April 10, 2009

C.U. Financial Aid Office Sends Rejected Students ‘Congrats’ E-mails

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A technological glitch as well as human error caused the Office of Financial Aid to mistakenly send congratulatory e-mails earlier this month to 25 prospective students who had already been rejected by the Office of Admissions, a University official said yesterday.
The message read: “Congratulations on your acceptance to Cornell University! Our records indicate your financial aid application is currently incomplete.”
Students who received the e-mail said they were confused, disappointed and outraged.

“It gave me false hope that maybe somewhere along the line there was a mistake, but it just made the disappointment even harsher,” said Samantha Lo, who was affected by the e-mail mishap. “I had just begun to forget about my [rejection] when this came along.”
“I can’t believe Cornell would be that irresponsible. This shows an obvious complete lack of foresight in putting together their automated system,” she added.
According to Financial Aid Director Susan Hitchcock, the financial aid office regularly notifies applicants of missing information as their application forms arrive piece by piece. An automated computer sytem coordinates these electronic notifications, and a glitch in the software, in combination with human error, misplaced 25 students on the wrong listserv and consequently caused these students to receive the wrong e-mails.
“While human error did occur, a coding [error] in our computer system prevented us from identifying these students and removing them from the [accepted students] mailing [list],” she stated in an e-mail.
These types of errors appear to be rare at Cornell, but are not unprecedented.
In March 2003, the Cornell Admissions Office sent an e-mail stating, “Greetings from Cornell, your future alma mater!” to nearly 550 students who were rejected in the early decision process. However, this is the first time the Financial Aid Office has experienced this type of problem, according Hitchcock.
Cornell is also not the only school that had issues with e-mail regarding applications and admissions this year. The University of California, San Diego, mistakenly sent acceptance e-mails to all 46,377 students who applied for admission, including the 29,000 applicants who were rejected, according to NBC San Diego. These 29,000 students’ brief moments of bliss were crushed when UCSD emailed out their rejection letters two hours later.
“It was a colossal screw-up,” an anonymous parent told The Los Angeles Times.
Later, on April Fools day, few students laughed when the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at NYU mistakenly sent out 489 congratulations e-mails to rejected applicants, according to The Examiner. Both schools have apologized for their mistakes. According to the New York Post, NYU attributed the misfired messages to “clerical mistakes”, and is currently reexamining their system to prevent future incidents.
According to Hitchcock, the Financial Aid Office already sent apology e-mails to these 25 students, and the problem in the automated-reply system has already been fixed to prevent future mishaps.
“There were 25 applicants affected in this incident and each has been personally notified,” Hitchcock said.
“We have identified the [coding] problem, and it has been remedied,” she added.