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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?


Where’s The Love for Love Notes?

The College’s love notes are leading to a great deal of anxiety on College Confidential.

As someone who has not gotten one an “early write,” I think it’s bad what they’re doing. I think the college admissions process – at least for those applying to schools like Williams – is too stressful as it is, and I think it is unfair they have anxious applicants running to the mailbox every day.

I also think that there is something wrong with the way that accepted applicants are essentially being ranked, especially at a school as small as Williams where if you choose to attend (after not receiving an early write) you might be one of only 100-200 in your class.

I don’t think there’s a problem with rolling admissions, but I think there is a problem with rolling acceptances. If they wanted to do this they should have been up front about it AND they should also have sent out each decision when they were ready, not just acceptances.



Love Notes

Are you an applicant to Williams? Have you received a love note yet?

Early-decision admissions policies may be falling out of favor at some top universities, but many schools are quietly using an array of other tools to win over the best students early.

In increasing numbers, colleges are wooing their top choices with notes of praise and hints of acceptance letters and scholarship money to come. The idea is to win their affections by getting them some good news before the competition does. This courtship, which can take place up to several months before formal acceptance letters hit students’ mailboxes, comes in various forms: everything from “likely” letters — which tell students that they’re likely to get admitted — to “love” letters, or handwritten notes from admissions offices complimenting a student’s essay or some other aspect of the application.

How does this process work at Williams?

A committee meets every week for several weeks in January and February to “really look for the superstars,” says Richard Nesbitt, director of admissions. The result: About 200 students every year receive an admittance letter two months before the rest of the pack.

More detail here.

By late February, the readers identify 200 or more students who stand out so clearly that they receive letters offering admission a few weeks ahead of the rest of the regular admittees. These “early writes,” as Williams calls them, are typically highly coveted by other colleges. By admitting them a bit earlier, arranging for department chairs or coaches to phone or write urging them to accept, and, in a small number of cases, offering to fly them in for campus visits, Williams hopes to get a leg up in the wooing process. (The College tends not to “early write” students from high schools where many candidates have applied to Williams, however, so as not to send parents and school counselors into a tizzy by accepting one student weeks ahead of others.)

In the age of College Confidential (or even EphBlog), I think that a tizzy is unavoidable. Does the Admissions Office also use its alumni interviewers as part of this wooing process? It ought to. Some of us can make a pretty strong case for why an applicant ought to choose Williams over, say, Harvard.

Even better would be a randomized experiment in which the Admissions Office choose 50 highly desirable applicants and allowed alumni to reach out to 25 (selected at random) but not the other 25. Would alumni involvement in recruitment help Williams in its constant battle to do better in its competition with Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford? It is an empirical question.


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