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Articles / Applying to College / What are College Likely Letters and How Do You Get One?

What are College Likely Letters and How Do You Get One?

A Written by Angela Combs | May 16, 2022
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

College Likely Letters: What Are They and How Do You Get One?

In the U.S. college system, "Likely Letters" are excellent news for the select few who receive them. Colleges don't openly talk about them, so there's a bit of a mystery behind these elusive letters. Students often wonder who gets them and what it takes to be one of those lucky recipients. Let's take the mystery away and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about likely letters.

What are likely letters?


Highly selective colleges and prestigious universities write "likely letters," sometimes called "love letters," to their elite applicants. This recruiting technique is used to identify both top academic and athletic applicants. These letters give students a "heads-up" that they will likely admit them to the school before the official decision notifications go out in late March and early April. The letters often flatter the applicant and hint that an admission letter is coming.

What's the point of a likely letter?

It's a way for schools, primarily Ivies, to reassure select students they are one of their top chosen applicants. It's like saying, "We want you to join us, but it's not official yet. Don't do anything to jeopardize that in the next couple of months, and you're sure to get in."

What do likely letters say?

Likely letters typically say something like:

"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 values high matriculation rates (the percentage of students admitted who attend), it's a way of using positive psychology to endear students towards choosing their school."

When do likely letters come out?

Likely letters generally arrive in February, although some come as early as December and others arrive as late as March. In conjunction with the admissions team, athletic recruiters typically send out likely letters to top athletes early. Colleges actively pursue athletes, especially if they display both academic and athletic excellence. The schools want to get ahead of the curve, telling athletes they're interested in them before the regular acceptance letters start arriving.

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Why do colleges send likely letters?


Colleges want you to know they like you...a lot! While they aren't a guarantee admit, they're almost as good. When it’s time to choose a college, admissions hopes you remember the likely letter when you make your final decision.

Are likely letters a guarantee for admission?

Likely letters do not guarantee acceptance, but they are the closest thing you'll get to a “yes” before the official acceptance letters arrive. If you receive a likely letter, you're nearly guaranteed a spot at the school. As long as you keep your grades up and don't get arrested or suspended, you will most likely get into the school.

What happens if I don't get a likely letter?

Don't get discouraged if you don't get a likely letter. The majority of students who get accepted into the Ivy League and other prestigious schools do not get them.

What schools send likely letters?

While most universities don't announce that they send likely letters, all Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and University of Pennsylvania, send likely letters. Other prestigious liberal arts colleges and colleges like Duke, Stanford, and University of Chicago also send likely letters. In general, most public universities do not send likely letters.

Not every university sends likely letters, especially if they have rolling admissions. Colleges with rolling admissions send acceptance letters as soon as they determine they want the student at their school.

List of top colleges that send likely letters

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How do I get a likely letter?


1. Stellar Academic Track Record

Most students who apply to top colleges are already top achievers in their classes. If you want a likely letter, you'll have to demonstrate a stellar GPA, excellent SAT or ACT scores, academic awards from your school, strong recommendation letters, and a personal statement or essay that shows you're humble but passionate about learning.

2. Stated, Genuine Love for the School

Did you visit the school? Did you tell them why you must go there in your application? Just as you want to feel wanted, the school wants to know you can't imagine yourself anywhere else. Your application is far more likely to stand out if you can show why the school is perfect for you.

3. Passion for Your Extracurriculars

Prestigious colleges, especially Ivy League schools, favor students who can commit and excel in a chosen field of interest. They not only want to see your current accomplishments in that area, but they also want to see you grow in your hobby or pursuit. If a school thinks you can turn your passion into a lucrative or world-renowned endeavor, they want to say you originated at their university. In other words, they want bragging rights.

4. Distinguished Sporting Record

Stellar athletes tend to get the most likely letters. You will get the Ivies' attention if you're a world-class athlete with an impressive academic record, especially if you play a sport that makes colleges money (football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, or soccer). Engage in the recruiting process by having your coach contact Harvard's coach, for example. Send tapes, interview with the athletics department, visit the campus and show the school you're genuinely interested in playing for their sports team.

Final thoughts

Each school has its own way of determining who gets likely letters, so it's impossible to fully understand the process and how they make their final selections. The best approach is to assume you're not getting one. Instead, focus on keeping your grades up and planning for your future. If you do get a likely letter, congratulations! If you don't, remember most students don't get them, and many still get into the college of their dreams.

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Written by


Angela Combs

Crimson Education was founded in 2013 by three students, including CEO Jamie Beaton who had just been accepted to 25 of the world's best universities including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and Cambridge. Our mission is to help students all over the world to reach their ultimate university admissions goals.

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