If you’re aiming high in the school search, especially for highly selective private schools, you might consider submitting a “First-Choice” or “Top-Choice” letter. What exactly is a first-choice letter? For younger students, it’s a letter written by the parents; for middle school students or older, it’s written by the student. The letter tells the admission officers that if admitted to their school, they will accept.

However, first-choice letters are not universally appreciated. Most schools welcome them, while some view them as taboo. It’s essential to research whether your top school accepts or discourages such letters. While some admissions officials might find them distasteful, there are schools where, rumor has it, an application is virtually incomplete without one. The best approach? Consult with the admissions director of your top-choice school to gauge their stance. Only proceed if you’re not dissuaded, and if you don’t fall into one of the situations mentioned below.

When Not to Write a First-choice Letter

 Avoid writing a first-choice letter if:

  • Your child’s acceptance hinges on a specific financial aid package. While it’s unlikely that a school would offer less aid because of such a letter, you’d be in a bind if the aid given falls short of your expectations.
  •  You’re contemplating multiple top choices. It’s a given that you should only write one first-choice letter. If you’re unsure about a clear top choice, consider writing about your admiration for the school, referencing specific interactions and detailing why it’s a great fit for your child and family.

What to Include

 Choosing to write a first-choice letter? Ensure you highlight why you believe the school is the perfect fit for your child. Dive into the details: reference specific aspects of the school and align them with your child’s ethos or aspirations. Aligning your child’s attributes with the school’s mission can make a powerful statement.

Timing of the Letter

 If your top-choice school has a set admissions deadline (and assuming the acceptance schedule is similar to larger metropolitan areas), it’s optimal to send your letter after the application deadline, but ideally just before admission decision-making, usually in January or February. Remember to be concise; admissions staff are swamped during this period. If there’s a toss-up between your child and another applicant, your letter might just tip the balance in your favor. It’s worth noting that some schools assess their performance based on yield — the ratio of accepted offers to total offers made. A first-choice letter can influence this metric, reinforcing its potential importance in the admissions process.  

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