Students cross Massachusetts Avenue on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in 2012. MIT is one of several universities that have sent erroneous admissions notices to prospective students. / Josh T. Reynolds for USA TODAY
Getting into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is no small feat - fewer than one in 10 applicants are accepted. So imagine the stir last week when thousands of prospective MIT freshmen got an e-mail that at the bottom casually noted, "you are admitted to MIT!"
The college quickly apologized for telling applicants they'd been admitted when they hadn't. MIT explained that an e-mail error caused the problem, but such goofs are not uncommon in college admissions season, both in past years and in the digital age.
On Feb. 5, MIT admissions counselor Chris Peterson sent an e-mail to both prospective students and those already admitted early. The message included an automated tag line at the bottom that read, "You are on this list because you are admitted to MIT!"
The tag line should have read: "You are receiving this email because you applied to MIT and we sometimes have to tell you things about stuff."
The problem, Peterson explained, was that he had recently combined two lists of students - those who had been admitted early and those still awaiting news of whether they'd been admitted. MIT generally tells students on March 14. But the e-mail footer from the "admitted" group somehow got transposed onto all of the e-mails through the office's MailChimp system.
Peterson quickly apologized, saying, he was "incredibly, incredibly sorry to everyone who received this and read it and felt the mixture of confusion/elation/frustration it must have engendered. We send out dozens of emails to hundreds of thousands of people and try to do it perfectly every time. We didn't this time, and it's my fault, and I hope you'll forgive me."
"I do not think it's a big deal," said Corey Cook, 17, of Huntington Station, N.Y., who's waiting on a decision from MIT. "It was a little footnote to a financial aid email. I honestly did not even notice it until I went onto the MIT website and saw their post explaining the error. Accidents happen. And I would hope that most people know that a college wouldn't give you an admissions decision through a footnote in an unrelated email."
MIT has already admitted 612 students under its early admission program for the Class of 2018, about 9% of those who applied, according to The Tech, MIT's student newspaper, which first reported the mix-up. Another 4,538 applicants have been deferred and 1,403 rejected. The previous year, 18,989 students applied and just 1,548 were admitted, according to the college.
College notification flubs are rare but seem to happen with increasing regularity as colleges move nearly all their admissions procedures online. Among other recent examples:
â?¢ In December, about 2,500 students who had applied to New York's Fordham University received e-mails telling them prematurely that they'd been accepted. A university spokesman told The New York Times, "We are devastated by the error."
â?¢ In January 2012, 122 prospective students at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., received what the college later called an accidental "test letter" saying they'd been accepted. Of those, only 46 had actually been accepted, according to the Times.
â?¢ In April 2012, the University of California-Los Angeles apologized after telling nearly 900 wait-list applicants they'd been accepted. The goof came in a routine financial aid e-mail from which university officials had failed to remove the line, "Once again congratulations on your admission to UCLA."
Other University of California campuses, Penn State and the University of Delaware have seen similar errors.
"I would love to say that what happened at MIT is unusual, but it's not," said Joyce Smith, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. She has been in the business for 23 years. While colleges once glued the wrong address sticker on an acceptance envelope, now they send out erroneous e-mails. "We continue to encourage our members to be as careful as possible," she said.
Over the years, Smith said, a few colleges that mistakenly "accepted" a handful of students have moved to absorb the error and accept those applicants. But that's basically impossible at a place like MIT. "If they're looking for 1,500 only, they can't take 4,000," she said.
After last week's mix-up, MIT's Peterson took to a college admissions blog to offer a personal anecdote about his own college admissions experience. He wrote that when he was rejected by his top-choice college, the letter he received was addressed to "Christine Peterson Fitzpatrick." The admissions office offered no explanation or apology for the error. The letter, he said, "may have been a mistake, but I was most definitely rejected."
"I have never forgotten that," he said. "I was rejected from seven of ... 10 schools, but that letter hurt the most, not only because it was my first choice, but because the mistaken identity added insult to injury."
Last week's e-mail goof, he said, devastated him. "It crushes - crushes - me to think that I might have unintentionally inflicted something similar on some of you."
One prospective MIT student quickly responded, "I'll forgive you if you accept me!"
Contributing: The Associated Press
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