James Madison College letter brings confusion for applicants

James Madison College officials are reviewing their communication with incoming freshmen after a mishap that led some high schoolers to believe they were accepted to MSU when they weren’t.

At the end of October, Lauren Corby, an East Grand Rapids High School senior, came home to find a letter congratulating her on her acceptance to MSU and asking her to consider James Madison College.

But the letter wasn’t from the Office of Admissions — it was sent by the college.

Later that day, she found out it was a data processing error and her application was still pending.

“I was really upset,” Corby said.

“I thought something wasn’t right because it wasn’t from the admissions office and tried not to get my hopes up, but it was still upsetting.”

James Madison mailed 750 letters out in late October — and 597 of those went to students with their application still on the pending list.

Every year the college sends letters to students who have been accepted to MSU, but have indicated no-preference, said Sherman Garnett, the college’s dean. And until now, the college has never had a problem.

“We want to let students know that there is still room at James Madison and to consider it,” Garnett said.

The Office of Admissions gave the college the list, but he said the college should have double-checked it.

The admissions office discovered the problem when they began to get several calls from students and parents regarding the letter.

Data processing errors rarely happen, said Linda Stanford, associate provost for academic services.

“Unfortunately, it caused people to be upset and have a false sense of hope,” Stanford said. “It doesn’t reflect well on our office, the college or the university, but it was caught at the early stage.”

On Oct. 24, an e-mail went out from James Madison to the students and a follow-up letter was sent the next day from the college as well as a letter from admissions, said Kent Cassella, MSU media communications director.

On Oct. 26, the admissions office placed phone calls to the students who didn’t receive the e-mails.

“In 48 hours we figured out we had a problem, reacted to correct it and cleared up any misunderstanding,” Cassella said.

“The Office of Admissions is now leading a complete review on how that data is processed through the entire admission process.”

Lawrence Fisher, East Grand Rapids High School’s director of guidance, said universities look bad when a student gets a letter that looks like they have been accepted when they really are not.

For some students, MSU is a “reach school” and the students are a little doubtful whether they are going to get in, Fisher said. Then they get a letter at the end of October saying they got in and they are getting invited to this special program, he said.

“It is a disappointment, and I’m sure the folks at Michigan State are really disappointed and I’m sure they will do a good job in regards to fixing it,” Fisher said.

Garnett said the college is looking into rewording the letter so it won’t be construed as an acceptance letter.

“One of my daughters is applying to colleges right now and I wouldn’t want her to get a letter where she thought she was admitted and wasn’t,” he said.

The faculty and staff feel bad about any anxiety they caused, Garnett said.

“James Madison is taking the blame and making sure that this doesn’t happen again,” Garnett said.

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