The Aftermath of Vassar’s Acceptance Letter Screwup: One Family Speaks Out

  • flickrciani The Aftermath of Vassars Acceptance Letter Screwup: One Family Speaks Out

    Ciani Holdman-Williams, self-portrait (Flickr)

    Yesterday, The New York Times let the world in a secret about upstate liberal arts college Vassar: The school had sent out 70 early decision acceptance letters by accident on Friday to candidates that were actually rejected from the school.

    While this might be chalked up to a Oops! moment (as was the headline at The Daily Mail), the emotional toll for students and families who celebrated acceptance only to be told an hour later that they actually hadn’t gotten in to the prestigious “Seven Sisters” school were devastating.

    The New York Observer spoke to a family member of one of the accepted/rejected applicants, Ciani Holdman-Williams from Arlington, Texas. His uncle, Kevin Holdman, had been helping him through the application process.

    “I think this is wrong, this is totally unacceptable,” Mr. Holdman told the Observer. “Kevin had a 3.6 GPA. He teaches Sunday class every week, spends every summer as a counselor at a Bible camp for kids, and volunteers at Mission at Arlington. He’s treasurer for his French Club, and participates in Art Club…he’s an amazing artist who has won awards in local competitions.”

    Mr. Holdman logged in to Vassar’s site at 4:00 p.m. EST on Friday and printed out his nephew’s acceptance letter, which included a student ID. He called Kevin, who checked the site four minutes later to find his application revoked.

    “Kevin and his mother contacted the school and received this very generic form letter from the president. I don’t know what kind of actions we can take, but if the school refuses to work with us, we’re ready to go to court over this,” Mr. Holdman said.

    Many of them took to the website CollegeConfidential to share the good news, only to come back the same day and vent their feelings.

  • "I'm in this same situation. I even made a copy of the acceptance letter. I sent a copy to the admission office and left a voice mail. I will follow up with them on Monday. This is not fair and there should be something that can be done."

  • Dear Ciani:

    You're in!

    You have been selected to be a member of the Vassar College Class of 2016 under our Early Decision program. On behalf of the Vassar community, I extend to you our most enthusiastic congratulations.

    As you know, Vassar is a community that is enriched by the strengths of each member. We look forward to your participation in, and your contribution to, our academic and extracurricular endeavors. We believe you, in turn, will find support at Vassar for your intellectual and personal development during this important period in your life. Of course, your admission is contingent on finishing your senior year with a strong academic and personal record.

    Please return the Candidate's Reply Card, along with the $500.00 non-refundable deposit to reserve your place in the class, as soon as possible, but no later than February 20, 2012. In compliance with the terms of the Early Decision agreement, please withdraw any other college applications you have submitted.

    Financial aid awards will be mailed from the Office of Financial Aid within about a week to all those who have completed the financial aid process. You can expect information about housing options and required medical forms in May, and information about course registration and freshman orientation in July. In the meantime, of course, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

    I hope you will celebrate your admission to Vassar College in grand style. Welcome!

    David M. Borus
    Dean of Admission and Financial Aid

  • "I'm in this same situation. I even made a copy of the acceptance letter. I sent a copy to the admission office and left a voice mail. I will follow up with them on Monday. This is not fair and there should be something that can be done."

  • 4:00 pm
    -me checking vassar decision
    -heartbeat rises
    -I AM IN
    -call my family
    -get excited
    -called my friends and went out to party , my treat. (4:00 in US equals to night in my country)
    -Come back -Casually open mail -Mail from Vassar
    -"Ok it must be some extra congratulation"
    -while reading the e-mail, i notice the word "error"
    -heartbeat rises
    -heartbeat rises even more
    -not in....

  • "I got iinnnn"

  • "electrika, we have been rejected, not deferred!
    we can't apply for regular decision
    it's over"

  • I got accepted!!!!!!!!! Holy *****

  • I got the acceptance letter at 4:00pm but the decline letter at 5'ish..... I even refreshed the page a few times until 4:30ish

  • "This is the worst day ever!
    On reading the signed letter that I'm in, my family and I spontaneously decided to celebrate at a resort near town. I was effectively celebrating while the whole issue went on, and only just read the email that I'm declined, with no available support since admissions office is closed. Now, I only have a saved letter on my computer as a momento that I was in for that short period of time (yes, I was so excited that I saved a copy of the letter.)
    I'm crushed."


  1. AS says:

    A 3.6 GPA is probably not going to get you into Vassar. He was rejected for a reason.

    1. Teakke says:

      That comment is entirely inappropriate. A 3.6 is an amazing GPA, of which any student should be proud. The college process takes many, many things into account, and acceptance to a school is not based on how great you are, but whether or not you would be a good fit at the given school. I’m sure wherever Ciani ends up, he will be very happy.

