The MIT sent an email to applicants last week about financial aid with a line at the bottom that read: "You are on this list because you are admitted to MIT!"
For prospective students already accepted through MIT's early action programme, the line was simply part of a routine. But for the many applicants still awaiting a final admissions decision in March, those words may have raised false hopes of entry into one of the world's top higher education institutions.
It was not immediately clear how many students received the message in error but the gaffe prompted an apology from MIT's admissions office and an explanation how the mistake occurred, The Boston Globe reported.
"My guess is that overall a very small number of our current applicants even noticed this," Chris Peterson, an MIT admissions counsellor who handles web communications, was quoted as saying by the paper. "But any number of people getting this kind of mixed signal is too many."
He said the error occurred after admissions staff tried to consolidate email lists of both applicants and admits using a technique recommended by an email marketing service provider.
"However, there is also an (apparently) undocumented side-effect...it replaced one line, in small print, at the bottom of the email, after we had already (extensively) drafted, reviewed, and approved the text of the email itself," Peterson wrote on an admissions office blog. "We never even knew."
The "footer" of the email sent to applicants still awaiting a decision from MIT should have said: "You are receiving this email because you applied to MIT, and we sometimes have to tell you things about stuff."
Peterson said admissions staff noticed the error after some confused applicants began posting questions about the email on a college admissions forum website.
In the comments section of the MIT admissions office blog post, many said they had not noticed the line at the bottom of the email and most said they forgave the school for the error, especially in light of the apology.