Saturday, March 20, 2010

200 students promised admission

Academic ‘likely letters’ ensure seniors’ acceptances if they maintain grades

Unlike their anxious friends, a few regular decision students already know that they’ve gotten into college.

While it is customary for athletes to receive “likely letters” from schools involved in the recruiting process, non-athletes are also being sent letters notifying them of their successful application this month.

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda explained that a likely letter informs a student of their acceptance before April 1. As long as the student maintains solid academic and moral standing, their admission is secure.

This year Penn sent out approximately 200 likely letters — an increase from last year’s 120.

The increase came from targeting those who study natural sciences such as physics and chemistry since these are traditionally “under-enrolled” majors, Furda said.

Before likely letters, Ivy League schools would inform athletes of their acceptance after most other schools. In order to prevent students from having to decline other offers because they are waiting to hear from the Ivies, likely letters were sent out.

Now, they are “used in a strategic fashion for students who are clearly at the top end of their applicant pool,” Furda explained.

Vanna Cairns, upper school dean at the Harvard-Westlake School in California, said they did not see a difference in likely letter numbers this year.

Cairns said a letter creates a “psychological advantage” for the student and college since the student becomes excited about that school in particular.

She did not believe that it affected the students who had applied to the same institutions but did not received letters because they would find out anyway and because applying to schools “isn’t a kind process anyway.”

As for why colleges issue these, Cairns said that it is most likely because “yield of those receiving likely letters is higher.”

Calvin Jones, a senior at the Pingry School in Martinsville, NJ, received a likely letter from Penn.

“Although it’s great to know I’ve been accepted into such a school as prestigious as Penn, receiving a likely letter probably won’t affect what school I choose when I make my decision in May,” he said.

Calling likely letters the college version of “first dibs,” College Confidential advisor Sally Rubenstone wrote in an e-mail that the letters allow colleges to say they really want someone while other schools just want them.

Because the letters “turn up far more heat in the admissions pressure-cooker than they reduce,” Rubenstone wrote that she believes colleges should not send out likely letters.

Since students are very active electronically, Rubenstone wrote that “news travels fast, and stress levels skyrocket for every candidate who doesn’t receive a likely letter.”

While Rubenstone thinks schools should stick to their original date of acceptance releases, Furda said sending likely letters is a “fairly common practice.”

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