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What is a Likely Letter in College Admissions?

With a great deal of emphasis placed on the competition among college-bound students to get into the school of their choice, it’s often overlooked that colleges are also in a competition amongst themselves to attract top applicants. One way in which top schools seek to woo particularly desirable students is with likely letters. 

What is a likely letter? A likely letter is a message sent to select students before an institution makes its official admissions decisions. In the letter, a school will indicate its intent to admit the student; in other words, they are “likely” to be accepted. To learn more about likely letters and what they mean for you, read on.

Why Do Colleges Send Likely Letters?

There are a handful of reasons top schools send likely letters to especially strong applicants, the most notable of which is to increase their yield rate, while securing the enrollment of the most outstanding applicants. Yield rate is simply the percentage of admitted students who decide to enroll. What’s not so simple about yield rate is its importance to colleges and universities; to them, yield rate is a demonstration of their desirability as a destination for the best and brightest college applicants. Consequently, many of the nation’s most esteemed institutions also have the highest yield rates. For example, Harvard University ( 82.8% ), Stanford University ( 81.7% ), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( 75.6% ). 

Likely letters help selective schools maintain their high yields by keeping top applicants interested and engaged with them, while they wait to make official admissions decisions in late March and early April. Many top US schools have policies where they must wait to notify all applicants of their admissions decisions simultaneously, but a likely letter is a way for admissions officials to circumvent these policies—letting an applicant know of their “likely” admission. A likely letter demonstrates the school’s interest in the student, flatters them, leads to a more positive impression of the school, and increases the odds of the student matriculating. 

Likely letters are frequently accompanied with an invitation to events and programs such as diversity weekends and all-expenses paid campus visits. These invitations allow colleges to both further ingratiate themselves to the applicants and provide more time to recruit them to their institutions. 

What’s the Difference Between a Likely Letter and Early Write?

Another type of early admissions notification exists, and it’s called an early write. The difference between a likely letter and an early write is how definite the acceptance is. A likely letter only signals the institution’s intention to admit a student, but is not a formal acceptance letter. It’s understood, however, that all “likely” students are admitted, unless their profile changes for the worse. For example, if the recipient of a likely letter drops their advanced classes, gets arrested, or otherwise does something negative, a school can change their mind about their admissions decision. 

Conversely, an early write is an official acceptance that comes early. A school can still rescind their acceptance if the student does something negative, but the student can be 100% sure that they are accepted at that time, based on the letter. Early writes are common at top liberal arts colleges such as Williams and Amherst. 

When are Likely Letters and Early Writes Usually Sent?

The majority of colleges notify their regular admissions decisions sometime in late March or early April. For example, all of the Ivy League schools release their decisions on the same day—affectionately called Ivy Day. Likely letters and early writes are commonly sent to students from mid-February to early March.

college acceptance likely letter

What Does a Likely Letter/Early Write Look Like?

The particular wording of likely letters will vary from school to school, but in general, they follow the same template, highlighting the applicant’s highly probable acceptance and the institution’s enthusiasm to have them as part of their student body. The letters are commonly written in a flattering tone and will foreshadow the arrival of a formal acceptance letter in the future. 

To get an idea of the platitudes found in a likely letter, here is an example from Stanford University: “We were inspired and humbled by your energy, imagination, talent, and heart, and this early approval is a tribute to your extraordinary achievements and passion for using your strengths to better our world. We confer this distinction on very few students, and we are thrilled to bring you the wonderful news.”  

Likely letters are a way to keep you connected to the school, so many of them also include an offer to visit the college. For example, this likely letter to a prospective student from Columbia University encouraged them to attend one of its Columbia College Days on Campus for accepted students: “We hope you plan to attend one of our two Columbia College Days on Campus weekends…when events for admitted students will include a hosted overnight, visit, a chance to sit in on classes, a tour of New York City and much more.”

Other times, likely letters will remind students that this isn’t an official acceptance and their actions can put their enrollment in jeopardy. This likely letter sent to a student athlete by Yale University is a fantastic example: “Please know we will review your mid-year and final grades carefully, and that we expect you to maintain your present level of academic performance and personal integrity for the remainder of the year.”

