How to avoid admissions 'fake news,' according to experts

'Congratulations! You've been admi—' Oh wait..

We've all seen the cringe-worthy stories in the news: "X University sends 200 acceptance letters in error. Applicants devastated."

Sending the wrong message happens more than college admissions officers would like to admit.

It's easy to point to human error in these cases, but Jillian Berman reports for MarketWatch that several experts say systemic technological challenges are also to blame.

"It's human error that becomes consequential because we have sped up processes that in earlier times would have been so time consuming that the mistake would have been caught," explains Barmak Nassirian, the director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Peter Farrell, EAB managing director of enrollment services, elaborates that errors are often rooted in IT challenges. "Sometimes the systems on campus, the enterprise management systems, can be very complex and not terribly user-friendly," explains Farrell. He also notes that schools sometimes place "relatively young professionals [without] an enormous amount of experience with business process" in the positions responsible for admissions emails. 

Reach students, not spam filters

While the errors can create a lot of angst—for both students and schools—experts point out that they're not statistically as common as they might seem.

"Students can generally trust the communications they receive from colleges," says Mimi Doe, the co-founder of Top Tier Admissions.

The exact percentage of applicants that receive erroneous admissions letters is difficult to pinpoint, but Berman estimates it's extremely low. Roughly 20 million students attended college in 2016, she writes. But in each case of an incorrect admissions email, the number of students affected was only a few hundred at most.

Doe predicts that these errors aren't going to disappear any time soon, since "even before admissions offices were dependent on technology, they still made mistakes." Having said that, she offers some advice for applicants who worry they may be the next ones to fall prey to the fake admissions news:

"Students who are concerned that their admissions decision may be in error should log into the school's secure portal with their own credentials to double check that they've been admitted," suggests Doe. Plus, students usually receive further communication from the school shortly after acceptance, so chances are, they'll quickly notice the error (Berman, MarketWatch, 2/27).

Message segmentation can also be detrimental in the early stages of your admissions process

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