Likely Letters and Where to Find Them

I was a high-achieving high schooler: I got good grades, high test scores, and a list of extracurricular activities that I was passionate about. But by the end of high school, I was (metaphorically) biting my nails, waiting to find out about my college acceptances -- and even more nervous about having to decide which one I’d attend. It was nerveracking -- and I still had several months to go before decisions were released. But one day, I received an interesting piece of mail: a likely letter.

A few weeks before I received my “likely letter” (which I’ll go on to explain), I received a phone call from an Ivy League university’s admissions office saying that it was very interested in me. They added that they would be sending me a “likely letter” to confirm their interest. 

But what the heck was a “likely letter?” 

A “likely letter,” they explained, was a letter saying that I was practically guaranteed admission. It was a way for this school to tell me that they wanted me to attend and were willing to “go out on a line for me,” i.e. to tell me that I had essentially been accepted so that I would stop looking at other schools. This was a method of enticing me: it was meant to flatter me (which it did) and get me think about this particularly university before I even considered anything else. 

Why do schools do this? 

Think of it this way: when I received the letter, if I remember correctly, the admissions officer told me that I was in the top 5% of the accepted applicants. At that point, i.e. if your application is this strong, any admissions office knows that you are sure to be accepted to other top schools and will “fight” to win you over -- in this case, with a likely letter. These letters often include invitations to visit the school and get a feel for the campus: another method of enticing you.

Please note that a likely letter is not the same thing as an “early write.” A likely letter is only a statement of a university’s intention to admit you -- but it’s not 100% guaranteed! An “early write,” however, is an official early acceptance. Not all colleges have early writes -- and not all have likely letters. But some do. And if you got a likely letter, hooray! It means you were one of the top applicants for that school and will probably soon receive an official offer of admission.

And when they send you a likely letter, it means they really want you to attend. They’re sticking their neck out for you -- they want you to know that they are interested, so that you are interested in them, too. Now that I think about it, the whole process is a little like dating.

Strangely enough, though, in the end, I did not attend the school that sent me the likely letter. After careful consideration, I realized that it was not the right fit for me -- which is why taking up the invitation to visit campus can be so important! Nonetheless, it was flattering to receive that piece of mail -- it was nice to know that the application I had worked so hard on had fared so well. 

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