UC Davis erroneously sent letters of admission and congratulations last month to 105 high school students, then within about four weeks revoked all the offers.
The letters, which went mainly to students overseas, were mistakenly sent by a clerk, university officials said Wednesday.
"We really feel bad about it, but it doesn't serve anyone to admit students who don't meet the faculty's criteria," said Gary Tudor, undergraduate admissions director at the campus near Sacramento.
At the same time, Tudor noted that the UC Davis Web site, which applicants were invited to check for their admission status while they waited for their letters to arrive, had the correct information about each student.
Not all students checked there, however, including Matthew Hulse, a 17-year-old American now in his senior year at the Singapore American School.
For several days, Matthew said, he was happily anticipating enrolling at Davis in the fall, a move that would have allowed him to return to California, where he lived with his family until he was 12.
"I was pretty happy," said Matthew, whose parents work for technology companies in the Southeast Asian nation. But then an e-mail arrived from Davis.
"They said they had messed up, that I wasn't admitted and that my real letter would arrive in the mail," he said. When it did, it confirmed the bad news.
When the error was discovered in late March, UC Davis officials said, they tried to correct it as quickly as possible to allow the rejected students to make other choices before the May 1 acceptance deadline for most schools. Apologetic e-mails were sent April 1, followed by letters days later.
Several high school counselors and others involved with college admissions nationwide said Wednesday that they knew of previous instances in which a single student, or a handful of students, had been admitted to various colleges by mistake. But most said they could not recall a case in which such a large group of students was affected.
"They should just take these 100 kids," said Jim Conroy, chairman of college counseling at New Trier High School in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka. "They screwed up. They should live with it."
Tudor said the mistake occurred when a clerk in the admissions office inadvertently placed the rejected students' names in a pile with those of admitted students, and then generated acceptance letters for all of them. But unlike the others, the erroneous letters were sent out without the usual thick packet of accompanying material, including response forms, he said.
Now, "we're feeling that we've done the right thing," Tudor said. "We're trying to communicate with the students to help them get to the campus where it's really the right fit for them."
But at least some of those involved are still upset at the error.
But Matthew Hulse, who now plans to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder, is relatively unperturbed.
Describing himself as a good but not outstanding student, Matthew said Davis was not his first choice, even among the eight undergraduate UC campuses.
But it was near where he had lived as a child and where he has many friends. When the first letter arrived, it was also his remaining option in California; three other UC schools had already sent rejections.
"At this point, I'm trying to shrug it off," he said. "I'll be OK."