University of North Carolina Sends False Congratulatory Emails to 2,700

On January 23, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sent emails to approximately 2,700 students congratulating them on their acceptance to the school. These emails, however, were a major error made by two university officials, who had accidentally sent them to the wrong mailing group. According to several reports, including the New York Times and the Charlotte Observer, a university official had pulled up the wrong email list for a generic email reminding accepted students to send in their mid-year grades. Within minutes, however, another employee modified the e-mail to say, “Congratulations again on your admission to the university.” Some time later, over 2,000 students received the mistaken email. Some of the students who received the email had not even finished completing their application packet. In addition, the Admissions Committee had not reviewed many of the completed applications yet. Despite efforts to retrieve the email before it arrived in the inboxes of too many students, the school still had to send 9,500 emails apologizing for the mistake to applicants. The school also received numerous phone calls and emails about the faulty message the next day. Stephen Farmer, Director of Undergraduate Admissions for UNC, apologized for the incident during an interview with The New York Times. “We deeply regret this disappointment, which we know is compounded by the stress and anxiety that students experience as a result of the admissions process,” he said. This year, 19 students at Phillips Academy applied to the university. Natalie Lehmann ’07 and Curtis Holden ’07 were two of the 2,700 students that received the erroneous email. Both students expressed indifference after receiving the email, quickly realizing that it was a mistake. “I knew it was a mistake because I knew I wasn’t supposed to get a letter, and I didn’t think I’d get in,” Lehmann said. Her initial reaction to the email was to say, “I was hoping that maybe they’ll feel really bad and let me in, but then we got an email saying it happened to thousands of people so that’s probably not going to happen.” Though Lehmann did not feel any more stressed or nervous after receiving the email, she said, “With college admissions, I feel like it’s better if I’m more pessimistic about it.” Holden also immediately realized that the email was an error. He said, “I was just a little surprised because I had sent out my application two weeks before…I just figured it was a mistake right from the get-go.” UNC has not made decisions of acceptance yet, except for those who applied early. Students who did not apply early have to wait until late March to receive their letters of acceptance or rejection. Out of the 9,500 students who did not apply early to UNC, one-third of them will receive acceptance letters. A similar mistake occurred four years ago on February 26, 2003 at Cornell University. Cornell sent emails to 1,700 high school seniors; of those students, 550 of those students’ applications had been rejected. That time, the message had said, “Greetings from Cornell, your future alma mater!” and, “Congratulations on your acceptance into the class of 2007!” The university realized the error when someone discovered that too many messages had been sent. An apologetic email was sent after, explaining the situation to the students who received the incorrect email. Joyce E. Smith, executive director of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, told CNN, “It is safe to say that every admissions office has had some experience where some kid has gotten the wrong letter. Unfortunately, with email, when you hit the send button, you can’t take it back.” Though their mistake may have affected thousands of students, the two university officials responsible for the e-mail will continue in their posts at UNC without consequences because of their honesty about the issue. Mr. Farmer also said that the admissions office at UNC would be developing control systems to prevent a recurrence of the mistake.