Cornell Likely Letter: What to Know

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Aerial view of Cornell University campus and its surroundings

Cornell Likely Letter: What to Know

When it comes to applying to the most prestigious and selective schools in the United States, the first place students’ minds often go is the Ivy League, and for good reason! Learn more about Cornell likely letter to get ahead!

The eight schools that make up the Ivy League are known across the world for offering the most determined and intelligent students from all over the world access to top faculty, incredible opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, and resources that are state of the art from one field to the next.

While seven of the Ivy League schools were created prior to the United States itself, there is one that is quite a bit younger than the rest, and that is Cornell University located in Ithaca, New York.

But just because Cornell is younger than the likes of Harvard, Yale and Princeton does not mean it is no less prestigious. The truth is that all of the Ivy League schools uphold a similar level of selectiveness and many of them practice the exact same admissions practices and expectations.

One such admissions practice that Cornell takes part in is the tradition of sending out likely letters. As if the acceptance rate at Cornell was not small enough, and as if the selection process was not competitive enough, there is an even smaller number of students each year that actually end up getting word about their eventual acceptance before they even get an official letter!

Young woman reading a likely letter.

This refers to the tiny percentage of students that get a likely letter written direction to them (typically) from the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions themselves!

But what is a Cornell likely letter and what does getting a likely letter from Cornell truly mean when it comes to your chances of actually getting into the school? On top of that, what can any student do to improve their own chances of getting a Cornell University letter?

At AdmissionSight, one of our top goals every single application cycle is to help the students that we work with from all over the world get into the schools of their dreams. Unsurprisingly, many of the dream schools that we help students get into end up being in the Ivy League.

We offer the students the information, strategy and tools that they need in order to accentuate the best parts of their application profile, overcome the weaker parts, and vastly improve their chances of getting into the top schools in the country. That is part of the reason why we are so proud of the record that we have when it comes to helping our students get into such schools.

In fact, 75.0 percent of the students that we have worked with from one application cycle to the next end up getting into an Ivy League school like Cornell, Brown or Columbia or a top 10 school that is not in the Ivy League such as MIT, Stanford or UChicago.

We are especially proud of the track record that we have created because all of those aforementioned schools have overall acceptance rates well below 10.0 percent! Many of the most selective schools in the country these days actually have overall acceptance rates well below even 5.0 percent.

So, if you are interested in learning about what it means to get a Cornell likely letter, what to do once you receive one, and how you can improve your chance of getting one (and getting into a school as prestigious as Cornell at all), then you have come to the right place!

Let’s get started on breaking it all down together

What are likely letters?

Before we get into the specifics of Cornell likely letters, we wanted to quickly break down the basic facts when it comes to what likely letters are in general and what role they play in the undergraduate admissions ecosystem.

Essentially, highly selective universities and colleges, such as Cornell will sometimes write what are known as “likely letters” (also sometimes known as “love letters”) to elite applicants who have applied to the school.

These letters are especially popular for students who are being considered to receive merit-based or athletic financial aid such as a scholarship or a full ride. Essentially, these letters are used to give these top tier applicants a “heads up” or sorts that they will likely be admitted to the school before the official decision notifications go out in March and April. The letters are not only used to flatter the applicant, but they are also used to start planning for their enrollment at the school!

Male student reading a letter in a cafe.

Likely letters do effectively have the effect of a letter of admission, but that does not mean that students are as good as in no matter what they do.

Even when a student does receive a likely letter, students do have to sustain “the academic and personal record reflected in the completed application.” That means that a student still has to make it a top priority to uphold their great grades and remain involved in their extracurricular activities even after getting a likely letter or official letter of acceptance. Moreover, students need to avoid any run-ins with the police or getting in trouble at school.

Given the fact that these students who get likely letters tend to be the last students who would ever get into trouble in school or outside of school, this happening seems quite unlikely. Still, it is important to mention so that you can get the full scope of the situation.

Does Cornell send likely letters?

Even though we have established that all of the eight Ivy League schools have been known to send out likely letters to elite applicants, we still feel that it is important to make it abundantly clear what the practices are at Cornell specifically.

Not only does Cornell send out likely letters to students, but based off of the information that we have, it looks like Cornell may send out the most likely letters of all of the ivy League schools! There are some pretty understandable reasons why that may be the case, but we will wait a bit to get into that specifically.

Here is what the school says about “Early evaluation” and its practice of sending out likely letters.

A woman opening a letter in a table.

“As determined by each institution, admissions offices may choose to advise certain applicants in writing of the probability of admission (e.g., likely, possible, unlikely), no earlier than October 1 of the prospect’s senior year in high school. Likely letters will have the effect of letters of admission, in that as long as the applicant sustains the academic and personal record reflected in the completed application, the institution will send a formal admission offer on the appropriate notification date. An applicant who receives one or more such written communications and who has made a decision to matriculate at one institution is encouraged (but not required) to notify all other institutions, and to withdraw all other applications, as promptly as possible.”

Beyond having this information, we wanted to breakdown a number of schools (both in and not in the ivy League) that have been known to send out likely letters in the past. As you will see, the vast majority of the schools on the list are private institutions. Typically, public universities are not known for sending out likely letters.

There are likely many more schools that send out likely letters, but this list should give you a solid idea of what kinds of schools are known to practice this aspect of the admissions process.

