Some applicants told of “likely” admission

March 29, 2010, 1:02 a.m.

While some applicants to Stanford got word Saturday of their admission to the Farm, others had already received a subtle nod via a “likely letter”–a practice common to several of America’s elite colleges. Of Stanford’s approximate 32,000 applicants this year, less than one percent of the pool received such a letter, according to Director of Admission Shawn Abbott.

What purpose do likely letters serve? Abbott said they are to notify students “who have truly exceptional academic, artistic or athletic talent” of the likelihood of their admission.

Some applicants told of "likely" admission
Some "exceptional" applicants receive likely letters implying acceptance before official decisions are announced. (BECCA DEL MONTE/The Stanford Daily)

“We send likely letters to recruit the most exceptional candidates from around the world,” Abbott wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “Notifying candidates that they are likely for admission enables us to identify and alert Stanford faculty, coaches, artists and advisors who will then reach out to these internationally accomplished students and encourage them to consider Stanford among their many college options.”

However, the letters only hint at acceptance; Abbott said they do not contain formal admission decisions, which were released Saturday for regular-decision applicants.

Citing concerns of “fueling anxiety,” the Office of Admission declined to comment on what a likely letter contains, but students who have received likely letters said the letters hinted they had gotten in without explicitly saying so.

“It hinted at it enough so that I got a sense that I had gotten in,” said Chris Brunson ’12. “I didn’t celebrate too much, though, because it wasn’t an official letter. And when I got the official letter, I wasn’t as surprised as other people were.”

As a National Merit Scholar and National Achievement Scholar from South Carolina, Brunson received several offers of admission from top colleges. Among his accomplishments were a 4.9 weighted GPA, a “pretty high” SAT score, research on multiple sclerosis and “a buttload of tutoring.”

When Brunson applied for colleges, he threw Stanford onto his list only because of parental pressure.

“I was just like, it’s Stanford, life is cool,” Brunson said. “But when I got [the likely letter], I then really majorly considered Stanford.”

“It was like, hey, maybe colleges do want me,” he added. “I didn’t know how good of a reputation Stanford had until I received the letter and [learned] more about it.”

Brunson also received likely letters from Brown and Washington University in St. Louis. However, he said Stanford’s was “more promising” than the others.

“It’s like, you still need to maintain your grades and stuff,” he said. “But Stanford’s actually made me feel like I had actually gotten in. The other ones seem like they were still on the fence but leaning toward one side and Stanford’s seemed like it was already over the fence.”

Before making his final decision prior to May 1, he narrowed his choices down to two–Stanford and Columbia. His ultimate decision was Stanford.

“Columbia didn’t send me a likely letter,” he said. “So I started considering Stanford more than Columbia.”

Though the Office of Admission did not release information about which applicants receive likely letters, Brunson believes that geographical diversity contributed to his acceptance.

“The fact that Stanford doesn’t usually choose people from my state probably helped,” he said. “Stanford wants to show that it’s got people from everywhere.”

Smitha Ramakrishna also received a likely letter from Stanford. According to Ramakrishna, the likely letter made her “consider Stanford much more seriously” before ultimately deciding on Harvard.

“It definitely made me consider Stanford more since they gave me such a personal invitation to join the school,” she said.

Ramakrishna also received likely letters from Duke University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, along with regular admission offers from Harvard and Yale.

“All of these likely letters were very similar,” she said. “But Stanford’s did seem more personal due to the handwritten note they attached.”

“It’s very personal,” she added. “For me, it quoted my application.”

A native of Chandler, Ariz., she believes she received likely letters because of some of her accomplishments. As a founder of a nonprofit organization and activist for clean water access in India, she was named a 2009 Coca-Cola Scholar, an AXA Achievement Scholar and Intel Science Talent Search Finalist.

Likely letters only form one part of the appeal to admits, however, and other aspects can make the difference. Ramakrishna finally decided on Harvard because of her Admit Weekend experiences.

“I think the visiting weekends and people I met there really made the difference in the end,” she said.

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