Which Colleges Send Likely Letters/Early Writes?

Likely letters and early writes are not openly advertised by schools, hence there is no comprehensive list of schools that send them. However, there is a record of some schools sending these letters in the past. All of the Ivy League schools have used likely letters to court must-have applicants. Commonly, the Ivy League sends these letters to student athletes, as they possess the rare blend of academic prowess and athletic skill that makes them particularly impressive. It’s also a way to entice student athletes who are probably receiving scholarship offers from other schools. However, students who are exceptional in other ways are also potential recipients of likely letters. 

It’s not just the Ivy League that sends likely letters to extremely appealing applicants. Institutions such as Barnard, Brandeis, Bowdoin, Clark, College of William and Mary, Duke, MIT, Rice, Stanford, University of Chicago, UCLA, UNC Chapel Hill, and UVA have all reportedly sent top-notch applicants likely letters. Similarly, high-rated liberal arts colleges like Amherst, Williams, Smith, and Grinnell have also been known to send likely letters or early writes.

As mentioned, many likely letters and early writes come with an invitation to visit campus. For example, Vanderbilt University sends around 200 early writes in February to students from various minority backgrounds. In the letter, they invite the accepted students to campus for MOSAIC (Medley Of Students And Ideas Connecting), a multicultural student weekend in March. The goal of the program is to attract talented students to the university and maintain an ethnically and culturally diverse campus. Other schools also have similar diversity weekends for accepted students, such as Amherst College.

What Does it Mean if I Don’t Get a Likely Letter?

If, up until reading this, you wondered what a likely letter was and are now nervous about not receiving one, don’t be. The vast majority of students will not learn of their admissions status until the date of the school’s official admissions decisions. For example, Vanderbilt invites 200 students to their MOSAIC Program, but admits around 2,000 students yearly—in other words, only around 10% of accepted students get a likely letter. Similarly, in 2015, the University of Pennsylvania received 37,267 applications and only accepted 3,697 students. Of those 3,697, an estimated 400 students received a likely letter. 

The bottom line is: If you don’t get a likely letter, don’t panic! If you do get one, however, know that you’re one of the school’s top applicants, and you can be relatively sure that you’ll receive an official acceptance, as long as you continue putting forth your best.

Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.

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What are College Likely Letters and How Do You Get One?

What are College Likely Letters and How Do You Get One?

Likely Letters are a unique and exciting aspect of the college admissions process. These letters, sent by selective colleges and universities, provide an early indication to high-achieving applicants that they are very likely to be admitted to the institution. Typically sent before official admission decisions are released, Likely Letters aim to give students a sense of relief and encouragement while also motivating them to remain committed to their academic pursuits. While not a guarantee of admission, these letters are often considered a strong predictor of a positive outcome in the competitive world of higher education.

What are Likely Letters?

What Are Likely Letters

Elite colleges and distinguished universities employ Likely Letters as a targeted recruitment approach for their most remarkable applicants, including high-performing scholars and exceptional athletes . These letters are a preliminary signal of likely admission, offering students an advantageous preview ahead of the official decision notifications typically sent in late March and early April. Crafted with eloquent compliments and delicate insinuations of an imminent acceptance letter, these Likely Letters are designed to uplift the applicant's spirits and further encourage them to consider the institution as their ultimate academic destination.

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How to Respond to a Likely Letter

Express gratitude.

When expressing gratitude in response to a Likely Letter, it is important to convey your appreciation for the college or university's consideration. Mention specific aspects of the institution that resonate with you, such as its academic programs, campus culture, or extracurricular opportunities , to demonstrate your genuine enthusiasm for the school. Remember, a sincere and heartfelt expression of thanks reflects positively on your character and helps foster a strong relationship with the institution during the decision-making process.

Ask questions

Asking questions when responding to Likely Letters is an excellent way to gather more information about the college or university, enabling you to make a well-informed decision regarding your future education. By inquiring about academic programs , you can gain insights into curriculum offerings , research opportunities , and faculty expertise . Engaging in this dialogue not only demonstrates your genuine interest in the college or university but also ensures that you have a comprehensive perspective of your options before making your final decision .

