What is a “Likely Letter”?

Not all schools issue likely letters, but those who apply to schools that do send likely letters also send us the following question. If you don’t know what a likely letter is, read on. If you know what it is but want a bit more info about it, read on. If you don’t think this article applies to you, read on. Are we being consistent?

What is it?

A likely letter can essentially be thought of as an unofficial letter of intent from the college. Their intention, that is, to accept you. It’s a letter sent out a few weeks before official admissions decisions are released that says, “Thank you for applying and we greatly enjoyed reviewing your application. Like, a lot (read: we want you).” in so many words. If you apply to any of the Ivy League schools you are in the running to receive a likely letter. Columbia actually directly addresses their likely letter situation on their website, which is rare and wholly unhelpful but nice of them to acknowledge this veiled practice.

There are a bunch of other schools that send slightly varied versions of a likely letter. For example, we’ve heard of students getting an invite to an event on campus that very closely resembles an “Accepted Students” event but the schools won’t call it that. It will just be an invitation to an event some time in the next few weeks or month along with a nice note. It’s confusing for us, too.

Why did I get it?

You got it because you’re great, and the school really likes you, but they can’t technically send you an acceptance letter yet because it’s before the official release date (and they want to be able to still get out of it if you truly mess up). One might also argue that it’s a psychology experiment and the earlier you hear anything at all from a certain school (and the more you anticipate additional communication from them), the more likely you are to accept because they become so top of mind. But that’s just us pontificating. Or is it…

What does it all mean?

It means you did a good job with your application. Pat yourself on the back, but not too hard. What they are communicating to you is essentially—hold off! Don’t give up on us yet, we can’t tell you how much we love you and want you to come to our school on official letterhead but we can send this letter to tell you that we loved reading your application and oh look, it’s still on our official letterhead. It’s the college version of “stay tuned (also, don’t mess up in school because we are pretty positive that we want you and we don’t like going back on our word).”

OK, so what do I do?

The key here is more what you shouldn’t do vs. what you should do. If you get a likely letter from a school that you’re excited about and would potentially go to if accepted, then hold off on accepting any offers from other schools until you get your official acceptance letter from the likely letter school. Also, don’t do anything super silly at school, like out yourself as the mastermind of senior ditch day or get a C in AP Chemistry.

Am I guaranteed acceptance if I get a likely letter?

Technically, no. That’s why it’s called a “likely” letter. It means they like you and it’s likely that you will be accepted, but hold tight until you get that actual acceptance letter. That is the guarantee. Nothing else really matters until you get that official “Welcome, you’ve been accepted,” letter with those words. 

If I didn’t get one does it mean I didn’t get in?

Not at all. Likely letters are sort of like the Bermuda Triangle of the college admissions process—they certainly exist, but there’s no real equation or hard and fast rules about who gets them and who doesn’t. And, certainly, students of ours in the past have not received likely letters from schools who indeed send them out, but have still gotten accepted.

Let us know if you have any remaining questions. We’re here to shed light on even the most elusive and nonsensical practices that occur throughout the college process.