the two are sent. To get ahead of the typical regular admissions decisions that come out in late March and early April, “likely letters” and “early writes” are typically sent out between mid-February and early March. So, remember to check your inbox!

Related: What happens if you get Early Decision but change your mind?

What does a “likely letter” look like?

As expected, each university words their “likely letters” in their own, unique way. So, a letter you receive from one school may look a little different from one you receive from another school. However, they will all generally follow the same format. They typically try to flatter the applicant, informing them of their very likely acceptance and highlighting their excitement to have the student potentially join their student body.

To give you an idea of what this may look like, here’s an example from Duke University:

Greetings from Duke University! We have some very good news for you.

The Admissions Committee has reviewed your application and I am delighted to tell you that among our nearly 40,000 applicants, yours was among a small number that stood out for us. In recognition of all you’ve accomplished, we wanted to contact you a little earlier to let you know that the Admissions Committee enthusiastically expects to formally offer you admission as a member of the Class of 2024 later this month. Congratulations!

Get the gist? And, in addition to such good news, some colleges may also invite students to make an expenses-paid visit to campus for an event. On a slightly-less-positive note, however, some universities may also remind students that “likely letters” are not an official acceptance. These are simply to remind students to keep up the good work, and to not let their grades steeply drop or get into trouble. 

Also read: Safety, reach and match schools: All you need to know

What does it mean if I didn’t get a “likely letter”?

So, what if you don’t get a “likely letter”? Does it mean that you won’t be accepted into a school?

Certainly not! The vast majority of accepted students do not receive a “likely letter” before official admission decisions come out. This is true no matter whether they applied early decision, early action, or regular decision

Thus, if you didn’t receive a “likely letter,” there’s no need to worry! And, if you did, that’s great news – just remember to keep putting forth your best effort for the rest of the school year (and beyond!).

If you ultimately don’t get into your “dream” school, however, don’t worry – there’s still options! A few options you have include reapplying to the school that rejected you, or even transferring into that school later on

And, with that, we’re done! We hope you receive good news soon, but, whatever happens, we wish you the best of luck. Have fun in college!

Also see: What are my admissions chances? Start with a Scattergram!

Frequently asked questions 

What colleges send likely letters?

It’s difficult to know exactly which schools send likely letters – colleges often don’t advertise that they send them out. However, some schools do have a record of sending them out in the past. Every single one of the Ivy Leagues has a history of sending out likely letters, especially to student athletes. Ivy Leagues are not the only schools that use them, though. Other competitive universities including Barnard, the College of William and Mary, Duke, Stanford, Vanderbilt, MIT, the University of Chicago, UNC Chapel Hill, and more have also sent out likely letters in the past. If you’ve applied to any of these colleges and have not received a letter, don’t fret! Those who receive a likely letter are typically only a small fraction of the students accepted every year.

Is a likely letter binding?

Nope! Likely letters are never binding. In the case of student athletes, likely letters are typically seen as an “invitation” for recruitment by the school. For non-student athletes, however, likely letters are generally sent to students who were some of the strongest applicants in the admissions pool that year. Either way, receiving a likely letter from a university by no means requires you to attend that school.