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300 students offered UVU scholarships only to learn it was a mistake

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OREM — When high school seniors Sarah Payne and Lisa Schneider received letters Jan. 11 announcing that they had received four-year scholarships to Utah Valley University, they were excited.

After all, going to college is expensive.

But that feeling quickly turned to disappointment and confusion when they each received a second letter two weeks later withdrawing the offer.

UVU President Matthew Holland called it an honest mistake — a clerical error — and removed the scholarship deadline of Feb. 1 so that the students who received the letter in error may apply for other scholarships.

The letter, sent to some 300 students and signed by Holland, addressed the students by name and said: "I want to extend a personal invitation to you to consider Utah Valley University as your higher education destination of choice."

It continued: "As a result of your stellar academic performance in high school, I'm thrilled to extend the offer of an Exemplary Scholarship, a four-year full tuition award."

In the letter, Holland also invited the students to apply for the Presidential Scholarship, which includes fees, books and a stipend. They were also invited to attend a banquet to be honored for their academic achievement.

“I honestly was shocked because I hadn’t even applied to UVU and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re offering me this scholarship to go to school for free,” Schneider said.

They immediately told their friends and family the good news.

“I put it on Facebook, of course, and on Twitter,” Schneider said with a laugh.

“I told my parents that I have this free ride to UVU, and even though it’s not my top option, they’re like, ‘Well, you’re going to UVU,’” Payne said with a chuckle.

Schneider, 17, and Payne, 18, both paid $35 and applied to attend UVU. The second letters withdrawing the scholarship offers didn't come from Holland, but from Prospective Student Services apologizing for the confusion.

"This is an extremely rare occurrence, but due to an unfortunate, technical glitch in our system, some individuals received scholarship offer letters who did not qualify for the scholarship," said university spokesman Chris Taylor. "As soon as we discovered a mistake had been made, we notified the individuals and sent a letter of apology. We again apologize to those who received the letters in error."

The scholarship is based on ACT scores and grade point averages, but the glitch occured when only ACT scores were considered.

Schneider called the school to see if she could get help applying for a scholarship. “I qualify for this scholarship, so obviously I’m going to call to see if they can help me,” she said. “So I called, and they said, ‘Well, we can’t help you.'”

"Those who received letters and didn't qualify for this particular scholarship (Exemplary Scholarship) are encouraged to apply for any other scholarship they may qualify for," Taylor said. "The scholarship deadline was Feb. 1 for incoming students, but that deadline has been waived for those impacted by this mistake."

The two girls applied to other schools. Payne said Utah State University and BYU are on the top of her list and she’s already been accepted at USU with a scholarship, but she may still consider UVU.

Schneider, who is the daughter of a Deseret News employee, said she’s hoping to get into BYU, but isn't ruling out UVU either.

E-mail: cmikita@desnews.com, vvo-duc@ksl.com