      1. Michael says:

        A 3.6 is not an amazing GPA. The problem with this applicant is that his application is nothing more than just being good neighbor in Texas. He taught at Sunday school, he taught at bible camp, and won local competitions… okay? Where are his AP exams? Where are his SATs (and SATIIs)? Is he in any national honor society for French or academics? Has he won any awards? Does he even play a sport?

        He’s a very mediocre applicant. Yes, it’s important for a school to judge you based on your personality and being a “good fit,” but there are plenty of applicants that have near perfect GPAs and test scores with personality. 

      2. What says:

        I just got into Vassar in December with a 3.85 GPA, an A average. The average GPA of a student accepted to Vassar is around 3.76, a high A- average. 

      3. What says:

        And that’s along with spectacular extracurriculars and such. I thought Vassar was a very high reach for me, and was completely shocked that I got in. To reiterate what AS said, this kid just doesn’t cut it. That isn’t to say that he’s a horrible student, though. He clearly cares about what he does in the community, and I’m sure he’ll get in to a really good school, just not top schools like Vassar. 

      4. AS says:

        Well, as a Vassar student, I like to think that we are accepted for being ‘great.’ I was actively involved in ten extracurricular activities, had amazing test scores, leadership positions, National Merit,  was a member of three honor societies, and a state writing champion,  and I still felt that Vassar was a bit of a reach for me.  A 3.6 GPA and helping out at Sunday school just isn’t going  to cut it. Where are his leadership positions? Honor Societies? Part of being a ‘fit’ at Vassar is being an exceptional student, and a 3.6 really isn’t. That would be barely honor roll at my school, and not even close to high honor roll.

      5. Guest2 says:

        Well, “AS”, as a proud Vassar alum, I’d like to tell you that your arrogance and lack of compassion is distasteful, insensitive and telling of why the administration has handled this entire situation so callously. You don’t know Ciani or anything about his application. The truth is that Vassar, and many other prestigious colleges, allow for enormous variation in their student body and they do this by selecting students not just based on a laundry list of extra-curricular activities and grades alone. Issues like special talents, first-generation students, disadvantaged situations, demographics, athletic ability, etc., all play into the equation—as they should. I’m not suggesting that Ciani has these or that he wasn’t denied for a reason; I just ask that you don’t make such an ass of yourself—and by association the college—by thumping your chest about your “amazing test scores”. Leave the kid alone. He has been violated and your words aren’t helping.

      6. AS says:

        He has not been ‘violated.’ He has been embarrassed, and probably even more so with this article pointing out his troubles. 

        And I am certainly not ‘thumping my chest.’ I’m simply saying that this school is a lot more selective than it used to be, and if even a student who has done extremely well is nervous about getting in, then one who has only done acceptably should not call foul about being denied. It’s unfortunate, but suggesting that we should take on students out of pity is ridiculous. People need to realize that letting this students in who were not up to the standards of admission is not fair to the current students or to those who were actually accepted on their own merits.

      7. Guest says:

        Wow, you are a real work of art.

      8. LFZ says:

        I absolutely agree AS. As a recent college graduate, I found that one of the biggest problems with many of my peers throughout school was that they felt entitled to high achievements without working very hard for them. We come from the “everyone gets a trophy” generation and it tricked us into believing that even performing in an average way will win us anything we want. 
        The truth is far from that and when reality hits it is devastating. In fact it often makes young people confused and hopeless about their futures. 
        Excellence in anything is extremely hard. Some say that those who have done the most work, been the most dedicated and who have not let excuses keep them from their goals don’t deserve rewards. That is the same sense of entitlement that is crippling our generation. 

      9. Guest3 says:

        I’m astounded by the level of arrogrance in your commentary, AS. You are in no way qualified to comment on Ciani’s college application viability. You sound like an entitled infant. I only hope that one day someone severely humiliates you and completely discounts your talents on a public stage. It’s a shame Vassar accepted you– your small mindedness and lack of humanity degrades the college and it’s motto of “purity and wisdom.” 

      10. AS says:

        Actually, no, I’m not the one who is acting entitled. I earned my spot at Vassar, and didn’t try to get in out of pity. And it’s not a shame; I do a lot for my school and you are in no position to tell me otherwise. 

        And shame! Shame on you to wish something terrible on someone else. I would never wish what happened to these students on any one else. Realizing that certain students aren’t up to the standards of a highly selective school does not mean I haven’t humanity.

      11. Elite College Parent says:

        You should be ashamed of yourself, Guest3. You are insulting AS because you don’t like what he/she said.  AS is right.  Vassar is an elite school.  Elite schools are very selective.  Leave AS alone.  Stop trying to belittle him/her.

