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Articles / Admissions / 2016 Update: Part 1

April 26, 2020

2016 Update: Part 1

Well, here we are, just over two weeks before the end of the year. This year, 2016, has been an exciting dozen of months. We've seen a number of major events occur, both on and off campus.

Of course, some of those happenings off campus have had a major effect for students on campus. The days of ambivalent student bodies appear to be far behind us. Today's students are plugged into news sources that — for better or worse — report “news" from around the world instantly. Yes, I'm talking about social media and its influence on campus life. Facebook dominates social media, along with a handful of others thrown in, such as Twitter.

So, to begin wrapping up yet another year of Admit This!, its eighth, I thought I would take a look back across 2016 and pick out a few of those 91 (so far) topics and offer any updates that have affected them. You may have missed a post or two along the way, so these retrospectives may be a good way to catch up.

From January: Three Predictions for 2016

Excerpts recap:

1. The Ivy/elite admissions frenzy will continue unabated … unless …

… as Joubert, the skilled professional killer in the film Thee Days of The Condor said regarding those who hire him, “There's always someone willing to pay." How true. Unfortunately, a sharp investment downturn would deal a blow to the elites' policy of overall diversity, limiting the number of students who could not afford the tremendously high costs of top-shelf education. Thus, the old adage, “What goes around comes around" would kick in. What “went around" in elite higher education were those F. Scott Fitzgerald days, where elite schools were primarily — almost exclusively — for the well to do of society, which took the “good" out of the good old days.

2. Political correctness on campus will reach the breaking point.

– Hating pumpkin-spice lattes was declared sexist.

If you say bad things about pumpkin-spice lattes, what you're really saying is that “girls don't get to have valid emotions" — at least according to Min Cheng's op-ed in the Phoenix, Swarthmore College's student newspaper. …
– A university language guide stated that the word “American" was “problematic."

3. The College Board and Educational Testing Service will undergo a cultural change.

… “The College Board is more interested in marketing and selling things than it is in its primary responsibility, promoting equity and educational opportunity," said Ted O'Neill, who stepped down as admissions dean of the University of Chicago in 2009 and served on several College Board committees. …

I think the “cultural" breaking point for CB/ETS, just like for PC on campus, is near. So, I see a change blowing in the wind. We'll just have to see whether or not it's a breeze or a hurricane. I vote for the latter, weather or not, so to speak.


Looks like I nailed #1, although that was a safe bet (see here and here). All the Early Decision and Early Action acceptance rates for this year are not in yet, as of this writing, but from the Regular Decision rates you'll see in my links, it appears as though the “frenzy" is continuing.

That “breaking point," as cited in #2, is subjective. However, there has been progress:

University of Chicago Strikes Back Against Campus Political Correctness

The anodyne welcome letter to incoming freshmen is a college staple, but this week the University of Chicago took a different approach: It sent new students a blunt statement opposing some hallmarks of campus political correctness, drawing thousands of impassioned responses, for and against, as it caromed around cyberspace. …

NY Times Again Exposes 'Safe Space,' Speech-Stifling PC Culture on College Campus on Front Page

… the paper has been decent recently on at least one issue important to conservatives: Free speech on college campus … [the] off-lead story covered the surprisingly strong welcome letter the University of Chicago sent to its incoming students: “University of Chicago Rebels Against Moves to Stifle Speech." The text box: “Rejecting 'trigger warnings' and 'safe spaces.'" …

Even though almost three weeks remain in 2016, I've yet to see evidence of my #3 forecast. However, I continue to believe that the pressure being exerted on the SAT by the ACT will force the College Board and ETS to change its tune. Here's what the ACT is accomplishing: ACT gains on SAT, rival college entrance test

The ACT was once the poor stepsister to the SAT, strong in the Midwest and South but less established on the East and West coasts. Now, however, the ACT is growing faster than its rival, not only nationally but in SAT strongholds including California, where 50 percent more students in the class of 2008 took the ACT than their 2004 counterparts. Nationwide, the ACT was taken by 1.4 million students in the 2008 class, compared to 1.5 million who took the SAT, according to the test companies.

Two outta three ain't bad, eh? I'm still holding out hope for my #3, even if it takes another year or so. That prediction can't come true soon enough.


From February: Likely Letters

Excerpts recap:

… it is a fact that the fierce competition among colleges to snare the best students from their applicant pools results in this “courting" process that delivers good news to high school seniors before the remaining bulk of decisions are mailed. College Confidential's Sally Rubenstone writes about likely letters in her Ask the Dean column:

“A “Likely Letter" is good news for the handful of students who receive them but is yet another example of what's wrong with the college admission process for almost everyone else.

Typically, Likely Letters are sent to applicants several weeks before official admission verdicts are slated to go out. This usually means some time in October for Early Decision/Action applicants and late-February or March for Regular Decision students. The gist of these missives is: “We fully plan to accept you so you can breathe a sigh of relief, but don't screw up between now and when you get your official acceptance because this one isn't quite official."

