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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

mit_hopefulgirl asks, “I was wondering if MIT actually sends out “likely admit” letters for RD applicants before the actual deadline? I know some other top colleges do.”

For those of you not up to speed on what a “likely letter” is, you should check out this Wall Street Journal article from two years ago.

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.

The short answer, mit_hopefulgirl, is MIT doesn’t send these “likely letters.”

One reason why likely letters aren’t a part of our process is that our process differs from many of the schools who employ them. At MIT, we read and summarize the applications over the course of a number of weeks, and we don’t admit anyone until all of the reading is done and we come together as a committee. At some other schools, some admitting is done on the spot — when the admissions officer sees a “clear admit” come across his or her desk, they can admit the student right then and there. The problem is that admissions offers for these schools won’t be sent out for a long time, sometimes months. A regular action applicant at one school might be reviewed and admitted in the beginning of January, but the formal decision might not go out until April. So, in a sense, I can understand the urge to not have people wait. In the WSJ article, Dartmouth Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg is quoted as saying, “We do these letters to try to introduce some ‘humanity’ into the pressured admissions process.”

Another reason we don’t have any early notification is that MIT does its notification pretty early anyway. Last year, I believe our regular action letters were mailed on Pi Day. I don’t know when we’ll mail this year yet, but it will be sometime in the middle of March, probably a good two weeks before the Ivies. I think it’s a good thing that we can finish our admissions decisions in mid-March to give students more time before the May 1 reply deadline to be able to make their college decision (I know I needed every last day to make my decision…).

I do think these likely letters, though, in addition to the stress they can relieve, also can add a bit of stress to the process. Why not straight-out admit the student rather than send a potentially confusing letter telling someone they’ll probably be admitted (probably? why not definitely? what would have to happen to not get admitted?)? And what of the students who don’t get likely letters? I wonder if these schools that send likely letters might be better served by going to a Rolling Admissions model. This is the model used a number of schools, including at the only other college I’m aware of that has an admissions officer blog, Loyola Marymount University — you can read about their Rolling Admissions in the January 3 entry in Chris’ blog.

Anyway, for those of you applying to schools that use likely letters, I hope you get one in your mailbox. And for those of you applying to MIT, I wish you the all best for getting our big envelope in March.

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