      12. Jane says:

        I am an alum as well, and I have friends whose kids applied to Williams, Swarthmore and other better ranked liberal arts colleges as well as applying to Vassar. Vassar accepted them but the better ranked schools did not. 

        Vassar may be more selective than it used to be but it most certainly is not anywhere near the top ranked liberal arts colleges.

        To the current student who has responded harshly to those who didn’t get in: shame on you. I am also ashamed of your lack of grace and compassion. If this had happened to you, you would be outraged.

        One can only hope that when you graduate you might look back on your posts with some embarrassment.

      13. Jsomerville5 says:

        My post was meant for Guest3, whose anger seems misplaced. 

      14. Michael says:

        You are right: we do not know everything about his application. However, the information that his uncle decided to disclose are presumably Ciani’s highest (and proudest) achievements. We can sympathize with his rejection just as much as we can say “well, it just wasn’t enough.” 

      15. Teakke says:

        The fact that you would write something like this makes me embarrassed that you and I went to the same college.

      16. Guest4 says:

        If you think 3.6 is a good GPA, I have serious doubts you went to Vassar….

      17. 123 says:

        This is great!! AS’s attitude and Vassar’s are the same: callous and cruel. So indeed, AS was an excellent acceptee! Or as they say, “a good fit.”

      18. Ash says:

        Just because he is stating the obvious? Like other posters have said, you are not entitled to attend a school just because you performed “acceptably,” and not everyone is going to be nice to you when you call foul about being denied. Vassar is a selective school, and I agree with most things AS has pointed out. By the way, I am in no way affiliated with Vassar.

      19. Guest4 says:

        Thanks. It’s nice to see that non-Vassar-affiliated people aren’t pandering to the crowds!

         But could we not assume that I’m male? Being critical and ‘elitist’ is not a character trait that is solely for the men! 

      20. Guest4 says:

        ** ARE not character traits. God, it’s early.

      21. what says:

        Ha! And when I sent that comment, I actually re-read it and thought “maybe I should have put ‘he/she’ instead of just ‘he’…”

      22. Jsmith says:

        As a high school senior and college applicant based on all of you proud Vassar students and your arrogance on this I’m more than happy to say I didn’t apply here

    2. 123 says:

      This is great!!  AS’s attitude and Vassar’s are the same:  callous and cruel.  So indeed, AS was an excellent acceptee!  Or as they say, “a good fit.”

  2. Guest says:

    Both the NY Times article and this one omit two important facts. Not all of the students affected were “rejected” (I prefer “denied”) but some were students that were meant to be deferred. Allowing all the denied students in might very well not do those students justice if the school genuinely believes the student can’t make it, but for those that were deferred, presumably the school feels they have a fighting chance. Let them in! A second point is that some of the students not only received the offer from the college, but also returned their signed acceptance and paid their deposit. If that’s not a legal contract, it certainly is a moral one.

  3. Lily says:

    “[W]e’re ready to go to court over this.” Really?  It was a computer glitch, a mistake, plain and simple. Vassar has sent numerous apologies and is refunding the application fee. What more do they need to do? Only in America would someone suggest a lawsuit. The sense of entitlement here is mind-boggling. 

    1. Hermione Granger says:

      Particularly for someone who isn’t the applicant! “WE’RE going to court”?! there is no “we.” the uncle was not wronged and would have no place in court even if there were a valid lawsuit to be brought (which, of course, there isn’t).

  4. gnm says:

    Hopefully, the student in question applied to other colleges, as all students should. He is a good student and can likely get into several very good  colleges. Not geting into Vassar is not the end of the world, nor is it the worst personal problem one can have. A little perspective is in order. 

  5. Guest says:

    Ciani’s uncle is creating more embarrassment for him than Vassar has.  This kid’s biggest problem is this guy’s “help.”  He needs a college counselor who has some perspective and knows what he or she is doing.  Wishing the best to this young man.

  6. Teakke says:

    These arrogant comments about test scores appall me. As a recent Vassar alum, who had less than an A- average in high school and decent test scores, but nothing exceptional, I can tell you that the process is not all about scores. And regardless of what it is about, no one should be saying anything rude to the kids that Vassar screwed over in this whole fiasco. Lots of people get turned down from colleges for all sorts of reasons. I got turned down from a number of schools and was lucky enough to get into Vassar. Sham on all of you for even having these sorts of conversations. The people that were incorrectly told they were accepted have every reason to be upset.

    1. Teakke says:


    2. Guest says:

      Aside from the fact that Vassar, like most other colleges, is becoming even more selective with every year, I don’t see anyone mentioning his test scores. It’s his just-too-low GPA combined with lackluster extracurricular activities that people have pointed out, and how it is ridiculous that his uncle thought he was a “shoe in” because of them. 

