Understanding the “Likely Letter”

Some students receive a pre-acceptance letter from colleges.

by Anne Vaccaro Brady


I’d never heard of a likely letter until a friend mentioned that a colleague’s son received a notice from one of his top schools telling him that he was “likely to be accepted.” This was not an official letter of acceptance.

Researching this interesting concept, I learned that likely letters aren’t new, and are a product of the Ivy League admissions system. Some other top tier colleges utilize these letters now, too.

The original intent was to inform athletes of a college’s serious interest because the Ivies don’t offer athletic scholarships. Over the years, telling a potential student “we value you” has spread to non-athletes as well.

Colleges know they’re competing for the best students Basically, colleges are not allowed to issue acceptance notices before their official decision date. Schools that issue likely letters know the top students will be receiving several acceptances. They want the best chance to ensure those teens will pick their school and can’t risk being hampered by their later decision date.

Interestingly, some seniors who would qualify for a letter won’t receive one because they sent their applications too close to the deadline and likely letters are often sent out before all applications are reviewed.

What the letter means Though the likely letter isn’t binding, the underlying message to a student is that you’re in as long as you don’t mess up between now and when the real acceptance letters go out. In other words, don’t fail a class or get expelled.

When to expect one Regular admissions students usually receive likely letters in February or March, just before the April 1 decision date for many of these colleges. Early action and early admissions students will have received one by late fall.

Invitations sometimes accompany the letter In addition to telling a student to expect an acceptance, the letter might include an invitation to a selected students tour or a program information session specifically for these applicants.

Why it’s okay if your senior doesn’t receive one Some colleges send them to all students they plan to accept, but most don’t. Only a couple of hundred letters go out generally, which is nothing when you consider that colleges can each issue a few thousand official acceptance letters every year.

If your teen attends a high school where students regularly get these letters, it can be disheartening when he doesn’t. Just because he wasn’t put in this selective student category doesn’t mean he isn’t going to be accepted. Remind him not to read too much into the empty mailbox.

As the parent, don’t stress either. We all want to know as soon as possible that our senior has been accepted to his college of choice. The reality is that once an application is submitted, the admissions process at that particular college takes over and for the most part, things are out of our hands.

How to evaluate the likely letter If your senior receives one and suddenly puts that school at the top of her list, then the college succeeded in its mission. For many students, receiving this pre-acceptance letter makes them feel valued, putting the college in a better light.

As the parent, it’s your job to ensure that your senior picks the college that is right for her overall, not one that simply makes her feel special.

Share your thoughts about the likely letter in the comments section below.

This entry was posted in college, College Acceptance and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Understanding the “Likely Letter”

  1. I had not heard about this…thanks

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