Sorry, we have no record of you

One student’s experience with a lost university application
Koul (Photo by Andrew Tolson)

From the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings, our 132-page guide to choosing the right school.

In my head, it was going to be perfect. After weeks of waiting, I’d check the mailbox at my parents’ house for a letter marked “Ryerson University.” I’d rip open the envelope and, with any luck, I’d see “Congratulations!” in the first line, and I’d know that I had gotten in. The reality, however, was more fraught: a five-month process with lost deposits, missed deadlines and more than a few burst blood vessels in my father’s face.

I sent my application to Ryerson’s School of Journalism in the winter of 2008 during my last year of high school, and the school notified me by mail that I’d receive more correspondence in the spring. By April, there was still no letter in the mailbox. Starting to worry, I checked my online Ryerson account—the number was included in the initial letter—and found a letter of conditional acceptance: if my grades remained the same, the school would gladly take me. It wasn’t the triumphant moment I was hoping for, but at least it was something.

I told my parents and we got started on planning what would be a major move: from suburban Calgary to downtown Toronto at the tender age of 17. We (and by “we,” I mean my father) sent money, while I signed up for the residence wait-list and discussed electives, all in anticipation of first year. By July, my father was giving me dorm safety tips, but I still hadn’t heard whether I was officially accepted or not.

In late July, I called the undergraduate admissions office. I had already received my final marks, which were sent directly to Ryerson. The woman who answered the phone looked for my file. She told me with a calmness that seemed almost unreal given the circumstances, that the university had no record of me. She told me there was a chance that I hadn’t met the requirements for admission. But even then, she claimed that Ryerson would have mailed me a rejection letter.

I was too surprised to say anything. Instead, I hung up, told my parents and had a chest-clenching panic attack on the stairs. Enraged, my father made countless calls to the university, emailed staff members, and threatened to sue. He called this “being vigilant.” I called this “having a fit”—particularly since it didn’t have any immediate effect. My application was still lost.

In mid-August, I received one last piece of correspondence from Ryerson: a full acceptance letter. I read the letter aloud to my parents. I had cleared the conditions for acceptance, and Ryerson was looking forward to seeing me in the fall. Like an indecisive boyfriend, Ryerson had dumped me and begged me to come back in the same breath. I wanted to be happy, but I was more confused.

Once more, I called the admissions department and asked the woman I had spoken to earlier, in so many words, what in the hell was going on. Yet again, she couldn’t find me in their systems at all.

Pushed by my persistent—now cranky—father, Ryerson called the house at the end of August: while it usually accepts 150 students to the journalism program, it would make an exception and accept 151 that year. It was the weekend before classes started. I had three days to fly to Toronto, figure out the city, find housing, and enroll. I had only been to Toronto once before—when I was 9.

At the time, I didn’t admire my dad’s temper tantrum, but it took his “vigilance” to ensure that what I was offered is exactly what I got. Universities can make mistakes, whether it’s a glitch in a web application, human error, or a lost package. Sometimes it takes a few frazzled phone calls and emails to sort it out. Luckily, my university fixed the mistake.

Charmaine Hack, executive director of admissions and recruitment at Ryerson, admits that mistakes happen, but they’re rare. “If the university is clearly at fault, we’ll move mountains to correct the problem,” she says, adding that the school received just under 72,000 applications this year alone. “It’s incredible that things run as smoothly as they do,” she says, suggesting that students stay proactive to keep up to date on the status of their application or acceptance.

By the end of my first semester, I had long forgotten the trouble it took to get to Ryerson, but I was reminded at a holiday event. A professor introduced me to the then-head of the journalism program, Paul Knox. When I told him my name, he smiled. “Oh yeah, I remember you. Your dad sent me a few emails over the summer. Did we really lose your application?”

“Yes—yes, you did.”

“Well, I’m glad you made it.”

Me too.