Be honest about your interest and intentions

By clearly expressing your enthusiasm or reservations about attending, you allow the institution to understand your decision-making process better and provide any additional information or support that may be helpful. Sharing your genuine thoughts also demonstrates integrity and maturity , qualities that educational institutions highly value. Ultimately, candid communication fosters a strong foundation for your relationship with the college or university, ensuring that your final decision is well-informed and based on a mutual understanding of your needs, goals, and aspirations.

Continue to explore other options

Continuing to explore other options, even after receiving a Likely Letter, is essential for maintaining a balanced perspective during the college application process. By researching various colleges and universities, you can compare academic programs , campus environments, financial aid packages , and extracurricular opportunities to identify the best fit for your individual needs and aspirations. Keeping an open mind allows you to discover potential institutions that might offer unique experiences or resources that align with your goals, ensuring that you make a well-informed decision about your future.

Criteria Colleges use for Likely Letters

While the specific criteria for sending likely letters can differ among colleges and universities, these early notifications often serve as a recruiting tool to attract exceptional students and maintain their interest. The criteria colleges use for sending likely letters can vary among institutions, but these early notifications are generally sent to outstanding applicants who demonstrate exceptional qualities in various areas.

Academic excellence

Academic excellence is one of the key criteria that colleges and universities consider when sending likely letters to applicants. When an applicant demonstrates exceptional performance in their academic pursuits, such as high grades , advanced coursework , strong standardized test scores , and recognition for academic accomplishments, there’s a higher chance they will receive a likely letter.

Extracurricular achievements

Extracurricular achievements are an important criterion for likely letters because they demonstrate a student's well-roundedness , dedication , and ability to excel outside the classroom. Involvement in extracurricular activities often requires students to develop leadership and teamwork skills, which colleges and universities highly value.

In addition, balancing academics with extracurricular activities requires excellent time management and commitment. Exceptional talent or accomplishments in extracurricular activities, such as athletics , arts, or community service, showcase a student's unique abilities and potential to make a meaningful impact on campus.

Demonstrated interest

Demonstrated interest is a factor considered by some colleges and universities when sending likely letters because it indicates an applicant's genuine enthusiasm and commitment to attending their institution. By showing a strong interest in the college, students signal that they are more likely to accept an offer of admission , which can positively impact the school's yield rate.

Underrepresented groups

Sending likely letters to underrepresented groups helps colleges and universities create a more diverse student body, which enriches the educational experience by exposing students to different perspectives , cultures , and backgrounds . Providing access to higher education for underrepresented groups can help bridge the opportunity gap and promote social mobility. A diverse and inclusive campus environment can lead to better student academic outcomes and career prospects .

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Why do Colleges send Likely Letters?

Colleges send Likely Letters to establish and strengthen relationships with exceptional applicants. These early notifications help create a positive impression of the institution, highlighting its commitment to recognizing and nurturing talent. Furthermore, Likely Letters can contribute to the college's overall reputation by attracting students who will excel academically, engage in extracurricular activities, and become successful alumni , thereby enhancing the institution's prestige over time.

Stand out from the competition

By sending Likely Letters, colleges can differentiate themselves from other institutions and create a positive impression on students.

Build relationships

Likely Letters help colleges connect with prospective students early in the decision-making process , allowing them to build rapport and foster a sense of belonging .

Boost student confidence

Receiving a Likely Letter can reassure students that they are considered a strong candidate for admission , which may alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty associated with the application process.

Likely Letters from Ivy League and Top-Ranked Universities

What do likely letters mean.

The importance of Likely Letters for high school seniors lies in their capacity to offer a sense of comfort and self-assurance during the demanding college application journey. These preliminary communications from colleges and universities suggest a high probability of being accepted and encourage students to traverse the frequently unpredictable and intense admissions environment with increased poise and positivity.

Positive Aspects of Likely Letters

Reduced anxiety.

Receiving a Likely Letter helps to reduce student anxiety during the college application process by providing a sense of reassurance and validation . Furthermore, a Likely Letter acknowledges the student's hard work and dedication throughout their high school years, reinforcing their confidence in their abilities and accomplishments.

