He has already moved on. Duke University, Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia are in his sights. Sam Stephenson said he probably will apply to eight colleges.
But the episode of double denial from Johns Hopkins University still strikes him as curious.
“The first time when I got rejected, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the second time,” the 17-year-old said Wednesday morning on his way to school in Culpeper County, Va.
On Friday afternoon, when Hopkins released decisions for early applicants, Sam had been turned down. He had a lot of company. Hopkins denies most of its applicants every year. But Sam said he was well aware that the private school in Baltimore was highly selective, so before decision day he had tried not to get his hopes up.
On Sunday afternoon, though, his heart leapt when he got an e-mail from Hopkins welcoming him to the Class of 2019. “Made me think the decision I got on Friday was a mistake,” Sam said. “I don’t know how a school that prestigious could send out a false e-mail like that.”
It turned out that Sam was one of 294 early applicants — most denied, a small number deferred — who had mistakenly been sent the follow-up welcome e-mails that Hopkins intended only for 539 admitted students. The university sent an apology to the 294 on Sunday evening, reiterating that the official decisions announced Friday were still official.
David Phillips, vice provost for admissions and financial aid at Hopkins, said Tuesday that the university’s admissions team deeply regretted the mistake. He said the problem occurred when a communications contractor — ApplicationsOnline — pulled the wrong e-mail list, a matter of “human error.”
Joshua J. Reiter, president and founder of the Baltimore-based company, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A company Web page indicates that Reiter is on the adjunct faculty at Hopkins, teaching business process and quality management, as well as information technology management.
ApplicationsOnline operates the Universal College Application Web site, which processes bids for undergraduate admission to Hopkins, Harvard University, American University and dozens of other schools.
Misfired e-mail bedevils all kinds of companies and organizations. It can happen in big batches or in terribly embarrassing single instances. Anyone who has ever hit “Reply All” on an e-mail response meant for only one set of eyes can relate.
But for college admissions shops, there are unique challenges. The shift from paper to electronic communication during the past decade or so has increased the potential for errors. It’s a lot more difficult to send 294 paper envelopes to the wrong people than 294 e-mails.
In addition, the admissions cycle has become an odyssey for students stretching from October through April. There are now one or two rounds of “early” college applications, plus regular and rolling deadlines. The “big day” is no longer just April 1. There are many big days.
That means the frenzy of anticipation, fear, elation, sorrow and limbo for college-bound students lasts much longer than it once did. The skyrocketing number of applications to super-selective schools — like Hopkins, with a 15 percent admission rate — also intensifies the angst.
The Hopkins e-mail flub struck a chord with tens of thousands of students who have endured all that emotional turbulence this fall and expect to do the same through winter and spring. One New Jersey father, whose son was one of the 294 who didn’t get into Hopkins but received the false hope of the school’s “Embrace the YES!” e-mail, described him Wednesday as “so dejected.”
Phillips acknowledged that the unfortunate e-mail might have added to the disappointment of denied Hopkins applicants — “confusing them,” he said, “in a time when they need clarity.”
Sam Stephenson, an Eagle Scout, has clarity. He said he is into medicine, robotics, physics, engineering “and everything sciencey-related.” And he is still aiming high as he continues his college search.