Archive for Likely Letter

Does Ivy League Coach Support Always Mean a Likely Letter?

The Likely Letter, it’s the Grail for athletes that are recruited in the Ivy League. It’s a formal, written communication from the admissions office that states that you will be admitted as long as you don’t really screw up. Finally you can relax and stop worrying about how to interpret the vague nuances of coachspeak -you have it in writing.

But there are situations where the recruited athlete is supported, put on the list to admissions but the admissions office does not send the Likely Letter. Are those recruits any less solid than those that get the letter?

Let’s examine a few facts from the Ivy Manual to try and get a handle on this.

The Ivy Manual 2011-2012 contains the following:

As determined by each institution, admissions offices may advise applicants before the common notification date, in writing, of the probability of admission; e.g. likely, possible, unlikely. Such notifications may be made to recruited student athletes
only from October 1 through March 15.

This basically states that admissions departments at Ivy League colleges may choose to send  Likely Letters to their recruited athletes. Note that it says “may”, not “must”. Admissions may send the Likely Letters at their discretion.

Another excerpt from the manual

Offices at each Ivy school may offer some athletic and other candidates a “likely” letter, which has the effect of a formal letter of admission provided the candidate continues to have a satisfactory secondary school experience.
Coaches may initiate the requests for these letters, but only the office of admission can issue a “likely” letter.

(The bold is mine)

The Likely Letter is solid. The only things that would get the offer rescinded are the same things that would get a regular admission rescinded.


Here’s one more fact to help shed light on the process, this is from a Harvard Crimson article, June 27, 2003:

At its biannual meeting, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents limited the number of recruited athletes who may matriculate to 1.4 times the number needed to fill the travel squads for the 33 “Ivy Championship” sports.

The minimum Academic Index (AI), a measure of eligibility that incorporates SAT scores and GPA or class rank on a 240-point scale, was also raised from 169 to 171, and a requirement was added that the mean AI of recruited athletes be no more than one standard deviation below the mean of all undergraduates at the particular college

(The AI minimum has been raised to 176 since this article was published)

So we know that each college in the Ivy League is granted a set number of spots for recruited athletes. At a school that fields that full number of Ivy Championship sports this may be around 230 spots per year over a rolling 4 year period. These 230 individuals are used in the Academic Index calculation. Their names are on a list that is submitted by the coach to admissions and their entire application, test scores, essays and recommendations are evaluated by admissions. Before they get on this list, their academics have been pre-screened. The vast majority of recruited athletes that make it to the list are admitted.

The majority of those (I don’t have data on this, just many anecdotes) will receive a Likely Letter from admissions. But there are some sports at some schools that apparently don’t automatically send the Likely Letter to all of their supported recruits. Does that mean the support is any less solid?

My opinion is that a recruited athlete on the list is just as solid whether or not they get the letter in the mail. They are one of the 230 or so recruits that has been identified by admissions. I spoke to one athlete that was recruited and put on the coach’s list. The kid asked about the Likely Letter and the coach basically told him it was an unnecessary formality. The student reiterated that he would feel a lot better about the process if he got the letter and the coach initiated the request. He eventually received his letter.

What’s so important about the Likely Letter?

The original intent of the Likely Letter was to give athletes that were also considering offers from scholarship schools some early indication that they would be admitted and they could forego the National Letter of Intent signing day, secure in the knowledge that their admission was all but assured at an Ivy school.

But even for students with recruiting interest from several Ivy schools, which don’t do the NLI, it’s important to have that written assurance.

You have to wonder what would prevent a school from automatically sending the letter to all of their accepted recruits. The cost of a stamp? The extra time it would take the staff to prepare and mail the letters? Or is it something in the language, (a likely letter) “…has the effect of a formal letter of admission” that makes them reluctant to put it in writing?

As one who has gone through this, I can tell you that the wait until the official notification date is agonizing enough, even with a LL in hand. If you’re waiting for that notification without the letter, trying to recall the specifics of exactly what the coach told you… well, I wouldn’t want to be in that spot.

My advice is to request that the coach initiates a request to admissions for the letter. It doesn’t cost them anything to do it (over and above the stamp and a few minutes of staff time). If they are reluctant to put it in writing, maybe there’s a reason. If an Ivy coach tells you he will be supporting your application, ask for the letter. In the words of Ronald Reagan, trust, but verify.


When Colleges Compete, You Win!

Athletic recruiting at the selective Tier 1 colleges comes down to 2 things: admissions support and an acceptable financial aid offer. The likelihood of achieving both of those is greatly increased if there is more than one selective college recruiting you.

Let’s start with admissions support. Whether we’re talking about Likely Letters in the Ivy League or being told that you’re on the coach’s list in the NESCAC or Patriot League, it’s important to remember what purpose those early indications serve from the perspective of the college. The Likely Letter is not a reward for your strong athletics and academics. The Likely Letter is an early-indication tool that the school uses to let a potential recruit know that he or she will be admitted (barring any major screw-ups). Since Regular Decision notifications aren’t given until early April, the schools know that many athletes will be under pressure to make their commitments much earlier than that and the LL gives them the assurance they need to pass on the other offers. The school uses this tool if they feel there is a good chance you’ll take an offer elsewhere. If no other competing school is recruiting, the incentive for a school to give you that early indication is not as strong.

The other important component is the financial aid offer. Many of the Tier 1 colleges only offer need-based financial aid. You submit your CSS and FAFSA forms and the financial aid computer spits out a number. That number is going to vary a lot depending on the school. Endowment size vs. enrollment allow some schools to be much more generous than others. Here’s a link to Ivy League financial aid comparisons that shows just how much they can vary. But those numbers aren’t written in stone. If an athlete has a financial aid offer from another school within the conference, there’s a very good chance that School 1 will attempt to match the offer from School 2. Without a competing offer, there isn’t much incentive for the school to improve their offer.

So even if you are getting interest from your dream school, you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you close the doors too soon. Strong interest from other schools, especially within the conference, will only improve your chance for admissions support and a good financial aid package.

The “Soft Likely Letter” in the Ivy League

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.

Early Decision and Likely Letters for Ivy League Athletes

Official visits are starting soon, and in the Ivy League that means the beginning of Likely Letter offers and coach requests to apply Early Decision or Early Action. The fact that you can only apply Early Decision or Early Action to one school, combined with the reality that an EA/ED application is strongly encouraged by the coach if one is to be a Likely Letter candidate, can leave the athlete (and parents) feeling stressed and out-of-control of the recruiting process.

But there is a way that you can hold off on playing your one-and-only Early Decision card until you have the precious Likely Letter in hand. The strategy may not work with every coach at every school, but a reader of this blog informed me that it worked perfectly for his daughter, who will be competing as an Ivy athlete this fall.

So what’s the strategy? Well, I’m not trying to be coy here, but I think if I just put this out there on every search engine it could lose its effectiveness. So if you’ve supported this site and the Kimberly Gillary Foundation by purchasing The Essential Guide to Ivy League Athletic Recruiting, just drop me an email and include the last website listed at the very end of the guide book and I’ll email you back with the details.

Note, added 10/25: Now that we’re a week away from the Early Decision deadline, there really isn’t enough time to implement the strategy. So, as much as I’d like you to buy the guide, I feel I should let you know that it’s too late to implement the strategy this year.