Carnegie Mellon’s mistake crushes hopes of 800 applicants

Carnegie Mellon accidentally sent out acceptance emails to students who were rejected to the school’s computer science master’s program. The university is not the first college to make such an embarrassing clerical error.

There’s nothing worse than not getting accepted to the school of your choice – except getting accepted and then finding out it was an error.

On Monday, Carnegie Mellon University’s admissions office incorrectly sent an email to roughly 800 applicants to the school’s computer science master’s program.

“We understand the disappointment created by this mistake, and deeply apologize to the applicants for this miscommunication,” university spokesperson Ken Walters said to Bloomberg Business. “We are currently reviewing our notification process to help ensure this does not happen in the future.”

The email, obtained by Gawker, congratulates students on their acceptance, and continues to offer them “bragging points” for their success:

“You are one of the select few, less than 9 percent of the more than 1,200 applicants, that we are inviting. We’re convinced this is the right place for you. Welcome to Carnegie Mellon!” the letter reads.

About seven hours later, students received a follow-up email with the less celebratory subject line, “CORRECTION OF PRIOR EMAIL / REVOCATION OF OFFER OF ADMISSION TO MS IN CS PROGRAM.” 

While seven hours may seem like a short amount of time, it was just enough time for some “accepted” students to celebrate. Ben Leibowitz, one of the 800 to receive the false email, alerted his relatives to his acceptance to what the U.S. News & World Report ranks the country’s No. 1 graduate computer science program. He also celebrated over dinner with his parents before receiving the news.

“It was brutal. I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Leibowitz told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “Now I have to clean up the mess. I’m calling all my relatives, I’m going, 'I’m sorry it’s not happening.'"

This is not the first time a major university has blundered in this manner. The Associated Press reported that in December, John Hopkins University accidentally sent almost 300 undergraduate students “welcome messages” in spite of their rejections or deferments. In February 2014, MIT sent out false information about financial aid to thousands of students, informing them they would be receiving information due to their acceptance (which they did not receive). In 2009, the University of California at San Diego “accepted” all 46,000 applicants, including the 28,000 who were rejected.

Clerical errors have become all too frequent, especially with the development of automated acceptance systems in the early 2000s. Katy Steinmetz of Times.com reported it has become an almost annual “rite of college admissions,” with one of its earliest offenses occurring in 1995 when 45 students received fat early acceptance envelopes from Cornell, only to receive a thin rejection letter soon after.

Ms. Steinmetz writes: “But – while there is a special irony to this mistaken mass email coming from officials at the school ranked #1 in computer science – this kind of spirit-crushing mixup is sadly common.”

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