Oooooooh Nooooooooo! Vassar Lays a Big Admissions Egg

January 30, 2012, 7:26 pm

One of the ways that colleges and universities have adapted to the stress that they are responsible for creating among applicants is by making information about acceptance and rejection available over the Internet.  This, of course, would be better than watching the mailbox for the envelope that is fat or thin, because for several days the applicant would know that the decision had been made but be burdened with the rage and anxiety that s/he did not know what the decision was.

For those of you who were moose hunting with Sarah Palin and her family over the weekend and missed the news, imagine the surprise of early decision applicants at Vassar who first learned over the Internet that they had been accepted (yay!) and an hour later discovered that they had not been accepted (wahhhh!) As the New York Times reported it on January 28, Vassar is describing this mistake in the passive voice, which I guess means no one did it:

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.

You notice the lack of agency here? And why would you make the test letter an acceptance letter?  Even one that said “BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA!” would have been better.

Needless to say, student hearts rolled up and down like yo-yos, as did those of parents:  all parties spread the news instantly over the Internet and then had to retract it.  Remember the good old days when you could just sit in your room crying for a couple days?

Although the letter was only up for half an hour, 122 students logged on, only 46 of whom had actually been accepted, so there was a lot of carnage.  The 76 who had not been accepted (some, we imagine, went into the general pool and others were rejected outright) got an email two hours later giving them the bad news.

You would think a place like Vassar would know not to send bad news during cocktail hour, wouldn’t you? Why spoil a good cocktail????

Also thanks to social networking, students were able to freak each other out liberally as they logged on and off the Vassar website:

Ms. Curiel heard from a classmate who had also been told he was accepted. Mr. Ghedira found out early Saturday morning. “He was so happy, he wanted to read it again,” his mother, Sonia Ghedira, said Saturday, adding that her son was too distraught to come to the telephone.

At 5:11 p.m. Friday, the first panicked message hit the College Confidential message board: “Now it says I’m declined??????”

“Accepted at 4, reject at 5,” read another. “I don’t understand.”

Some students and parents tried to contact the Admissions Office, demanding further explanation. The parents of one student in Connecticut who was rejected said they were considering legal action because the decision was supposed to be binding.

Well the decision is binding, true, but that wasn’t the decision they made about your child. Capice?

Other parents have requested a refund of their application fees; one student is stuck with some pink and gray sweats she ordered; and a third, communicating with the Times from Paris, “said the episode might have saved her. ‘I want to major in computer science,” she said in an e-mail, “and Vassar doesn’t even know how to use a computer on the biggest day of our lives.’” Yes, darling, but the computer science department and the admissions office are entirely different.  So when you do go to college and the IT man shows up to get you connected, don’t call him Professor, hokay?

I think there is room to feel empathy towards all parties here. Admissions people are some of the nicest folks on campus; they have to be, because they are the first faces anyone sees (grumpy professors come much later.) Vassar is not the first place to have done this, which s/he whose head will roll in Poughkeepsie might want to know as s/he huddles in the dark with a deluxe bag of Cheetos and a bottle of scotch. But it does remind us all that happy as we are about innovative digital this, and creative digital that, it isn’t such a bad idea to do business over the US mails once in a while.

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