Increased confidence

When a college or university sends a Likely Letter, it demonstrates that the institution has recognized the student's hard work , dedication , and potential to succeed in their chosen program. This positive feedback serves as a powerful motivator, encouraging students to continue striving for excellence in their remaining applications and reinforcing their belief in their abilities. As a result, students who receive Likely Letters often feel more self-assured and optimistic about their prospects, navigating the competitive admissions landscape with greater ease and enthusiasm.

Motivation for academic performance

When a student receives a Likely Letter, it signifies that a college or university is highly interested in their application and sees potential in them as future members of their institution. This recognition encourages students to uphold their commitment to academic excellence and continue putting forth their best efforts to meet all final requirements for admission . Additionally, the knowledge that their hard work has been acknowledged provides an incentive to finish high school on a high note, ensuring a smooth transition into their college journey and setting the foundation for continued success at the collegiate level.

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Potential Drawbacks of Receiving a Likely Letter

Reduced exploration of other options.

When a student receives a Likely Letter from a preferred institution, they may feel a sense of loyalty or commitment to that school, which could cause them to pay less attention to alternative options. As a result, they might miss out on opportunities to discover programs , scholarships, or campus environments at other institutions that could align more closely with their academic interests, personal preferences, or long-term aspirations. This tunnel vision during the college application process could ultimately limit a student's potential for personal and academic growth by restricting their exposure to diverse educational experiences.

Pressure to commit

Receiving a Likely Letter can cause a student to feel a sense of obligation for the student to attend the institution that sent the letter, even if they later receive acceptances from other colleges that might be more suitable for them. This pressure may stem from a feeling of gratitude or loyalty towards the college that expressed early interest in their application , leading students to prioritize that institution over others. Consequently, they might disregard factors such as academic programs, campus environment, financial aid packages , or future career prospects when making their final decision. This externally influenced commitment could result in students enrolling in a college that does not fully align with their needs and aspirations, potentially impacting their overall satisfaction and success during their college years.


A Likely Letter is an early indication of strong interest from a college or university, but it is not an official acceptance letter . If students misinterpret the intent of a Likely Letter, they may become overly confident in their admission status and neglect other aspects of the application process , such as completing additional applications or exploring alternative options. Should they not receive an acceptance from the institution that sent the Likely Letter, these students may find themselves unprepared and scrambling to secure a spot at another suitable college, which could negatively impact their overall college experience and future prospects.

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Other Considerations for College Applicants

When making final college decisions, high school seniors should consider a variety of factors beyond Likely Letters to ensure they choose the best fit for their needs and goals.

Financial aid packages

Considering financial aid packages when evaluating other factors beyond a Likely Letter is essential because they directly impact the affordability and long-term financial implications of attending a specific college or university. While a Likely Letter signals strong interest from an institution, it does not always guarantee a favorable financial aid package.

Campus culture

Considering campus culture when evaluating factors beyond a Likely Letter is essential because it significantly shapes a student's overall college experience and personal growth . While a Likely Letter indicates a strong likelihood of acceptance, it does not necessarily guarantee that the institution's campus culture aligns with the student's values, preferences, and social needs.

By examining campus culture, students can assess aspects such as student demographics , extracurricular activities , clubs and organizations , support services , and the general atmosphere of the college or university. A campus culture that aligns well with a student's personality, interests, and values can foster a positive and fulfilling college experience, promoting personal development, academic success, and social connections.

Post-graduation opportunities

By examining post-graduation opportunities, students can assess aspects such as alumni networks , career services support , connections to potential employers or graduate programs , and overall job placement rates . It is crucial to look into post-graduation opportunities when evaluating factors beyond a Likely Letter because it helps students gauge the long-term value and potential return on investment of attending a specific college or university. Choosing a college or university with strong post-graduation support can lead to better employment prospects , higher earning potential, and increased satisfaction with their overall educational experience.

