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Likely Letters

This story is a bit old, but I was unfamiliar with the policy of “likely letters.”

When several elite universities announced this fall that they were eliminating early admissions programs, they were showered with praise for their commitment to ending the special advantages some applicants had over others.

The universities themselves stressed the issue of equity. Harvard University boasted of creating a “single, later admissions cycle.” Princeton University talked about a “single admission process.” The University of Virginia said it wanted to send a message that “the playing field is level for all.” All three universities said applications would be due in early January and decisions would be announced in early April.

But the playing field still has a bit of a slant. All three universities plan to have some athletes apply early and to notify some of them early — months in advance of other applicants — about whether they are going to get in. While the information will fall just short of a formal admissions offer, some applicants will be told that as long as they keep their grades at current levels, they will be assured admission.

Harvard and Princeton will be notifying athletes through the longstanding practice of sending “likely” letters to some athletes shortly after October 1 each year. Under Ivy League rules, such a letter “has the effect of a formal letter of admission provided the candidate continues to have a satisfactory secondary school experience.”

The New England Small College Athletic Conference consists of elite liberal arts colleges that all have early decision. Like their Ivy League counterparts, NESCAC institutions do not award athletic scholarships. The institutions are well known — “notorious” in the words of one person familiar with athletic recruiting — for using early decision to go after athletes. To date, NESCAC institutions have not shown any interest in moving away from early decision.

Does Williams use anything like “likely letters” in the fall? (We know that it does so in February.) You wouldn’t think so from this article, but we occasionally see news stories in October about high school students “going to Williams” even though early admission decisions aren’t made till December. How often do Williams coaches give the best tips a heads up? How binding is that commitment?

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#1 Comment By Anonymous On September 12, 2007 @ 9:41 am

When I was there, Williams did not give “likely letters” to athletes, but coaches did have “likely” conversations with athletes. I, for one, had my conversation in February — so long as my grades remained solid and I kept my nose clean, I was in. My understanding is that such a conversation takes place after the coach and admissions have a conversation confirming that the student-athlete is academically qualified and the coach is committed to using a “tip” on her/him.

#2 Comment By PTC On September 12, 2007 @ 10:49 am

David-
I am sure that the best minds in the country have the same conversations with profs as athletes do with coaches… don’t they? I am sure that very wealthy big money doners who have kids applying, get the same treatment (and that is not even through any skill of the applicant).
What is the issue here… the biased treatment of people who have nationally recognized skill sets at Williams? I don’t get it.

#3 Comment By ’91 On September 12, 2007 @ 11:25 am

Life’s not fair, and David’s going to fix it — thereby earing the Bicentennial Medal he so desperately…deserves.

#4 Comment By Anonymous On September 12, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

If we are going after this one, we should stir up a can of worms and consider Questbridge candidates. Questbridge is a recruiting organization hired by colleges to find relatively high-performing but low-income applicants. The candidates go through an intensive preview by Questbridge (often with summer enrichment opportunities thrown in), get “matched” with schools by the organization (not quite an informal acceptance but certainly an encouraging nod), hear before other Early Decision candidates do, and as I understand it essentially are able to convert Early Decision into Early Action (binding on the school but not on them).

That is to say that there are a lot of inequities/differential treatments in admissions. And life can be very, very unfair. I don’t say that snidely, as I am someone who longs for greater transparency, fairness, and freedom from fads and overcorrections in admissions.

#5 Comment By Anonymous On September 12, 2007 @ 5:32 pm

You seem to imply that pulling for low applicant admits is a fad or an “overcorrection” on the part of colleges. Explain.

#6 Comment By Anonymous On September 13, 2007 @ 8:52 am

Implication unintended, although I do think that some schools need to be much more careful in recognizing that “low income” and “minority” are not synonymous (an insulting implication that runs just below the surface in a lot of colleges’ brochures and presentations), and that all schools need to be careful, lest, in their quest for low income applicants, they give middle class applicants the impression that they need not apply, won’t be welcomed and valued, or can’t afford what the schools offer.

By “overcorrection” I was thinking mainly of the emphases we still see on getting women in general into college. The data suggests that there is a growing gender gap in which males are increasingly lagging behind females in terms of both matriculation and graduation rates. (There may still be some lags for women in general in the “hard” sciences, math, and engineering, and I wouldn’t be surprised if females from some ethnic groups generally lag in matriculation rates in comparison with their male counterparts, but the most glaring problems lie in the growing precentages of males who are not graduating or even matriculating.) I’m seeing study results on this, but not a lot of awareness about it in the general population and not a lot of successful work to do anything about it.

By “fads” I was thinking of various costly and poorly targeted marketing strategies such as deluging prospective applicants with unsolicited mail and email campaigns (from which it seems to be nearly impossible to unsubscribe).

#7 Comment By outed anon On September 14, 2007 @ 2:39 am

eph 91- But life is fair my friend. People who have special abilities get special treatment. Nothing unfair or unusual about that. In fact, David promotes advancment based on ability all the time… so, I do not get his point here??

Hey, can you beleive that World class athletes get special treatment! Duh.

And yes, I beleive the national female to male ratio of those graduating college is 60/40. In Maine, it is 70/30. Can you imagine?
What is the ratio at Williams?