  7. Granite101 says:

    Vassar? Since when is that so special? In all my time as an Ivy student and alum, I’ve met one person from Vassar–a waitress at a TriBeCa restaurant.

    Okay, she was beautiful. So, given the freedom to make superficial deductions like so many commentators here, I’ll say that Vassar grads are attractive underachievers.

    1. Ash says:

      That was a completely unfair statement. Because a department made a mistake, you’re belittling the entire student population? Life isn’t about the Ivy League, so please get over yourself.

      1. Granite101 says:

        You two need to go back to college for reading comprehension.

        My second paragraph explains my superficial characterization of Vassar grads.

        Then again, maybe you both went to Vassar and are a little insecure

    2. Guest says:

      Vassar is a top-ranked, highly selective liberal arts college. You simply sound foolish by insinuating that the Ivy league are the only schools with merit. 

    3. Anonymous says:

      “Attractive underachievers” –as in Lisa Kudrow and Meryl Streep?

  8. jollyroger says:

    Is not Vasser bound by simple estoppel?  They did, after all, take money from the applicants (refunding the application is a little like refunding the 25 cent Ferris Wheel ticket after you were trapped up there for 30 hours.)  So there is some sort of contractual obligation to proceed methodologically to perform the task of analysis for which money was taken.

    Once they failed in this obligation, and having within their power to remedy the breach (ie, by accepting those they had accepted….), why is Vasser to be immune from the interventions that aggrieved parties who contract with entities of lesser stature may solicit from the courts?

    Since Vasser would be the first to proclaim it’s product unique (rather like a piece of real estate) there is firm ground for arguing that a remedy of specific performance may be plead, and should survive summary dismissal.

    1. alum2 says:

      Hey Jollyroger – it’s Vassar, not Vasser.  And if you were really a lawyer, you’d know that.  College admission is not a real estate contract, where you can sue for Specific Performance.   Almost anyone who is organized enough to apply early decision would be able to do well anywhere, including there.    And they didn’t fail in their evaluation of candidates; they failed to correctly notify them of their decision.  Vassar is a great school, but they shot themselves in the foot by doing this – a small mistake can have HUGE consequences. I’ll admit, I think the school may be in very hot water. They are in the midst of a big alumnae/i capital campaign that could implode due to this one regrettable error. I am an alum, though not a recent one. 

  9. Voice of Reason says:

    GPA aside, Ciani does not sound like a good fit for Vassar. For one thing, he appears to be fairly religious (to judge from his extracurricular interests). And while people at Vassar will certainly accept him for it, he may not have been satisfied with the Christianity (or lack thereof) of Vassar. The most important issue, however, is the shocking lack of self-sufficiency suggested by the article. It sounds like his uncle is really the driving force behind his college search and application process. The application is supposed to be a reflection of him, not his uncle. And while I know there are many people out there who receive help from expensive consultants, parents, etc., that still doesn’t make it right. The article really called in to question for me not only his ethics (should his uncle really know his application password or student ID?), but also his own abilities. If he can’t advocate for himself or make his own decisions, Vassar would likely have been a jarring anyway. Without sounding too harsh, based solely on the article, Ciani frankly doesn’t sound like all that capable of an individual, one who would be able to thrive on his own at a top-notch college that demands excellence and exceptional effort from its students once they arrive. I’m also bothered by the notion that his uncle isn’t concerned for Ciani’s feelings; he is indignant that the application he so vicariously assisted with was rejected.

  10. Mel Kel says:

    There is nothing to go to court over!  The student wasn’t accepted to the school, it was a computer glitch.  The school has sent two letters, made personal phone calls and refunded the application fee to the 70 plus students who were affected by the computer glitch.  If the kid didn’t get in on his merits, that’s disappointing. The fact he received erroneous information and for 4 minutes thought he was accepted is heartbreaking but the idea his family can sue the school into reversing their ORIGINAL decision not to accept him, based on his academic record and extracurriculars, because a computer glitch said he was accepted, is maddening.  This is like the uncle saying, “Hey the bank told me I have 10,000 dollars, and even though I know it isn’t mine and the bank was wrong, they should still give me the money.” That’s not how life works and unfortunately for the student profiled, he’s learning this lesson young.

  11. Local says:

    We know the workings…..Only one thing I have to say. If the people responsible for this huge mistake were actually doing their job instead of using their work hours immersed in personal stuff, this may have been averted.

    1. Guest5 says:

      “Local”, can you please elaborate?

  12. Me says:

    I just received an acceptance email from Marquette. Then an hour later, they told me that email was a mistake and not meant for me. :((((