In mid-October, when ambitious high school seniors are still anxiously toiling away at their Harvard College application, a select few already have received word of their likely acceptance.
The summer before his senior year in high school, Nick Saathoff, a star baseball player at Apache Junction High School in Arizona, got the first of many phone calls from Harvard coaches. Before they reached out to him, Harvard was not even on his radar, he said.
“It was weird for me because I didn’t think I could get in when they first called me,” he said.
From there, coaches helped guide him through the admissions process, recommending he retake the SAT Reasoning Test and the ACT, and take the appropriate SAT Subject Tests.
In the fall, Harvard flew Saathoff to Cambridge, where he met with coaches and the baseball team.
And then, five days after he submitted his application on Nov. 5, he received the coveted “likely letter,” which guarantees all but certain admission to the College.
At colleges and universities outside the Ivy League, many schools have the power to offer athletic scholarships and official early acceptances to entice promising athletes to enroll at their school. But, because Harvard lacks these options, likely letters play a crucial role in some athletes’ college admissions process.
The Recruiting Process
Every year, a group of approximately 200 recruited athletes are offered “likely letters” between Oct. 1 and March 15. While these letters technically do not guarantee an applicant admission to the College, admissions experts agree that a student who receives such a letter would only be denied admission in the most extreme circumstances.
“Barring a severe drop in grade, you can expect to get an offer,” said Penny Deck, an independent college counselor in Virginia.
While the exact timeline for the recruiting process varies by sport, Harvard coaches say that they make their first contact the summer before a prospective athlete’s senior year of high school.
From there, it is a hurried process where coaches evaluate a potential player in everything from athletic ability to character so that they can determine who they want to join their team.
While Harvard wrestling coach Jay Weiss said that different coaches place different levels of importance on these visits, he said it is crucial for his team’s prospects.
“We find out a lot about them,” he said. “We see what their goals are, athletically and academically, to see if they match [what we’re looking for].”