A “likely letter” is a letter from the college admissions office stating that you are likely to be admitted as long as nothing changes before the official admissions deadline. They are not formal offers of admissions–just notices that students are very “likely” to be admitted. Students receive likely letters a month or two before the regular admissions decision deadline.
Likely letters are common for athletic recruits to the Ivy League. Since Ivy League schools don’t award athletic scholarships, they use likely letters as a means to indicate to the athlete that they will be accepted at the school. According to Tier One Athletics, “it varies from between sports and schools, but 2/3 to 3/4 of the varsity athletes in the Ivy League are Likely Letter recruits. ”
However, it isn’t only athletes that receive likely letters. According to the Harvard Crimson, the admissions office sent out 300 likely letters in 2011 and 100 of them were addressed to non-athletes. Instead of offering these students early admissions, they receive likely letters. At Brown, approximately 1/5 of the class receives likely letter with about half sent to athletes.
It’s not just Ivy League schools that send out likely letters. The University of Virginia also sends out likely letters. Other schools that send out versions of the likely letter are Smith, Clark, and Grinnell.