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UB mistakenly sends 5,000 acceptance emails

Dear student: Welcome to the University at Buffalo. Or maybe not.

More than 5,000 prospective UB students received emails this week telling them that they were accepted for admission into the university. A few hours later, they were told that the initial email was a mistake.

It was the latest admissions gaffe in what has become almost an annual spring rite in the world of higher education. It was also one of the biggest blunders ever, reaching about a fifth of all the students who applied for admission to UB this year.

“The University at Buffalo deeply regrets an error that occurred when an email intended to encourage you to fill out your FAFSA form mistakenly stated we had completed the review of your application materials,” Lee H. Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management at UB, wrote in the second email. “In fact, we are still reviewing your application for admission and haven’t made a final decision on your acceptance to the university.”

The emails went out on Wednesday.

Diamond Williams, a senior at Mott Haven Community High School in the Bronx, was one of 5,109 applicants who found in their inboxes a message that opened with the words: “Congratulations on your acceptance to the University at Buffalo!”

Williams could not have been more excited. UB was her first choice among several other State University of New York schools.

“I was ecstatic,” she said. “I told my mom. I told my adviser. I told my sister.”

A few hours later, Williams’ elation turned into disappointment with the follow-up email. She said she felt embarrassed to go back to her mom and her friends and tell them she had not been accepted into UB after all.

“She was upset. She was really upset. She went to bed early,” said Diamond’s mother, Margaret Hamilton. “That’s when you go into mom mode and say, ‘You did what to my child?’ ”

Hamilton called UB’s admissions office the next day to inquire about what happened. She said she was told that her daughter was still under consideration for admission and that the university was waiting to receive her high school transcript, essay and SAT scores.

“To say, ‘Oh, it’s a mistake,’ that’s like winning the lottery, then getting a letter saying, ‘Wrong ticket,’ ” Hamilton said.

Melvin’s follow-up email stated that UB would give prospective students who received the erroneous email an update on their application status by Friday, April 22.

“Again, the University at Buffalo deeply regrets this mistake and my personal apologies go out to you and your family for this unfortunate error in communication,” Melvin said.

A university spokesman issued a written statement in response to an inquiry from The Buffalo News about the incident.

The miscommunication occurred when someone in the admissions or financial aid office put together an incorrect email list from an applicant database, according to the statement.

“The University at Buffalo sincerely regrets this error, as well as any stress it may have caused students and families who received the letters,” the statement said. “Within three to four hours following the discovery of this error, the university sent a letter of explanation, offering its sincerest apologies to those who were affected. The university’s Office of Enrollment Management has taken immediate steps to ensure that errors of this kind will not occur in the future. We know that this can be a stressful time for prospective students and their families. The University at Buffalo deeply regrets this unfortunate error in communication.

“It is important to note that the admissions applications of this group of students are still under review and the students are still being considered for acceptance by the university.”

The spokesman said he was unaware of past incidents of UB sending out mistaken admissions letters. But UB joins a growing list of colleges and universities to stumble during admissions season.

In 2015, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh informed 800 applicants to its master’s program in computer science that they were accepted into the program, when they hadn’t been, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Johns Hopkins University in 2014 sent acceptance letters to 300 applicants who earlier were told they wouldn’t get in.

And in 2013, Fordham University congratulated about 2,500 early-admission applicants on their acceptances, even though the decisions hadn’t been made yet.

The University of California, San Diego, may have the record for most prospective students who were strung along. In 2009, the university sent out 28,000 acceptance emails to students who were supposed to receive rejection notices, according to the Los Angeles Times.

University at Buffalo officials said they have received 25,270 applications for admission this year – up 10 percent from last year. They anticipate enrolling 3,700 freshmen and 1,750 transfer students for the fall 2016 semester.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com