Although it’s written clearly in the Ivy League Common Agreement that a Likely Letter may only be issued after October 1st of the applicant’s Senior year, there are tales of early or “soft” Likely Letters being issued well before the October 1st date, sometimes as early as a student’s Junior year of high school. These “soft likely letters” are supposedly emailed to the recruit and are verbatim copies of the actual printed likely letter that is mailed by the admissions office after October 1st.
It’s no secret that some sports run on a much earlier recruiting timetable than others. I’ve written about that practice before. If an Ivy lacrosse or hockey coach waits until the fall of senior year, he’ll be out-recruited by the rest of the Division 1 programs that are pressing kids for verbal commitments in the Sophomore and Junior years. It’s not unusual for an Ivy coach to tell an athlete early in the process that he will put him up for a likely if he can count on the athlete committing. An ethical coach will make it clear, however, that only admissions can admit him and admissions won’t make that decision until the complete application is submitted. But coaches of the early-commit sports are under pressure to make their offers sound as solid as possible to prevent another competing coach from planting a seed of doubt it the recruit’s head. And that may be the rationale behind the “soft likely”.
I can’t believe any Ivy League admissions office would have any part in sending early correspondence to a recruit and blatantly violating the terms of the Ivy League agreement. I think it’s far more likely that a coach may be using the text of the LL in his email to secure his recruit early and stop him from talking to other coaches. Maybe there is some small print preceding the text that indicates this is not an actual likely letter, or maybe it says “if you were to receive an actual likely letter, it would look like this” Either way, people hear what they want to hear and a “soft likely” might give a recruit a false sense of how certain his admission will be. In my opinion, any coach that would take it upon himself to issue a “soft likely” is going beyond the limits of ethical recruiting behavior.
So if you are a Junior hockey player and are emailed a “soft likely”, I think your best response would be a “soft commit.” Understand that your recruiting journey isn’t over until you hear it, in writing, from the admissions office.