However, simply knowing that Cornell does indeed sound out likely letters does not help clear up the question of how many Cornell University likely letters are actually sent out each year. At Ivy League schools, it is typically believed that somewhere between 5 to 20 percent of the students that are offered a spot in the incoming class will end up getting a likely letter. Usually, the number comes out to about 100 to 300 students.

How does that compare to the overall acceptance rate at Cornell? Let’s take a look at the school’s statistics from the most recent application cycle (2021-22) so that we can estimate how many students that were offered admissions likely get a likely letter.

In the 2021-22 application cycle, for students who were looking to become part of the graduating class of 2026 at Cornell, a jaw-dropping approximate number of 71,000 students applied to the school. It’s the most popular school for students to apply to by far in the Ivy League, and the total pool from the 2021-22 cycle. From that total pool, just 4,908 students were admitted to the class of 2026.

That comes out to an overall acceptance rate of 6.19 percent. It marked a significant drop from the previous years’ overall acceptance rate of 8.69 percent.

Male student answering an exam with his fellow classmates.

So, from these numbers, we can estimate that somewhere between 245 students and 980 students received likely letters from Cornell during the most recent cycle. While that may seem like a lot, when you consider that tool pool of applicants of 71,000 students, those numbers start to seem a lot smaller.

It should give you a decent idea of just how rare getting a likely letter from Cornell – or any other school – truly is.

What does a Cornell likely letter typically say?

If you are hoping to one day receive a likely letter from Cornell, you may be interested in seeing what an actual likely letter from the school would say! Well, we’ve got some good news for you. We’ve gathered a likely letter that was sent to a student in a recent application cycle to let you take a look.

“Dear ______

“Greetings from Cornell University! I am writing with good news. The College of Arts & Sciences’ faculty selection committee was very impressed with the exceptional qualifications shown in your application and has nominated you as a Pauline and Irving Tanner Dean’s Scholar.”

The letter then goes into the details of the scholarship, including the possibility of being awarded between $1,000 and $5,000 in scholarship money.

“Although the Ivy League schools will not officially notify students about admissions decisions until later this month, it may help you with your planning to know that you will very likely be admitted to Cornell University. We hope this advance notice of our high regard for your application will encourage you to learn more about the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell. If you have not had the chance to visit, we invited you to do so during the Tanner Dean’s Scholar Open House.

“You will receive more information about the Open House and the Tanner Dean’s Scholar program in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have any questions, or if you would like to make an appointment with me during your visit to campus, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

So there you have it! That is generally what you can expect a likely letter to say from Cornell to say. While not all likely letters will include notice of being included in a possible scholarship, it is good to know that offers like that are not rare at all for students who do get these letters.

Does a likely letter from Cornell guarantee admission?

This is a really important question to ask, and it’s also important to know the answer – not only for students who get likely letters, but also for students who receive official offers of admission. Essentially, likely letters can be considered just as good as an official acceptance letter. However, it is crucial to know that both a likely letter, and an official offer can be retracted under certain circumstances.

Young woman reading a letter.

The most important caveats to keep in mind are that students who receive likely letters still need to make sure that they are keeping up with their grades, their extracurriculars and staying out of trouble! Schools do not want to see a student who receives a likely letter immediately start performing poorly in classes or abandoning their extracurricular activities.

On top of that, you will want to make sure to avoid getting in trouble with the law, as that can derail even the most impressive students’ attempt to get into these top schools.

How to get a likely letter from Cornell?

When it comes to getting a likely letter from Cornell, it’s important to know that just being an impressive applicant is typically not enough. There are usually criteria that the schools follow when it comes to making decisions about who to send these letters to.

Here is a basic list of the three criteria that Ivy League schools are believed to look over when determining who it will be sending likely letters to:

  • They must be such strong candidates that they have almost certainly applied to other similarly competitive schools compared to Cornell such as Brown, Stanford, etc.
  • It must be virtually certain that one or all of the other most competitive schools that they applied to will accept them
  • Finally, Cornell admissions officers must be virtually certain that they will offer a spot of admission to the school even without seeing the entire pool of applicants from that year.

These criteria can be a good explanation of why Cornell is believed to send out the most likely letters among schools in the Ivy League. Though Cornell is without a doubt a top school in the country and very prestigious, it does not hold the same level of prestige as say Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Sending likely letters can be a good strategy for Cornell to try to attract students that would otherwise get in, and go, to one of those schools.

When do Cornell likely letters come out?

While Cornell will usually accept just about 4,800 students per application cycle, a rather small fraction of that number ends up actually getting a likely letter.

Per Ivy League regulations, colleges can send out likely letters between October 1st and March 15th. Of course, the timing of a likely letter being sent is going to depend entirely on whether a student applies to Cornell via early admissions or regular admissions. And when students do get likely letters, they can feel confident that an official acceptance letter is going to follow close behind.

Male student reading a likely letter on a library.

Remember, it may be more likely to receive a likely letter from Cornell if you do decide to apply via regular decision, however, early action applicants at the school do tend to enjoy more favorable acceptance rates compared to students who apply via regular decision.

Get a Cornell likely letter

There is no way to truly guarantee getting a likely letter from a school as selective as Cornell. If you are interested in learning more about the Cornell application process and what goes into getting a likely letter from this school, contact us at AdmissionSight today to schedule a free consultation.



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