LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — At the height of college decision season, the University of Kentucky (UK) emailed 500,000 high school seniors an acceptance letter to a "selective" College of Health Sciences program that usually accepts 35 to 40 students a year.
The acceptance email was sent to seniors on March 15 saying, "We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into the selective Clinical and Management program in the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences for the Fall 2021."
As students across the country started opening the emails that day, the confusion grew.
Mary Dougherty, a senior from San Antonio, Texas, was one of the many to receive this email.
"I was like, 'Mom, I just got accepted into the University of Kentucky.' And she's like, 'Oh, I didn't know you applied to University of Kentucky.' And I was like, 'oh, I did not,'" Dougherty said.
Dougherty is one of several high school students who said they never applied to UK, visited or even went on its website.
"I had to google it just to make sure it was a real college because, like, I've heard of them. But I'm not so sure," said Erin Esping, a senior from Georgia.
Less than 24 hours later, the school sent another email apologizing for its mistake citing a "technical issue."
The University admitted the emails were sent in "error."
"Only a handful of those on the prospect list had been admitted to UK," University of Kentucky Spokesman Jay Blanton explained. "The vast majority had not, nor had the vast majority of these students expressed an interest in the program. Nevertheless, we regret the communication error and have sent correspondence to all those who were contacted, offering our apologies."
Blanton said the emails were sent using the school's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool.
"Think of it as a much more sophisticated tool than say MailChimp to send a newsletter. There has to be a platform for distribution – whether a current student or one we may be recruiting. It is a common practice in higher education," said Blanton. "So, the student could have indicated they were interested in UK at some point or they may have sent an application. There are a number of ways we would have their contact information."
Students who spoke said they worried they might have accidentally applied and were fearful they were taking another student's spot. One student said she called UK to make sure they knew she would not be attending.
Texas senior Gabriel Botello who also did not apply to UK said after going through the college admissions process, his first thought when he received the acceptance email and then the redaction the next day was about any students who were hoping for a spot in the Clinical and Management Program.
"I'd be heartbroken. That'd be one of the most stressful things that has ever happened to me because I know that...any email you get from a university that you will apply to, and this is just from personal experience, it's like, 'oh my god, what is it?' Do I have to read it right now and, you know, what if it's a decision? What if it's something else? What if it's something important? What are they asking for more information?" said Botello. "And so...reading that 'congratulations, you're in' for students who really wanted it, that must have been horrible like I cannot imagine what that felt like and I'm really sorry."
But Blanton said, "A very small number – a handful" of students who received the acceptance email "had expressed interest in this particular program" and all students who should have been admitted received their acceptance letters.
This article was written by Claire Kopsky for WLEX.