By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated January 30, 2003 12:00 PM
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In a rash of news hoaxes that surfaced earlier this week, one of the fake stories has actually helped spur inquiries into college enrollment.

Institutions of higher education were inundated with calls this week after a faux CNN.com news story reported that celebrated twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, 16 (who still have a year of high school to go) had applied for admission, the Associated Press reports.

“We’d be happy to give them a tour if they want to stop by, and we might even buy them lunch,” University of Cincinnati spokesman Greg Hand told AP after the far-reaching hoax was revealed.

Chimed in University of Dayton spokeswoman Teri Rizvi: “There’s no truth to it. They didn’t apply. And Britney Spears isn’t coming either.”

Using a Web site that creates fake stories for CNN.com (see PEOPLE’s story on the pranks), hoaxsters made waves earlier this week by reporting that the twins were planning to attend (among other places) Northwestern University, while yet another story reported that Britney Spears was heading to Tufts University. (That’s not happening, either.)

The hoax is “all over the country,” Olsens spokesman Michael Pagnotta tells AP, noting that “at the end of the day, none of the reports are true.”

Still, it appears the hoax is opening some doors for the teen stars. Said Miami (Ohio) University spokeswoman Holly Wissing: “We’re expecting 13,000 applications this year … for 3,450 slots, but we’d be happy to have 13,002 applications.”

Said Pagnotta: “In a way, it’s flattering so many people want to believe (the twins) will be going to their school” — which prompted University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran to remark, “Thank God it wasn’t Ozzy Osbourne’s kids.”