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.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.