Navigating the College Decision Journey: Beyond Likely Letters

Navigating the college decision journey is a complex and deeply personal process that extends beyond the excitement of receiving likely letters. While Likely Letters provide a sense of reassurance and early validation, it's essential for students to maintain a balanced perspective and continue exploring all available options. Ultimately, this holistic approach empowers students to confidently choose the educational path that best supports their personal growth, academic success, and future career prospects, setting the foundation for a fulfilling and rewarding college experience. Embracing the journey with open-mindedness, resilience, and self-awareness will lead to the best possible outcome, as students forge their unique paths towards higher education and personal growth.

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What are likely letters.

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Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/11/23

Have you recently received a likely letter from a college? But what are likely letters, and what do they mean if you receive one? Read on to learn more.

What Is a Likely Letter?

So, what are college likely letters? Likely letters are sent to students who are likely to receive an offer of admission to a school they have applied to. Colleges know that competitive applicants can end up with many choices, so they want to give them extra time and incentive to consider accepting their offer. 

Likely letters are sent before the rest of the decisions come out. This gives the recipients a chance to evaluate their options. Likely letters are only sent to a very select group of students, and receiving one is rare.

When Do Colleges Send Likely Letters?

Likely letters are sent before the rest of the decisions are released. Regular admissions decisions come out in late March and early April, and schools typically send out likely letters in mid-February and early March. 

Not all colleges send likely letters; many don’t! While all Ivy League schools send out likely letters, each has a different policy about the type of students they target with the letters. Always do your research into the schools on your college list !

Why Do Colleges Send Likely Letters?

Just like there are competitive colleges, there are competitive applicants! Schools know these students will receive multiple acceptances and want to attract these strong applicants to attend. By sending a likely letter, a college lets students know they’re very interested in them. 

Likely letters are an important strategy schools use to get students excited and thinking about attending early on. They are also a strategy for colleges to increase their yield rate ; yield reflects the number of students who accept their offers to a particular college. Yield is an important factor rating agencies use when determining college rankings. 

Likely letters can also be sent to high-performing athletes that colleges want to recruit into their athletics programs . 

It’s important to remember that just because you don’t receive a likely letter doesn't mean you won’t be admitted! In fact, most students do not receive them. In the past, Harvard sent out only 300 likely letters ; 200 of which were to recruited athletes. The other 100 went to students from underrepresented backgrounds. 

Don’t lose hope if you don’t receive a letter from your dream school; likely letters are not the typical path to admission! You are much more likely to find out about your admissions decision along with all other applicants. 

Ultimately, likely letters are part of a strategy colleges use to attract top students and athletes to their programs and increase their yield rates to help them improve their standing in college rankings.

What Do Likely Letters Say?

Likely letters are typically short and indicate to a student that the college is interested. They provide information about the school and sometimes include invitations to special on-campus events that other applicants don’t have access to.  

Remember that a likely letter is not a formal offer of admission. Most schools have policies that ensure all applicants are notified of their admission status on the same day. 

By sending likely letters, they can let students know that they are likely to be admitted and get around this policy. Dartmouth indicates that students who receive likely letters have a high chance of being admitted . 

Likely letters are a way for schools to keep top applicants engaged and excited about attending.

Likely Letter Examples 

Even though schools send out very few likely letters, it’s best to keep an eye on your inbox. Here’s an example of a Duke likely letter: 

Likely letter from Duke University

Here’s an older likely letter example from Emory University: 

Likely letter from emory university

Likely letters are typically a few paragraphs long and open with the school stating you have a strong chance of admission.  

What It Takes To Receive a Likely Letter

Likely letters are typically sent out only to top applicants, and in some cases, only to student-athletes. Yale sends out likely letters to students who are exceptionally strong as scholars or who will contribute to the Yale community in other outstanding ways. 

You need to really stand out in your college applications to a school to get a letter. While each school is different, likely letters are used to target applicants at the top of a particular category. These categories include academics, sports, and other school-specific factors.

FAQs: Likely Letters

Take a look at our answers to some of the most common questions about Likely letters! 

1. Which Colleges Send Out Likely Letters?

Most schools do not publicize whether or not they send likely letters. It is only top and very selective schools that make their participation in the likely letters process public. All Ivy League schools send out likely letters. 

