What Are Likely Letters? | The Full Guide + List of Schools

Likely Letters: Your Guide
April 26, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

If you want to know what likely letters are and how colleges use them, read on for everything you need to know. 

Have you ever wondered if there's a way to know your college admissions decision before the official release date? For a select group of students, there is – and it's called a likely letter.

Likely letters are a little-known tool that top colleges use to recruit the most exceptional applicants. These letters, sent out weeks before official admissions decisions, hint strongly that the student will be accepted. It's like a golden ticket to the chocolate factory but for college admissions.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll take you behind the scenes of the likely letter process. You'll learn what likely letters are, why colleges send them, and what it takes to receive one. We'll also inform you which schools are known to send likely letters and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this ticket into college.

What Is a Likely Letter?

A likely letter is a notification from a college admissions office indicating that a student is likely to be accepted to the school. They are sent to highly competitive applicants before official admissions decisions are released.

Likely letters are not official acceptances but rather a positive indication of the student's admissions status. These letters are typically sent to top academic performers, recruited athletes, and students from underrepresented backgrounds.

What Do Likely Letters Look Like?

A likely letter from a college is a positive sign that you will be accepted. These letters typically:

  • Arrive before official admissions decisions
  • Indicate the college is "likely" to accept you
  • Mention your strong application and fit with the school
  • Encourage you to consider the college as your top choice
  • Request that you withdraw applications from other schools

While a likely letter is not an official acceptance, it is a very promising signal that you will receive good news from the college soon. If you receive one, be sure to follow up with the admissions office to express your continued interest.

Why Do Colleges Send Likely Letters?

Colleges will sometimes send likely letters to impressive applicants to create and strengthen their relationships. These early notices show that the university cares about recognizing and supporting talented students.

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 athletic programs

When Do Colleges Send Likely Letters?

Colleges typically send likely letters from mid-February to early March, before regular admissions decisions are released in late March or early April. However, the exact timing varies by school.

Many top colleges, including the Ivy League schools, Stanford, Duke, and UChicago, send likely letters to their most competitive applicants.

Some schools, like Brown, may send likely letters in early March, while others, like Columbia, start sending them in mid-February.

The majority of likely letters are sent by the end of February, but some may continue to be sent until a few weeks before regular decision release dates.

Receiving a likely letter is rare, and most admitted students do not receive one. Likely letters are usually sent to only the top academic applicants, recruited athletes, and students from underrepresented backgrounds.

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 cannot access.  

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 inform students that they will likely 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. 

What It Takes To Receive a Likely Letter

Likely letters are typically sent out only to the very 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 who are at the top of a particular category. These categories include academics, sports, and other school-specific factors. 

List of Schools that Send Likely Letters

Here is a list of schools that you may receive a likely letter from if you’re a competitive applicant. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, and schools may change their practices.

Ivy League Schools Other Top Universities Top Liberal Arts Colleges Other Notable Schools
Harvard University Stanford University Amherst College Barnard College
Yale University Duke University Williams College Brandeis University
Columbia University University of Chicago Smith College Bowdoin College
University of Pennsylvania Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Grinnell College Clark University
Brown University California Institute of Technology (Caltech) College of William and Mary
Dartmouth College University of Southern California (USC) Rice University
Cornell University University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Virginia
Vanderbilt University

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. Only the top and very selective schools 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 usually only target 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.

6. Is It a Bad Sign if You Don’t Receive a Likely Letter?

Not receiving a likely letter is not a bad sign or a cause for concern. The vast majority of admitted students do not receive likely letters.

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 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. 

Keep in mind that many schools target athletes using likely letters, so even if you do not 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 still have a chance to get into one of the schools on your college list. 

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