Most commonly, the term “Likely Letter" is associated with the Ivy League and with athletes … and with good reason. These letters are one tool that the Ivy League schools use to encourage their recruited athletes to put other options on the back burner … Some colleges–not the Ivies–put their own spin on the Likely Letter. Their early missives may not address the acceptance issue at all but might, instead, include an invitation to attend a campus event that seems geared to accepted applicants or to join a special (and clearly elite) academic program in the fall. This sort of more obtuse “Likely Letter" can be heartening but also confusing, leaving students to wonder, “Well, am I in or not yet?" …

'Likely letters' part of Yale's admit strategy

For most high school seniors waiting to hear back from Ivy League colleges this year, March 29 was the day circled in red on the calendar. But relief arrived unexpectedly early for some students like Rui Bao, who received the coveted, yet somewhat mythical, wink from Yale: the likely letter.

In late February, Bao first received a call from her Yale alumni interviewer telling her that she was “likely" to be accepted in March. Later that night, she got a similar call from her Yale admissions officer. The next day, a Yale sweatshirt arrived courtesy of her local alumni club in St. Louis, Mo., and then a few days later, she found a letter in her mailbox from Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel congratulating her on her stellar application and declaring that acceptance was imminent …

Talk about a full-court press!

… Likely letters, which are sent to a small proportion of regular decision applicants between January and early March, are intended to alert certain students that they will likely be accepted once late March or early April comes around. College admissions officers listed various strategic reasons for this practice, including increasing the chance that an accepted student will matriculate. Some counselors said the letters appear to target particularly desirable — and courted — categories of applicants, such as ethnic minorities.

Although all Ivy League schools are bound to abide by a common spring notification date for regular decision applicants, they are allowed to communicate their intentions to students earlier. While sending likely letters to athletes is a common practice for schools around the nation, academic likely letters are a lesser-known phenomenon. One recent recipient of a likely letter from Yale even thought the letter was a joke when it first came in the mail …


Likely letters are a component of the Regular Admissions cycle, which mostly has an early January application deadline and a response timeframe around late March or so. The letters go out before official decisions are mailed and are designed to alert attractive applicants that they will almost certainly be admitted, hopefully influencing their enrollment decision. While the overall approach to likely letters hasn't changed all that much, here's a perspective on that topic from a few years back by a student at one of America's most difficult schools to get into: Harvard:

300 'Likely Letters' Sent to Class of 2015

Harvard College will send out approximately 300 “likely letters"—the same number that it offered last year—to applicants by the end of this year's admissions cycle, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 told The Crimson in an interview last week.

The notices are typically sent to athletes and other exceptional candidates to inform them of their expected admissions in the spring, according to Fitzsimmons.

In past application cycles, the College has mailed about 200 letters to athletes and about 100 letters to other students with outstanding non-athletic attributes. Fitzsimmons said he expects these numbers to remain the same this cycle.

“It's a hard thing to do, trying to determine who will be admitted and who won't," said Fitzsimmons, explaining why so few letters are typically offered.

While likely letters have been a longtime fixture of the admissions process at Ivy League universities, they have gained a special importance at Harvard because the College does not have an early admissions program that would otherwise guarantee acceptance earlier in the process, Fitzsimmons said.

Gay S. Pepper, an independent college counselor in Conn., said likely letters for non-athletes allow colleges to jump-start the process of wooing applicants they would especially like to see enroll.

“It's all kind of a dance …. The colleges want to send a letter of encouragement to the kids they really want," Pepper said. “It's a new way of communicating—a way to increase yield."

The likely letter plays a critical role in athletic recruitment efforts, said Harvard women's volleyball coach Jennifer Weiss.

“Now that we don't have our early action program, it's very important to have likely letters," she said. “We're still competing against schools that [do]."

The College sends out letters from Oct. 1 through March 15, and Weiss encourages the high school athletes she is recruiting to complete their applications by October in order that they might hear back from the admissions office earlier. While coaches can express their interest to a particular student, they have to be careful to only support candidates with realistic chances of admission, Weiss said.

Fitzsimmons said that the admissions office confers with coaches, but the application still must go through the regular reading process.

“We have influence, but admissions has the final say," Weiss said. “Your pool of candidates gets so small so quickly because of the academics."

Recruited athletes who receive a likely letter are expected to accept a formal offer of admission in the spring, Weiss said.

Pepper said that while the process for recruited athletes is more straightforward, it is less clear why certain non-athletes receive a likely letter.

“The colleges hold the cards and they're not going to tell you what they do and don't do," Pepper said.

Paul Harris, a senior at Carver High in Atlanta, received a likely letter from Harvard last Friday. According to Harris, the letter congratulated him and said that the admissions office sent the letter because they thought he would be a good match.

“I didn't know what to do. I just sat there thinking any minute now I'll wake up …. I'm still trying to take it all in," he said.

Check the comments after the article. Interesting.

I mention this particular subject for all of you who will be submitting your applications within the coming few weeks. Be on the lookout for likely letters sometime between New Year's Day and April 1. Here's hoping that you see one.


More 2016 updates to come in Part 2. See you then.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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