These schools know they are competing with each other for top applicants. They each want to improve their yield rates and the chance that these top applicants will choose to attend their school. 

2. Can You Get Rejected After Getting a Likely Letter?

A likely letter is not an offer of admission, so it is possible to be rejected after receiving one. While likely letters indicate a high probability of acceptance, it is not a guarantee 

3. Do Likely Letters Guarantee Admission?

Likely letters do not guarantee admission. The only thing that can do that is an official offer. A likely letter only indicates to a student that they have a high chance of getting an offer.

4. Are Likely Letters Rare?

Receiving a likely letter is rare. The majority of students who ultimately receive offers do not get them. They are used to targeting only the highest-performing students and recruited athletes. 

5. What Is the Difference Between a Likely Letter and an Early Write?

The main difference between the two is that an early write is a formal offer of admission, while a likely letter is not. Students who receive early writes receive offers before the official decision date.

Final Thoughts

Likely letters are an important tool schools use to attract top applicants, but they are rare, and most students will not receive them. Do not worry if you don’t get one! While all Ivy League schools send them out, many schools don't, and among those that do, each has its own policy as to who will get the letters. 

To improve your chance of receiving a likely letter, it can be worthwhile to hire a tutor or seek the help of a knowledgeable admissions expert who can help your application stand out. 

Many schools target athletes using likely letters, so even if you don’t have an outstanding academic profile, there’s still a chance that you can receive a likely letter if you practice a sport. Receiving a likely letter is very rare, and if you don’t receive one, you definitely still have a chance to get accepted!

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What is a College “Likely Letter?”

college acceptance 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 84% yield rate  or Stanford’s 84% 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!

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What Is a Likely Letter in College Admissions?

Some students will get an early hint that they've been accepted

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A "likely letter" is an admission tool used by highly selective colleges and universities . It notifies the school's top choice prospects in the regular applicant pool that an acceptance letter is likely to be coming in the future. Likely letters give colleges a way to begin recruiting top applicants without having to wait until official decision notifications in late March or early April.

What Does a Likely Letter Typically Say?

Likely letters tend to flatter the applicant and hint at the arrival of an acceptance letter in the future. You can expect something like this:

"Greetings from the Office of Admissions at Ivy University! I'm writing to let you know how impressed my colleagues and I were with your many accomplishments both inside and outside of the classroom. We feel that your talents, interests, and goals are a great match for Ivy University. While we don't send out official offers of admission until March 30th, we thought you'd like to know that you are very likely to be admitted. Congratulations!"

Does a Likely Letter Guarantee Admission?

While a likely letter doesn't guarantee you'll receive an acceptance letter, it's pretty close to a guarantee. Keep your grades up , don't get suspended or arrested, and you will almost certainly receive good news from the college that sent you the likely letter. The letter itself won't be worded to guarantee admissions since that would be an acceptance letter, and sending out acceptance letters ahead of the official notification date would break the school's policies. But yes, you can pretty much count on getting in.

Realize that even an official acceptance can be rescinded if your grades drop significantly, or you do something to get in trouble.

When Do Colleges Send Likely Letters?

February is the most common time to receive a likely letter, but they can come earlier or later. If you apply early in the fall, a few schools will even send out likely letters before the new year. This is particularly true if an athletic recruiter is actively working with the admissions office to woo the student.

What Schools Send Likely Letters?

Many colleges don't openly advertise their practices surrounding likely letters, so it's hard to know how many schools actually use them. That said,  Harvard University ,  Yale University , the  University of Pennsylvania  and all the other  Ivy League schools  use some form of likely letters. Most of the country's  top universities  and  top liberal arts colleges  also use likely letters.

Many colleges have rolling admissions , so they have no need for likely letters. They will simply send out an acceptance letter as soon as they have decided a student is a good fit for the school.

Far more private colleges and universities use likely letters than public institutions, but a few of the most selective public universities such as the  University of Virginia  do use them. 

Why Do Colleges and Universities Send Likely Letters?

