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January 30, 2012 11:00 AM Yes or No?

By Daniel Luzer

It seems like this happens at least once every admissions season. This year Vassar College apparently told about 75 high students that they had been admitted to the school who actually hadn’t.

According to an article by Matt Flegenheimer in the New York Times:

Megan Curiel, from San Antonio, saw the good news on her iPhone and sobbed. Her father called relatives. She ordered two Vassar sweatshirts — one for her and one for her mother. They popped Champagne. “I was in,” Ms. Curiel said, “for about three hours.”
About 4 p.m. Friday, Eastern time, scores of early-decision applicants to the college, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., were mistakenly told they had been accepted, the school said.

As colleges move to cut costs and increase efficiency, many have moved to the electronic notification system for admission decisions. The trouble with this is that, while it saves paper and money, it also greatly increases the potential for colleges to screw something up. It’s basically a huge data dump into a program. If the unpaid junior staffer (or work-study student) puts the wrong name or email addresses into the program, well, it’s hard to correct that problem. Flegenheimer:

Jeff Kosmacher, a spokesman for Vassar, said on Saturday that a “test letter” that had been intended as a placeholder for the real admissions decision had not been replaced before students checked their application statuses online. The error was discovered around 4:30 p.m., he said.

Of the 122 who saw the letter, only 46 were actually admitted.

The college sent a special message to the students who viewed the letter citing a “system error.”

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer