Regular decision applicant Omar Sobh thought he would have to wait another three weeks before finding out his college admissions fate.
But on March 4, Sobh, a senior at Shelton High School in Fairfield County, Ct., learned of some good news much earlier than expected.
Sobh was one of a few hundred students who received a “likely letter” from Penn informing him of his upcoming acceptance to the University.
Last year, Penn sent out approximately 200 likely letters to top applicants — an increase from 120 the year before. Though Dean of Admissions Eric Furda would not provide an exact count for this year’s likely letters, he said there were “significantly more” than last year.
“Even in an applicant pool of 31,000-plus, some candidates are going to stand out to the highest degree,” Furda said. “We’re identifying those students who are going to have a lot of options when decisions roll in.”
Currently, all Ivy League schools use some form of academic likely letters. Harvard College Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons told the Harvard Crimson in mid-February that Harvard will send out approximately 300 likely letters this year.
In past years at Penn, likely candidates received a note from the Admissions Office with news of their impending decision. This time around, however, Penn decided to change the game.
On March 4 — the first Friday of Penn’s spring break — likely candidates received an e-mail from the Admissions Office with a link to a website where they were greeted with a video from Furda informing them of their likely status.
Early in the video, Furda tells applicants that “you’re among a small group of students who are designated as likely candidates, meaning that on March 30 you’re going to be admitted to the University of Pennsylvania.”
The video goes on to feature input from members of the Admissions Dean’s Advisory Board — a newly created group made up of about 20 undergraduates. ADAB representatives began meeting with Furda last December to provide input on various admissions initiatives. In the video, ADAB students talk about their Penn experience.
This marks the first time Penn has reached out to likely candidates in nontraditional ways such as via website and video. Furda said he hopes that this year’s efforts “provide richer opportunities for high-achieving students to learn about us … in more authentic ways.”
Sobh said his likely e-mail was “the best news [he’s] received so far this year.” He added that he has since received a physical copy of the letter in the mail.
For Charlene You, a senior at Bergenfield High School in Bergen County, N.J., receiving a likely e-mail on Friday “has definitely increased my pull to Penn,” she said.
However, Jacob Feldman, a senior at R.J. Reynolds High School in Forsyth County, N.C., said he wished that his likely letter had come in the mail before it came online.
“It seems a bit less collegiate … and less official to first share that news through a video,” he said.
Feldman added he had some initial doubts about his likely letter’s authenticity, as the URL provided by the Admissions Office — pennlikely.com — was “surprisingly generic.”
Feldman was not alone in his concerns, as other likely candidates expressed similar sentiments in online posts on College Confidential, a college admissions forum, during the first weekend of spring break. The confusion was enough that Furda posted on the website for the first time ever to reassure students of the authenticity of the letters.
Regardless of some applicants’ concern, Penn remains one of the first schools in the nation to experiment with new strategies to reach out to likely candidates. “It’s definitely the first of its kind I’ve ever seen,” Tim Lear, director of college counseling at the Pingry School in Somerset County, N.J., said.
Last year, Furda told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the Admissions Office sometimes uses likely letters to target students in “under-enrolled” majors like physics and chemistry.
President of Hernandez College Consulting Michele Hernandez added that she has also seen likely letters used as a way to bring more minority applicants to campus.
“A school like Penn doesn’t necessarily look at likely letters as a way to increase yield in general, but rather as a way to increase yield among a very specific group of applicants,” Hernandez said. “Either way, likely letters take a lot of the uncertainty out of a very uncertain process.”
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