Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

A tour group on Ho Plaza on Feb. 20, 2023. Regular Decision Admissions will be released on March 30, 2023.

March 15, 2023

Likely Letters Provide Reassurance, Raise Confusion Among Cornell Applicants and Current Students

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For students enduring the stress of the college application process, receiving a “likely letter” from a university warrants a sigh of relief. These letters indicate that the student is “likely” to receive an acceptance from the respective university. 

It is common for private universities, such as Cornell, to distribute likely letters, yet the reason for doing so is unclear. The Cornell Admissions Office declined to provide a statement to The Sun about why and how the University carries out this process.

Because university admission teams do not share reasons for acceptance, students who received likely letters will never know what specifically made their application stand out. 

Maddy MacLean ’26, who received her likely letter in March 2022, was uncertain as to why she received one and could not think of any aspect of her application in particular that might have made her especially deserving.

“I was pretty surprised because I don’t know who normally gets likely letters, and it wasn’t like my application was particularly outstanding or anything,” MacLean said.

Nia Denis ’26 was also surprised to receive a likely letter in March 2022. Though she expressed appreciation for the letter’s appearance in her inbox, she questioned why only a small number of applicants are sent likely letters. Denis believes if a student is a strong enough applicant to receive an acceptance, then they will be admitted regardless of whether or not they receive a likely letter.

“It’s weird that [they] just a select few people get likely letters because I mean, if you’re accepted, you’re accepted,” Denis said.

Isaac Saadi ’26, another student who received a likely letter in March 2022, said he believes colleges send likely letters to encourage applicants to accept that school’s offer of admission.

“I have heard that likely letters are given to strong applicants to entice them to come to the school by notifying them earlier,” Saadi said.

Shelby Williams’s ’25 experience, which involved her receiving a likely letter in March 2021, serves as an example of this idea. The letter changed her perspective of the University and made her think more intently about attending Cornell. 

“By receiving a likely letter, it made me consider Cornell a little bit more seriously,” Williams said. “Not saying I wasn’t before, but I applied to a lot of selective schools and having the time in advance to really learn about Cornell helped me consider the factors a bit more carefully.” 

Though some students expressed that likely letters can be exciting to receive — suggesting that their recipient is a well-qualified applicant — Saadi also pointed out the downsides of likely letters.

“Likely letters can definitely help beat imposter syndrome because it reaffirms your place here, but it can be inherently problematic,” Saadi said. “It’s sort of a double-sided sword. It can help eliminate imposter syndrome, but it can inflate your ego when you’re at a really competitive school.”

Williams agreed that likely letters can help the applicant recognize the merit of their individual talents.

“I do think it is a bit of reassurance for students, especially when they’re applying to selective schools,” Willams said. “[It shows] the fact that you worked hard [and] your accomplishments mean something… and people are recognizing it.”

Williams attributes her receiving a likely letter to a combination of activities in which she participated during high school.  

“I was really heavily involved in chorus when in high school and performed at Carnegie Hall two times with my group and I performed a solo at Carnegie Hall once,” Williams said. “I also worked for a non-profit called When We All Vote, which is Michelle Obama’s nonprofit, and I did a lot of voter registration work in the pandemic, so I think that probably made me stand out.”

Williams said that even though some students may view likely letters as unfair, they allow schools to connect with applicants they already know they want to accept.

“I can see how people might think there’s a little bit of inequality there, but I do think that it is a way for schools to signify their more competitive applicants who they know will be prospects at other schools that they are interested in them,” Williams said. “I think that if a school really wants a student, it’s just a way for them to make themselves stand out.”

Still, regardless of whether admitted through a likely letter, via early or regular decision or off the waitlist, Williams noted that all applicants accepted to a university have individual merit to offer. 

“At the end of the day, everyone who is going to get accepted will be accepted,” Williams said.