Likely Letters: Everything You Need to Know


“Likely letters” are early letters of admission some colleges send to recruited athletes and extremely competitive applicants who they want to persuade to attend their college.

The idea is that if a college makes a top student feel extra special, they will be more likely to attend that college over their other choices.

They are called “likely” letters and not “early admission” letters because colleges are not legally allowed to send early offers of admission.

What colleges send likely letters?

Most top colleges except MIT and Caltech. Some colleges, like Princeton, only send likely letters to recruited athletes.

How many students get likely letters?

The vast majority don’t. They’re called likely letters, but they are really unlikely to receive, but it’s probably less than 15% of students or 1 in 6.

Keep in mind this includes recruited athletes. Excluding athletes, it’s probably more like 5%, and for some colleges, it’s virtually none.

In 2011, Harvard said they send out about 300 letters, 200 to athletes and 100 to exceptional students. That’s about 15% of admits total, or about 5% of non-athletes who receive a likely.

Stanford said a similar thing in 2007: about 300 students get likely letters, about 15% of total admits.

Both Harvard and Stanford are D1 schools, so they probably view athletics as more important, versus D3 schools like JHU and UChicago; that might affect the rate.

Vanderbilt invites around 200 students from minority/rural backgrounds to their MOSAIC Program to visit campus in March—about 10% of admitted students.

Can you predict if you’ll get a likely letter?

No, you can’t.

When do likely letters come out?

For RD, usually around February/March, but each college has its own schedule. Some people say that certain colleges like Stanford give likely letters on a rolling basis.

All things considered, you most likely will wait till the RD Decisions date.

Trying to figure out if you’ll get a likely letter, what your interview meant, or why your financial aid documents say “received” instead of “reviewed” is not productive. There’s nothing left to do now but wait.

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