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Lesson in UCLA error: Make sure that acceptance letter is for real.

UCLA has already apologized for mistakenly notifying 894 wait-listed college seniors that they'd been admitted. It's not the first or worst such case, and it won't be the last, say experts.

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“If there's a silver lining in any of this, it's that this misstep was smaller than it could have been,” says Ross.

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John Briggs, Community Director of RSC, an online college preparatory service, says accidental acceptance letters are annual events that are bound to increase.

“These mistakes are bound to happen because colleges are receiving more applications than ever and admitting more students then they can handle,” he says via email, noting that UCLA’s applications have jumped 50 percent in four years – while their freshman class has grown by a third. “Given budget cuts and hiring freezers, it’s amazing we don’t see this more often,” Mr. Briggs says. “What it indicates is that students need to review every piece of paper they get from a college.”

Robert Pugsley, professor of law at Southwestern Law School, says there are no legal repercussions because UCLA caught the error quickly and apologized.

“They handled it right by apologizing right away and indicating the students were still on the waiting list, and that they were obviously negligent.”

But others aren’t so sure.

“What if it had been a financial aid offer to one student that the school or the student didn’t catch?” asks Briggs. “The student could be out thousands of dollars in financial aid from a clerical error.”

And Dr. Ben Agger, of the University of Texas, Arlington, sociology department, thinks that if a student received such a notice and acted on it, he or she should be able to be admitted after all.

"I have a senior in high school who is deciding on colleges for next year,” he says via e-mail. “If he received a letter of acceptance from UCLA when he was in fact on the waiting list, the concern would be whether he acted on that acceptance and turned down offers from other schools in the meantime.”

“UCLA seemed to reverse field quickly on this snafu, rectifying their mistake within a day or two,” he says. “Bureaucratic errors are inevitable in a large university system. If students acted on their UCLA acceptance by turning down other schools before they learned that UCLA made a mistake, they should be admitted as Bruins. People err, but so do institutions."

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