60: From Rejection to Waitlist to Acceptance

60: From Rejection to Waitlist to Acceptance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

From Rejection to Waitlist to Acceptance

Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So... get on your way.

~Dr. Seuss

Growing up in a small Wisconsin town, I always knew I was destined for Bigger things. Of course, one never quite knows what that means. I knew what it DIDN’T mean—it meant not going to University of Wisconsin and not majoring in engineering like every other person in my family. It was like a cult growing up. The Johnson cult of engineers. They indoctrinated you, and it started young. Me, on the other hand, I had an attitude problem and hated anything related to science. Engineering was not my forte.

“Fine,” my engineering dad said. “Then what WILL you study in college?” At this point I had only convinced him the engineering thing wouldn’t work, but he still thought I would buckle under the pressure and go to UW Madison. Ever the logical thinker, he made me research careers.

I’m creative, I’m good with people, I’m persuasive. I won a jack-of-all trades award in fifth grade. I’m tenacious, engaging, good with words. Marketing? Too much math. Advertising. Perfect. Dad said, “Okay, if you aren’t going to be an engineer at the best engineering school, what is the best school for advertising?”

So I looked. And looked. I filled out surveys, I spent hours on the Internet, I grilled strangers. I researched every single four year coed university that had advertising as a major. Every. Single. One. There had to have been over one hundred.

Slowly but surely, Syracuse University emerged as The School. More specifically, its famed S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Even more specifically, it cost about a trillion dollars. My dad, in his unwavering support, said he would consider helping me with the costs if I obtained some scholarships and got accepted to Newhouse. The Arts & Sciences school wouldn’t cut it—why pay an extra $30K a year when I could get a liberal arts education at UW Madison?

My visit to Syracuse was in the summer, and warnings of Easter blizzards were willingly brushed aside. I brought home an Otto the Orange T-shirt and proceeded to wear it to school every day. I became that girl. Anyone who would listen (and people who wouldn’t) got an earful about how I would soon be getting out of our small town and into the best communications school that ever existed in the history of the world. My peers, who probably couldn’t find Syracuse on a map (I’m not even sure I could at the time) soon knew that SU had 12,000 undergrads, that Bob Costas was an alum, that it’s colors used to be rose pink and pea green, that it was three hours from New York City. I plastered a postcard of the campus into my locker and called my dad’s secretary every day, asking her to hike up our driveway and check the mail for my acceptance letter.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Accepted.
Virginia Commonwealth University. Accepted.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. Accepted.
University of Colorado at Boulder. Accepted.

Syracuse University. Nothing yet.

By this time it is March of my senior year. I go with my best friends, four boys, on a spring break trip to Panama City, Florida and I enlist our friend Fuller to keep checking the mail for me. He begrudgingly agrees. We party in Florida and I call Fuller every day to get the mail.

“Liza, it’s here.”

“Well come on Fuller, open it.”

“I don’t want to... I’m scared.”

“I’m going to kill you... open it.”

“Liza.... You got into the Arts and Sciences school.”

I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried. I was absolutely devastated and felt hopeless. I had been such a fool. The boys said all the wrong things.

“They don’t know THE Liza Johnson.”

“Maybe you don’t want to go there anyway.”

I just kept crying. There was no chance my dad was going to pay to send me to an Arts & Sciences school that cost $38,000 per year.

My Aunt Peg, an extremely strong woman, decided it was her turn to try and console me. “Liza, you are going to write them a letter and you are going to tell them that they have made a mistake. They made a mistake and you are going to let them know.”

You don’t disagree with Aunt Peg.

When I got home, I contacted the school. There is no waiting list, they said, and there is nothing I could do but enroll in the school of Arts & Sciences, get a 3.8 GPA or above for 30 credits (A WHOLE YEAR?!) and apply to internally transfer to Newhouse. But, they said, it is “unlikely.”

So I wrote those jerks a letter. I told them they had made a mistake, and they would regret it when I ruled the world. I told them everything I wanted them to know and it was straight from the heart because I had nothing more to lose. And in the meantime, I had absolutely NO idea where I was going to go to school.

Two weeks later, I got a letter informing me I had been placed on the Newhouse waiting list in response to my letter of appeal... the list that I had previously been told did not exist. I did not know that I had written a formal letter of appeal, or even that I could. I decided to give it my all, and replied with some more writing samples from the award-winning school paper. Newhouse said they would get back to me in May.

Two weeks before high school graduation in mid-May, I still had no idea where I was going to college. I was actually wearing my Otto the Orange shirt, when I heard my dad say, “No Lisa Johnson lives here. The dean of admissions for Newhouse? You must want to talk to Liza Johnson. One second.”

I picked up the phone. They had a place for me in the Newhouse School of Public Communications. Once again, I cried and cried. I had done it. I went for what I wanted and didn’t stop until I got it.

I went on to receive $20,000 in scholarships. At Syracuse, I met hundreds of people who came with the intention of internally transferring to Newhouse after a year, only one of whom actually did (nice job Alexis). When they heard my story, they would say “I didn’t know you could appeal.” I didn’t either, but it didn’t stop me. Now I have an advertising degree and work in Chicago at a marketing firm. So don’t be afraid to go for what you deserve.

~Liza Johnson

More stories from our partners