CMC mistakenly offers admitted students $40,000 scholarship awards

A red walkway stands next to a large, windowed building surrounded by green grass and plants.
Claremont McKenna College erroneously offered 306 admitted students a scholarship award that was intended for only eight admits. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

When 306 of this year’s first-year applicants to Claremont McKenna College opened their admissions letters on March 24, they got the good news they were hoping for — and even more.

“Because of your impressive qualifications, CMC is also pleased to offer you the prestigious Podlich Scholar Award,” the letters said, according to screenshots shared with TSL. “This merit-based scholarship from CMC provides $10,000 per year for four years of study for a total award of $40,000. This distinction offers you the opportunity to be part of a select, exceptional group of students with distinctive engagement and leadership.”

But most of the students who thought they were being celebrated for their exceptional talents and academic achievements would quickly discover they had celebrated too soon. The acceptance was real, but the award notification had been a mistake, the admissions department told them by email the next day.

“We were made aware of an error in our letter of admission regarding the Podlich Scholarship. A paragraph was included indicating you were awarded a Podlich Scholarship for $10,000 and a summer grant of $5,000,” the March 25 email said, signed by the office of admissions. “I regret to inform you that this was a mistake, and you did not receive the scholarship.”

Only eight admitted students were actually intended to receive the award, CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby told TSL in an email. She said the other offers went out because of a “computer code error.”

The financial aid letters students received were accurate, the office said, and those receiving aid were still eligible for the $5,000 in summer funding offered after their first year.

“We regret that this issue impacted an important moment for you and your family,” the letter concluded. “We sincerely apologize for this mistake.”

Admitted students told TSL after the incident that it felt embarrassing and, in some cases, made it seem less tenable to attend CMC. TSL is keeping them partially anonymous for their privacy, and because some are still negotiating financial aid packages after the retraction.

“It was a blow to my pride to have a scholarship rescinded like that,” a student who asked to go by their initials, H.S., said in a message. “For students that have CMC as a dream school and are in a less stable financial situation, I can’t imagine how devastating the retraction was.”

For some, the error wasn’t entirely unforeseeable.

A student named Maddy said she applied to major in literature and history, but the award paragraph denoted it was intended for students studying “economics (including economics-accounting), government and philosophy, politics and economics (PPE).”

“I was a bit confused when I got the award because none of the majors I selected actually matched the awards,” she said in a message.

One international student who is interested in studying economics and computer science said he noticed something was wrong at first when the scholarship didn’t appear on his financial aid award.

CMC is definitely my top choice, but the financial difference of not having the scholarship is significant for an international student,” he said in an email. 

For H.S., the award meant a lot, after a string of waitlists and rejections.

“I was so ecstatic because I had only received one other scholarship … It was not even a question that CMC became my first choice come May 1st,” they said.

After the retraction, they’re no longer committing to CMC, having also received admission to another school they preferred.

Maddy is still considering attending, although she said the episode made her concerned about “communication from the school.”

Silsby said CMC is calling affected students and their families to apologize personally.

“Most students, while disappointed, have been understanding and are appreciative of our outreach,” she said.

CMC is the latest school this year to mistakenly offer students scholarship money during the admissions process. In January, Oakland University in Michigan erroneously told 5,500 incoming students they would receive full scholarships, attributing the cause to “human error,” NBC News reported

That month, Central Michigan University accidentally offered 58 applicants the “Centralis Scholars Award,” which includes tuition, room and board, later explaining that staff were testing new messaging technology. But in that instance, the school offered a scholarship covering four years of tuition for each student affected.

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