About 800 applicants to Carnegie Mellon University got great news Monday — they were accepted to the prestigious school’s top-ranked master’s in computer science program, and even given helpful “bragging points.” But in a cruel computer glitch, those congratulatory e-mails were sent out by mistake. And another, much less happy and completely exclamation-point-free batch soon followed. As Gawker first reported, those students got a message that was pretty clear:
“Earlier this morning, we mistakenly sent you an offer of admission to Carnegie Mellon’s MS in CS program. This was an error on our part. While we certainly appreciate your interest in our program, we regret that we are unable to offer you admission this year,”
the e-mail read, in part. The closing seems particularly painful: “P.S. Please acknowledge receipt of this retraction.”
The AP reported that one applicant, Ben Leibowitz, of Stamford, Connecticut, got the first e-mail, went out to dinner with his family to celebrate, then came home to find the second one waiting. “Leibowitz says he’s left to clean up the mess and explain what happened to his relatives.”
Carnegie Mellon is just one of several universities to trip up on e-mail acceptance letters this year; Johns Hopkins University sent congratulatory messages to almost 300 applicants who had, in fact, been rejected. Last year thousands of MIT applicants mistakenly got an email that closed with a congratulations.
No one has yet to top the University of California at San Diego, which several years ago sent acceptance letters to more than 45,000 people — everyone who applied — telling them they got in.
“No matter how hard institutions try to avoid things like this, it just seems from the last 10 years that a handful of these things may be inevitable every year,” said David Hawkins of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “Every time we hear about something like this, institutions talk about all the different safeguards they have in place to prevent these. But technology being what it is, a single keystroke could circumvent any system you have in place.”
It can be very difficult for students emotionally and, Hawkins said, “from the university perspective it does create an administrative nightmare. Many students and families will be very upset about this. I’m sure a few will attempt to pressure the institution… for admission.”
At Carnegie Mellon, spokesman Kenneth Walters said in an e-mailed statement, “This error was the result of serious mistakes in our process for generating acceptance letters. Once the error was discovered, the university moved quickly to notify affected applicants. “We understand the disappointment created by this mistake, and deeply apologize to the applicants for this miscommunication. We are currently reviewing our notification process to help ensure this does not happen in the future.”