The University of California at Santa Cruz (Elena Zhukova/UCSC)

The upbeat emails went out this week to 4,000 students in the District, Maryland and Virginia who are on high alert for anything regarding their college applications. It seemed like great news:”Congratulations on your admission to UC Santa Cruz!”

“To celebrate your achievement and to provide an opportunity to learn more about UC Santa Cruz, you and your family are cordially invited to a special reception in the Virginia area on March 28th, 2016,” the emails continued.

But the students who received those invites Wednesday night were nonplussed. They had never even applied to the Northern California school that is home to one of the quirkiest mascots in America, the Banana Slugs.

“I was really shocked,” said Elias Oxman, 18, of Bethesda, Md., one of the recipients of the email. Oxman, who is waiting to hear on several pending college applications — none to UC schools — said he wondered if it was spam. Maybe someone was trying to scam him. But then he scrutinized the originating address, and it seemed legit. He heard that other students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High had gotten the same email.

(Courtesy of Elias Oxman)

So did thousands of others. A high school counselor in D.C. alerted peers in the counseling community to the mishap. Jim Jump, a college counselor at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, said one of his students told him about getting the email. This student, Jump said, had not applied to any UC schools either. “Is it possible one of your friends is playing a trick on you?” Jump asked the student.

The university said Thursday the emails were misfired after a regional admissions officer used a contact list of prospective students from the D.C. area for the invite instead of admitted students. The university sent out a correction Thursday afternoon.

“It is always embarrassing to have such mistakes occur, and I’m sure you wondered why you received the invitation when you haven’t even applied to our campus,” UC-Santa Cruz’s admissions director, Michael K. McCawley, wrote to the 4,000 non-applicants. “Each year I read about such things happening around the country and try to have protocols in place to ensure it won’t happen to our campus, but obviously those protocols were not followed last night.

“While we did have you as a potential applicant for fall 2016, we realize that you didn’t apply to our campus, so please accept my apology for last night’s invitation. Wherever you did apply, I hope you were successful in gaining admission.”

Nearly 60,000 students have applied to UC Santa Cruz for fall admission, spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason said. The university has not yet announced how many were admitted. On Tuesday it began notifying applicants of decisions.

There have been frequent reports of bungled communication between college admission shops and college-bound students in recent years. At least in this case, UC-Santa Cruz was not misleading any actual applicants.

In December 2014, Johns Hopkins University mistakenly sent congratulations messages to nearly 300 students whose bids for early admission had been denied or deferred. ““Embrace the YES!” the subject line of that erroneous email said.

In February that year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sent applicants an e-mail about financial aid that included a happy footnote: “You are on this list because you are admitted to MIT!” That information, for thousands of students, was wrong.

Among other missteps, Fordham University gave false news of acceptance to 2,500 applicants in December 2013, and Vassar College incorrectly informed 76 students that they had gotten into the school in January 2012.

In a monumental goof in 2009, University of California at San Diego’s admissions office sent congratulatory/welcome-to-campus emails to all 46,000 students who had applied, including the 28,000 who had been rejected.

Perhaps the latest episode will provide a bit of a tension-easing chuckle for thousands of students who are eagerly awaiting word on whether they’ll get into the school of their dreams.

“At least I can say I got into another school,” Oxman quipped. “I have proof.”