AOL Inadvertently Deletes Dozens of Harvard Admissions E-Mails

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Hoping to speed up the process of notifying applicants of their admission status, Harvard University in December decided to use e-mail rather than postal mail. The college sent e-mails to nearly 6,000 high school graduates who applied for early admission, telling them whether they will be admitted in the fall.


But nearly 100 applicants never received the e-mail because America Online deleted those messages, thinking they were spam. AOL's servers blocked 75 to 100 e-mails to Harvard hopefuls because the messages were tagged as unsolicited. The Internet service provider could not say why its servers deleted the messages.


In the past, AOL has inadvertently deleted e-mail to educational, medical and nonprofit organizations because the messages had certain characteristics, such as size, quantity or address, that its servers automatically delete as spam.


In the case of the Harvard e-mails, the college said it learned that some of its messages did not get through when applicants called the admissions office complaining they never received notification of their status. The school said it admitted 1,174 students, rejected 191 and deferred 4,677 to the regular admissions process, which ends in the spring. It has no plans to discontinue using postal mail to contact applicants.


Harvard also said it plans to post a notice prominently on its Web site alerting potential applicants to ensure their ISPs don't block messages from the school. However, as of yesterday, no message was posted on the college's Web site.


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