What Are Likely Letters?

Man on computer smiling
August 28, 2023


Reviewed by:

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
Source: Reddit 

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

Likely letter from emory university
Source: The Recruiting Road

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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