What Is a Likely Letter From a College?

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If you’ve applied to higher-end colleges, especially (but not only) the Ivies, you might have heard of something called a “likely letter.” The name comes from the fact that this letter means that you’re likely to be offered admission, though it isn’t yet a guarantee.

Likely letters tend to arrive in late February or early March, which means yours might show up any day now. Let’s take some time to talk about what they are and what they mean so that you’ll be ready if you get one.

Who Gets Likely Letters?

In general, the bulk of likely letters that a college sends tend to be to athletes it wants to entice. Usually, around two thirds of the likely letters that go out are to athletes, and the other third are to other remarkable students. For example, Harvard College tends to send around 300 likely letters, of which around 200 go to athletes.

What Does a Likely Letter Say?

A likely letter tends to make clear that the school in question intends to offer you admission, but without technically offering it quite yet. It might say things like “we intend to admit you” or “we look forward to offering you admission.”

In some cases, a likely letter can be more vague. Sally Rubenstein at College Confidential points out that some colleges might, for example, send you an invitation to an event or academic program. These aren’t as straightforward, but serve the same purpose of suggesting that you’re likely to be admitted.

Speaking of serving the same purpose, what is the college’s purpose in sending likely letters?

You might remember that we talked a couple months ago about college yield rates. In short, a yield rate is the percentage of students offered admission who choose to go to that school. So, for example, if 100 students applied and 10 were accepted, the college’s acceptance rate would be 10%. If 8 out of those 10 chose to attend, the college’s yield rate would be 80%.

Colleges, especially top-tier ones, want to keep their yield rates as high as possible. This means that if they offer you admission, they want you to choose to go there instead of somewhere else.

The concern is that in the months between your application and your admission offer, you might lose some of your initial energetic enthusiasm for the school. By sending a likely letter in between, colleges hope to spark that enthusiasm all over again. They also want to give you some extra time to research their school and reestablish why it’s such a great fit for you.

What do I need to do if I get a likely letter?

Most likely letters make it very clear that you need to maintain the academic standards that you’ve set. Remember, it’s not a guarantee of an offer — so if you let your grades slip, or otherwise don’t live up to the college’s expectations, they’re under no obligation to offer you admission.

If the letter specifically asks you to respond, of course you should. Otherwise, it’s not necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to do so either.

Other than that, you generally don’t need to do anything — just keep it up. Congratulations on being such an extraordinary student!

Questions? Let us know!