If the college admissions process seems painfully selective and competitive, you're certainly correct if you are applying to the country's most selective colleges and universities. But there's another side to the competition. Sure, many students are competing with each other to get those limited spots in the top schools, but those top schools are also competing with each other to get the strongest, most talented students. Enter the likely letter.

In general, the nation's most selective schools do not have rolling admissions. Most notify their entire regular admissions applicant pool of admissions decisions in late March or early April. This means that three months often go by between the application deadline and the release of decisions. That's three months during which other colleges could be actively recruiting and wooing students. If a student applies early in the admissions cycle—in October, for example—five months could go by between a student sending off that application and receiving an acceptance letter. That's five months during which a student's excitement for the school can diminish, especially if they are being actively courted with flattery and scholarships from another school.

In short, if a college wants to get a strong yield from its top applicant pool, it will often employ likely letters. Likely letters allow colleges and universities to communicate with top students, reduce the students' wait time, increase the students' excitement, and make it more likely that those students will enroll.

I Didn't Get a Likely Letter, What Now?

Don't panic—the majority of applicants a college admits do not receive likely letters. For example, in 2015 Harvard University sent out 300 likely letters; 200 of those letters went to athletes (likely letters are an important tool for schools to recruit those rare students who excel both academically and in athletics). The University of Pennsylvania sent out 400 likely letters in 2015.

With a little rough math, that suggests that about one out of every six admitted students in the regular applicant pool received a likely letter. So if you received a likely letter, congratulations. The school saw you as an exceptional applicant and really wants you to attend. If you didn't get one? You're in the majority. You might be disappointed to not receive a likely letter, but the game certainly isn't over.

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Likely Letter

A "likely letter" informs a student that their application has been reviewed and the probability of acceptance is high. All Ivy institutions use a small number of likely letters as a way to reassure highly recruited athletes and other outstanding applicants. Most students do not receive likely letters; it's not the usual path to an acceptance. But if you get one, athlete or not, congratulations are in order!

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What does a likely letter mean for college admissions?


Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education

What does a likely letter mean for college admissions?

Alright, you're in the process of applying to college, and you might've heard of or received a likely letter. But what exactly is a likely letter? In this article, we'll have a casual conversation about what these fantastic letters are and the reasons behind colleges sending them out.

What is a likely letter?

A likely letter is sent by a school to a select group of applicants before they finalize their admissions decisions. Essentially, this letter informs a student that they have a good chance of being accepted, as it shows the school's intention to admit them.

The purpose of likely letters

Elite schools send likely letters to especially strong candidates for a couple of reasons, but mainly to increase their yield rate and attract the top students. Yield rate refers to the percentage of accepted students who actually enroll. A high yield rate shows that a college or university is a popular choice for the smartest college applicants. That's why many of the most prestigious institutions in the country have the highest yield rates. For instance, MIT has a yield rate of 77%, while Stanford University and Harvard University both have a yield rate of 82%.

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By keeping the best candidates interested in and engaged with a college while they wait for official admissions decisions in late March and early April, likely letters assist selective schools in maintaining their high yields. Admissions officers are often required to notify all applicants of their admissions decision at once, but likely letters allow them to get around that policy. It informs an applicant of their "likely" admission. A likely letter shows the school's interest in the applicant, flatters them, creates a more favorable impression of the institution, and raises the likelihood that the applicant will matriculate.

Invitations to occasions and initiatives like diversity weekends and fully funded campus visits are frequently sent along with likely letters. With the help of these invitations, colleges can build up a stronger rapport with the candidates and gain more time to entice them to enroll in their programs.

What Sets an Early Write Apart from a Likely Letter?

The term "early write" refers to a different kind of early admissions notification. What distinguishes a likely letter from an early write is the likelihood of admission. A likely letter is not an official acceptance letter; rather, it expresses the institution's probability of admitting a student. Though it is understood that all "likely" students are admitted unless their profile deteriorates, a school may reconsider its admissions decision, for instance, if the person who received a likely letter dropped their advanced classes, was arrested, or did something else unfavorable.

On the other hand, an early write is an early official acceptance. If the student does something bad, the school may still withdraw their acceptance, but based on the letter, the student can be certain they are accepted at that time. Leading liberal arts colleges like Williams and Amherst utilize early writing.

