Local News

UNC Applicants Told Congratulations E-mails a Mistake

Posted January 24, 2007

— About 2,700 potential freshmen at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found out they were accepted one day. Then found out the next day they were not.

"I’d give anything to go back to 3 p.m. yesterday and change what happened,“ said Stephen Farmer, director of undergraduate admissions at UNC-Chapel Hill. “We can’t do that, so, we’re trying to do right by kids as best we can.”

Farmer said the mistake happened Tuesday when an e-mail intended for incoming freshmen who went to another group of applicants who were still being considered for admission.

"It came down to two simple human errors that happened within five minutes of one another,” Farmer said.

An employee pulled up the wrong distribution list for a generic e-mail telling accepted students to send in their mid-year high-school grades. If the employee had just sent the generic e-mail to the wrong list, there would not have been a big problem, Farmer said.

But at the same time, he said, another employee modified the generic e-mail to add the words “Congratulations again on your admission to the university.”

Farmer said the staff recognized the mistake almost immediately and tried to kill the e-mail before it went to too many applicants.

The Admissions department spent Wednesday sending out 9,500 e-mails to all candidates whose applications are still under review explaining the mistake and apologizing.

“At this point, we will do whatever we need to do to do right by these students,” Farmer said.

Farmer said the employees involved have been honest and will not face any reprimand.

“There’s nothing that could make them feel worse than they already do,” he said.

As of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, the admissions department had received 111 emails or phone calls about the incorrect email. Farmer said most people were very understanding.

Still, current students, such as Patrick Spencer, said the mistake had to be a devastating blow to the students who received the e-mail.

“I just can’t imagine how they feel," he said. "I would be very disappointed.”

The students who received the email actually have to wait until March to see if they’re accepted.

Each year, approximately 20,000 people apply for 3,800 freshmen spots at UNC-Chapel Hill. Approximately 7,000 applicants get acceptance letters each year because some choose not to attend. Of the 9,500 applicants waiting for an acceptance letter, one-third will get one.
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  • Durham-Raleigh Jan 25, 2007

    Kathy: Actually, email-based (or, more frequently, web sites with secure PIN/password access) notification of college admissions has been going on since at least the late 90s at top universities. AOL actually blocked a large number of Harvard admissions emails in the early '00s thinking the flood of email was spam! But your point is well taken in that the Internet is far fuller now of spam, phishing, and viral emails than even two or three years ago.

  • Red Jan 25, 2007

    I guess that means 2700 more applicants to UNC-Wilmington and ECU?

  • Pack Rules Jan 25, 2007

    I hear ya Ricky300. The employees were idiots....Unfortunatly, that's not against the law.

  • wfisher5 Jan 25, 2007

    This is an example of technology gone bad because of a mistake. We are too dependant on getting things done fast and cheap, like a bullet you can't recall it once its discharged. When I was applying for college I received letter, It's more tangible to me. Why don't they just send letters, I know its more costly but not as costly as this mistake. Sometimes things that are slower are better.

  • NCTravellinman Jan 25, 2007

    "It came down to two simple human errors that happened within five minutes of one another,” Farmer said the employees involved have been honest and will not face any reprimand.
    That's because, as the comedian Ron White has said, "you can't fix stupid".

  • kat Jan 25, 2007

    I would be suspicious of any email congratulating me on my acceptance to a legitimate, first class university. But still, I can imagine the flush of excitement and then let down some may have felt. I'm glad the recipients have generally been understanding.