All articles

What is a "Likely" Letter? Everything You Need to Know

a son hugs his mother after getting a likely letter


Some students receive noncommittal letters in the mail from colleges or universities. Although they are positive, these likely letters often leave students confused and unsure of how to interpret a school's meaning.

Everything You Need to Know About Likely Letters

If you've received a likely letter, congratulations! We've broken down everything you need to know about them below.

What is a Likely Letter?

Universities and colleges sometimes send out likely letters to top academic and athletic candidates they're interested in admitting. These letters are only sent out to a small number of top-choice students. They are intended to give you an idea of where you stand with the school, so you keep them at the top of your list. 

What Do Likely Letters Look Like?

Every school that sends likely letters uses a slightly different form. These letters can be specific, with a line or two indicating that the student is likely to be admitted in the coming year. This type of likely letter might flatter the applicant and make them feel wanted. 

Some of the other letters are vaguer, possibly extending an invitation to an on-campus event or recommending the student apply to a specific program. Whatever the case, it will be obvious that they singled you out among applicants in an effort to keep you engaged while they finalize their decisions. 

What Do Likely Letters Mean?

Likely letters are meant to be encouraging. If you get a likely letter, you're absolutely one of their strongest applicants. These letters are a college or university’s way of letting you know that you’re in without making it official. This is their way of ensuring themselves as contenders earlier on in your decision-making process.

By flattering you with promising correspondence, the school hopes you'll consider becoming a part of its incoming freshman class. For students who didn't apply for early decision or early action, these letters represent a preemptive yes while acknowledging that the applicant did not expressly apply to that school as their top choice.

Who Receives Likely Letters?

These letters often go to two types of applicants. In the first case, they’re a non-binding and unofficial invitation for student-athletes who are being recruited. Although schools can’t accept these recruits early, coaches usually inform admissions offices of their preferred recruits, after which officers can choose to send likely letters.

In the second case, a likely letter might mean that you have an impressive academic record and are one of the strongest applicants in the pool of applications they have read. These letters offer an affirmative nod that you'll later receive an official acceptance letter from the university.

In both of these cases, the recipients are among a small number of applicants that receive this type of promissory good news. 

Does a Likely Letter Guarantee Admission?

Unfortunately not. Likely letters don't guarantee admission to a college or university. But they do indicate that the institution sending it is interested in admitting you.

When Are Likely Letters Sent Out?

Likely letters usually come out in early to mid-February, with some outliers coming in March or even in April. Some schools also send them out to students who applied for early action or early decision admission, so those letters could come out as early as December. 

Which Colleges Send Likely Letters?

Although schools don't announce that they send these letters out, it's well-known that the more prestigious universities do. And that makes sense when you think about it. Their admissions process is competitive. If competitive schools extend an offer to a student, they want that student to fill the seat. 

But which colleges are on the list? Experts report that Yale, Harvard, U Penn, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Stanford, Duke, Dartmouth, and the University of Chicago do. 

Likely letters are just one way prestigious schools maintain their highest yield rates. (Yield rate is the percentage of students who accept an offer and enroll at the school. Ivy League schools are known to have the highest yield rates.)

What if You Don’t Receive a Likely Letter?

The vast majority of admitted applicants will not receive a likely letter. Many schools just don't send them. So don't feel discouraged if you haven't received a likely letter.

Make sure you've built your college list and have covered your bases with your applications, and then take some deep breaths and wait.

It's also a good idea to show demonstrated interest in the schools you've applied to. Demonstrated interest means exactly what it sounds like: it demonstrates interest in the college you're applying for. It's also easy to do. By following the school on social media, attending informational sessions and events, and opening and reading your emails from the school, you're showing the admissions team that you're engaged and want to be there. 

Whether You've Gotten a Likely Letter or Not...

If you've received a likely letter, hopefully, it's just a matter of time before official decisions are released and you get the notification. If you haven't received a likely letter, good things are still coming your way! 

Either way, it's time to ensure you have your scholarship and financial aid money lined up. 

Cappex offers a $1,000 easy-apply scholarship every month. There’s no essay or GPA required to apply. Once you create a free account, you can search our up-to-date scholarship database to find additional school cash. Just click the button below to get started. It's always free and easy. 

Want to join our newsletter list? We'll email the best college and scholarship search tips to you monthly.
Create a free Cappex account to find, finance, and attend the college that’s right for you Get Started Now