What time are typical dates for sending likely letters and early drafts?

Most colleges usually let applicants know about their regular admissions decisions around late March or early April. For example, all Ivy League schools reveal their decisions on a day called "Ivy Day." Between mid-February and early March, students often get likely letters and early drafts.

What Kind of Letter or Early Write Would You Expect?

Likely letters may have different wording depending on the institution, but they all usually have the same structure. They highlight the high chance of the applicant getting accepted and the school's enthusiasm to welcome them as part of the student community. These letters have a complimentary tone and often signal that an official acceptance letter will be coming later on.

Here's a rewritten version of the paragraph:

"We were blown away and humbled by your enthusiasm, creativity, skills, and kindness, and this early acceptance is a way to celebrate your amazing accomplishments and your drive to use your abilities to improve the world. We grant this honor to only a handful of students, and we're super excited to share this fantastic news with you."

Letters are usually a means to keep connected with the school, and often, they come with an invitation to visit. For instance, a potential letter from Columbia University to a future student might say, "We hope you'll consider joining us for one of our two Columbia College Days on Campus weekends. During these events, admitted students will have the opportunity to experience a hosted overnight, visit, attend classes, take a tour of New York City, and enjoy a whole lot more."

Other times, letters will probably warn students that this isn't an official acceptance and that their actions might jeopardize their enrollment. An excellent example is this letter that could be sent to a student athlete by Yale University: "Please know that we will carefully review your mid-year and final grades, and that we expect you to maintain your present level of academic performance and personal integrity for the remainder of the year."

Which Colleges Typically Send Early Writes or Letters?

There isn't a complete list of schools that send out likely letters and early writes since they don't openly promote them. However, we do know that some schools have sent these letters before. All Ivy League schools have used likely letters to draw in applicants who meet specific criteria. They often send these letters to student athletes, as they have that amazing mix of academic smarts and athletic skills that really stands out.

Numerous prestigious colleges and universities, including Barnard, Brandeis, Bowdoin, Clark, College of William and Mary, Duke, MIT, Rice, Stanford, University of Chicago, UCLA, UNC Chapel Hill, and UVA, are also said to have sent outstanding applicants letters of recommendation. The same is true for prestigious liberal arts colleges like Amherst, Williams, Smith, and Grinnell, which have a history of sending early or likely letters.

Many likely letters and early writes, as was already mentioned, include a request to visit the campus. For instance, in February, Vanderbilt University sends 200 or so early essays to students from various minority backgrounds. The accepted students are invited to campus for MOSAIC (Medley Of Students And Ideas Connecting), a multicultural student weekend in March, via the letter. The program's objective is to draw talented students to the university and keep the campus diverse in terms of both ethnicity and culture. For accepted students, other schools, like Amherst College, also host diversity weekends.

What If I Don't Receive a Likely Letter?

Don't worry if you're not familiar with the concept of a likely letter or if you're concerned you won't receive one. The fact is, the majority of applicants won't know if they've been accepted until the school announces the official admissions decisions. Take a look at Vanderbilt, for instance. They only accept around 2,000 students for their MOSAIC Program each year, but they invite 200 to apply. This means that a mere 10% of accepted students receive a likely letter. Similarly, the University of Pennsylvania had 37,267 applications in 2015, with 3,697 students being admitted. Out of those, only around 400 students got a likely letter. So, you're definitely not the only one!

Here's the deal: if you don't get a likely letter, don't stress about it. But if you do, it means you're one of the top candidates for the school. Just keep doing your best, and you can be pretty sure you'll get that official acceptance letter.

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What is a likely letter?

This letter serves as an unofficial message to a student that they’re almost certain to gain acceptance to a school. Likely letters are rare and only sent to applicants that a college considers very desirable. Of course, a likely letter doesn’t guarantee the student will be accepted to the college. For instance, if the student’s grades suffer after receiving the likely letter, then the invitation would be withdrawn. Think of it as a school’s way of showing how impressed it is with a student. Check with your potential colleges to see if they send likely letters.

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