For Kate Tatar, good news came early in the college admissions process — and so did the pressure of deciding.
In mid-February, Tatar, a senior at Norwood High School in Norwood, Mass., was one of about 230 applicants to the Class of 2016 to receive a “likely letter” from the Office of Admissions. Such letters, which inform highly qualified applicants that they are essentially guaranteed admittance come March 29, are common among selective universities as a way to target applicants that the school hopes to yield.
Penn was not the only school whose attention Tatar caught, however. Even before she received Dean of Admissions Eric Furda’s likely letter — which came in the form of a unique email and video — Tatar was sent another likely letter from Dartmouth College.
“I’d heard of likely letters before and didn’t really expect to get one,” Tatar said. “It took a lot of anxiety out of the process.”
Tatar, who is interested in pursuing mechanical engineering and was accepted to the School of Engineering and Applied Science, is representative of the type of candidates the Office of Admissions tried to target this year — namely, those who expressed an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Although Tatar was able to rule out Dartmouth early on, she is currently still deciding between Penn, Brown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For her part, Tatar viewed the likely letter’s significance with a dose of realism.
“I’m guessing I got the likely letter because not as many women are going into engineering,” Tatar said.
And in at least one sense, the likely letter was actually a negative for Tatar.
“I’ve always been top of my class, and I kind of want a change from that,” she said. “So being chosen as one of the top is not really a good thing for me.”
Ultimately, she said, the primary boon was not the likely letter itself but the extra access to information that came with it.
“The good thing about the likely letter was that they had an Engineering student email me right after I got it,” she said. “It gave me a better sense of the school, and it was nice hearing about social life on campus.”
Similarly, Tatar said, she also was put in touch with mechanical engineering and applied mechanics professor Katherine Kuchenbecker, who specializes in haptics in Penn’s robotics lab.
Still, Tatar’s decision is far from made — and at this point, the letter’s value has faded.
“Now I have to make the decision in terms of my happiness,” she said. “They all have different qualities.”
For Furda, this is the most he can hope for with the likely letters.
“We can do something exciting and somewhat newsworthy, but ultimately are we actually shifting student decision making?” he said.
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