Making Your Own Luck – God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

The rest of the story how I got rejected at Wharton Business School and how I got Wharton to reverse their decision two days later

Before asking a higher level for help, you must first “make your own luck” by doing everything you possibly can on your own.

In order to get someone to reverse a rejection, the rejecter must have a way to “save face” for themselves and/or their organization.

Last week I wrote “Reveling in Rejection” explaining how I was rejected from the MBA program at Wharton Business School on April 8, 1974, and how I got them to reverse their decision and accept me on April 10, 1974.

Although I didn’t realize it back then, it was a pivotal event in my life. It taught me that any decision made by human beings can be reversed, and started me learning the process of how to get people to reverse their own decisions.

This past week I heard from readers asking for more information, and from college friends who thought I should have told more details of the story. One college friend felt someone reading “Reveling in Rejection” could get the wrong impression that I was “just lucky” because the Director of Admissions was a fan of the artist Joan Miro.

Here’s the rest of the story.

After I got rejected on April 8th, the Admissions Office told me that no one had the authority to reverse the committee’s decision except the Director of Admissions. And the Director of Admissions did not take calls or meetings with individual applicants.

My father taught me to always “do the math” when faced with a decision–logically figure out the consequences from each possible action. Here was the math:
–To get accepted I had to meet with the Director of Admissions;
–The Director didn’t take meetings with applicants for admission; and
–Therefore I had everything to gain and nothing to lose if I got to meet with the Director under false pretenses.

This last point was key–I had nothing to lose. This led me, after trying in nicer ways, to get the meeting with the Director by implying something was wrong in his Admissions Office. The Director, probably a career college administrator, would only lose a few minutes of his time by taking such a meeting with me, and he would have everything to gain if he could avoid my bringing his name before the Board of Trustees.

After I got the meeting set up with the Director of Admissions for Wednesday, April 10th, I did everything I could in the next 24 hours to further my application.

I contacted the people who wrote the three letters of recommendation I had submitted with my application and told them I had a “final meeting” tomorrow at Wharton–asking them to phone or fax any additional information they could to the Director of Admissions.

I similarly contacted my key professors and gave them the contact info for the Director of Admissions.

I assembled my friends to help me role play different scenarios of what might occur at my upcoming meeting with the Director.

Although I had never met the President of my undergraduate school, I walked to the President’s House on campus and explained to his secretary that there was a “final meeting” tomorrow on my application to Wharton Graduate Business School. The secretary asked me to write out my credentials. I drafted for her the text of a letter as if it was written by the President about “outstanding Lehigh student Paul Zane Pilzer.”

Each time I completed one of these tasks I stopped and said aloud to myself: “What else can I do to be better prepared for my meeting with the Director of Admissions?”

On the drive down to Philadelphia the next morning, I felt confident that I had done everything humanly possible to prepare for this meeting. This confidence helped me succeed on April 10, 1974.

I thought about my father’s story of Joseph, a poor, pious man who prayed every night that God should let him win the lottery. Finally, after a lifetime of poverty, God appeared to Joseph in a dream saying: “Joseph! Give me a chance! Buy a lottery ticket!”

I felt confident that I had bought all my “lottery tickets” in preparing for this meeting. On a spiritual level, I knew I was ready to ask for God’s help because I had demonstrated that I deserved His help by having first done everything I could on my own.

During my meeting with the Director of Admissions, I mentioned items about my application that he could later use to “save face” if he reversed the decision of his committee. When he asked my ATGSB scores, I told him that I had taken the test without any preparation and I could easily bring my math score up to the level of my verbal score. When he asked why I was not first getting my undergraduate degree, I told him that I could easily obtain my BA that year before beginning my graduate studies at Wharton.

The letter of acceptance I received on April 10, 1974 did tell me to disregard their letter of April 8, 1974 and offered me admission to the Wharton MBA program. But the letter also stated that I needed to bring my math ATGSB score up to the level of my verbal score, and obtain my bachelor’s degree from Lehigh, before beginning my studies at Wharton. The Director did this to save face and have an empirical explanation for why he was reversing the decision.

When I drove back to Lehigh that afternoon, I was already thinking about my next task. I now had to convince the Lehigh University Faculty Committee to grant me my bachelor’s degree without my meeting the school’s foreign language distribution requirements. And I would have to re-take the ATGSB exam.

Later than month, I submitted a brief to the Lehigh University Faculty Committee arguing that computer programming languages (e.g. BASIC, FORTRAN, COBOL) were “the new foreign languages” and I attached my April 10th letter of conditional acceptance from Wharton. In effect, I told my teachers that if they denied my request to modify my foreign language requirement they would also be denying me the opportunity of a lifetime to attend Wharton Graduate Business School. The faculty granted my request for a bachelor’s degree subject to my taking one more course in French and one more programming language course.

In May, I re-took the ATGSB exam after studying day and night. I was able to bring my math score up to the level of my verbal score as required by my Wharton acceptance letter–which was very challenging for me because I already had a high verbal score.

I enrolled in summer school courses at Hunter College in French and COBOL to meet the Lehigh University foreign language distribution requirement.

So, in conclusion, I didn’t just “get accepted” into Wharton on April 10, 1974 from a single meeting with the Director of Admissions.

One year later, in 1975, I ran into the Director of Admissions on campus at Wharton. He told me how he was intimidated during our first meeting on April 10, 1974. The President of Lehigh University, a former senior official with NASA, had phoned him that morning to talk about my application. While the Director had enjoyed our conversation about Joan Miro, he had already decided to admit me after his call with the President. I remember the Director telling me: “It’s not every day the President of a major university, who had managed the Apollo Space Program, calls you asking to admit a candidate.”

The Director also told me that there was no need for him to require me to raise my ATGSB math score, but that I was so cocky about my ability to do so that he wanted to see me do it–and he would have waived this requirement if I had been unsuccessful. He added that he had no doubt he would have heard from me again (and again) if I had been unable to increase my ATGSB math score.

One reader of “Reveling in Rejection” asked me how I managed to have enough credits at Lehigh to earn a BA in less than 3 years. That story, and how I went from flunking my first semester to graduating early with honors, is the subject of a future blog entry.

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