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Admit Error Possible Anywhere: Expert


Imagine: you’re reading your acceptance notice from the MBA program at the top of your application list. You have reason to rejoice! You call your family. You call your friends. You go outside and shout, “Hooray, I’m in!” to the rooftops.

Not so fast.

A recent fiasco in the admissions department at Carnegie Mellon University shows that not all admission offers are what they seem. Some of them aren’t admission offers at all.

On Feb. 16, about 800 applicants to Carnegie Mellon’s world-class master of science computer science program received great news. They were welcomed with open arms. Bragging, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Gawker, was encouraged.

“You are one of the select few, less than 9% of the more than 1200 applicants, that we are inviting. “We’re convinced this is the right place for you. Welcome to Carnegie Mellon!


If you’d like some bragging points, Carnegie Mellon has one of the longest records for world-leading computer science research and education — more than 50 years.”

Actually, those 800 people were not part of the “select few.” But until they found that out in a subsequent email – seven hours later – there was undoubtedly much rejoicing. In between the two emails, Ben Leibowitz of Connecticut had spread the happy news among family, and gone out to dinner with his parents to celebrate, the Associated Press reports. “Now I have to clean up the mess,” he told the AP. “I’m calling all my relatives, I’m going, ‘I’m sorry, it’s not happening.'”

While the snafu was widely reported to be the result of a computer glitch, school officials haven’t said what caused it. Joe Dinardo, director of marketing for Blue Fountain Media in New York City, says his company is responsible for the sending of more than five million emails per day. Carnegie Mellon’s email mistake probably resulted from human error, Dinardo says.

“What most likely happened is that there were two letters, ‘accepted’ and ‘everyone else’ and they uploaded ‘B’ when they should’ve uploaded ‘A,'” Dinardo says. “I wouldn’t really call it a glitch. Even though we use pretty sophisticated programs to perform these tasks, large email sends, at the end of the day there’s someone on the other end clicking on the button and uploading the list. I think it was much less a computer glitch than someone having a bad day and clicking the wrong button.


“This could happen just as easily at Harvard Business School as it could at The Gap with whoever’s sending their latest sales email.”

Or it could happen at Johns Hopkins University. In fact, it did – the school sent nearly 300 admissions letters of congratulation this year to rejected applicants. Last year, thousands of MIT applicants were issued erroneous congratulations messages. And in 2009, in what U.C. San Diego admissions called an administrative error, the entire freshman application pool, 46,000 students, received emailed admission offers, while 28,000 had actually been rejected.