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MAR 18, 2020 • 4 min read
In the US college system, a “Likely Letter” is incredibly good news for the select few who receive them. These wink-wink nudge-nudge entreaties are sent out to coveted students in advance of official acceptance letters – usually sometime in October for early applicants, or late February for regular applicants.
What’s the point? It’s a way for schools – primarily Ivies – to reassure select students by letting them know they’re among the chosen few. You get the gist: “we want you to join us but it’s not official yet, so don’t do anything to jeopardise that in the next couple months and you’re sure to get in.” They tend to read along the same lines, and are often sent to athletes outside the Ivy League: "I am delighted to inform you that your application to ‘Super-Prestigious University’ has been carefully evaluated and that you have earned designation as a likely candidate for admission."
For the college, which highly values high matriculation rates (the percentage of students admitted who actually attend), it’s a way of using positive psychology to endear students towards choosing their school.
But how do you get one of these rare letters? Well…
Especially when it comes to the Ivy League schools, being a top student is sort of a given. If you want a likely letter, you’ll have to demonstrate dedication in your chosen classes and an ability to ace standardized tests (or come close!). This means bossing every aspect of academic life: you want a stellar GPA, excellent SAT or ACT scores, academic awards from your school if possible, strong recommendation letters and a personal statement or essay that shows you’re humble but passionate about learning and growing as a person.
Did you visit the school? Did you say something true about why you want to go there in your application? Just as you want to feel wanted, the school wants to feel that you really want to matriculate there rather than somewhere else. If you are able to show that you think a particular school’s environment will really suit you, and that you believe in the values it stands for, your application is far more likely to stand out.
Excellence in any field tends to show that you have the ability to commit to and excel in the hobbies you pursue. For a college, or indeed a prospective employer, this is a sign that you are able and dedicated and is certainly something that the most prestigious schools will be considering and favoring when they come to evaluating your application. Like sporting excellence, which we’ll come onto next, it’s a way of ensuring that you are someone your school may want to brag about in the years to come.
Great athletes are among the most likely to receive likely letters—and for those with great academic records as well, the Ivies are bound to come calling. Particularly if you’re a great athlete in a sport that makes colleges money (football, basketball and to a much lesser extent, baseball, volleyball, soccer, and some select others), and you’re very solid academically (you do not need to be the best, but having great test scores and good enough grades is very helpful), you should absolutely consider whether or not you want to continue playing your sport in college. It’s a serious commitment, and it’s true that in the cases of the Ivy Leagues, you can engage in the recruiting process and quit later if you choose to. Regardless, if you’re good enough, engaging in the recruiting process (having your coach contact Harvard’s coach, for example, sending tapes and more) can be a huge advantage. Luck
Let’s face it. A lot of this is random. The people sifting through these applications are human and they will take a shine to one candidate over another for reasons that are ultimately subjective. This is why at the end of the day the only thing you can really do is be the best version of yourself and show yourself in your best light!