05/09/2012 05:31 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2012

What Really Got You Into College, and What Will Really Keep You Out

Now that you've decided on a college, you're probably engaged in serious academic pursuits, like planning senior skip day and sneaking a Whoopee cushion on the principal's chair at graduation, so I'll quickly address two issues I have for you, and you can be on your way.

First, congratulations again on your acceptance into college. Your admission letter really is an affirmation of the hard work you put in, the risks you took in challenging yourself with tough classes, and the many contributions you made outside of the classroom.

I'm repeating this because many students often thank counselors or teachers for "getting them in" to college. I think I know what you mean when you say that, but I'm not sure you do.

Too many newspaper reporters try and make the college application process more "interesting" by shaping it like a reality TV show (Survivor: Showdown on the Quad). This explains why your parents gave you SAT flash cards for your first communion, or a gold bracelet for your bat mitzvah with the inscription, It also explains why your mother's therapist can send his daughter to Cornell without taking out any loans.

Thanks to the fourth estate, college counselors are viewed as the Dumbledores of College Access, the College Whisperers who bring you into their offices only to get a sense of your aura. Later, at a time when they sense the Force is with them, they call the college of your choice on a special red phone, whisper the Greek equivalent of "Baa Ram Ewe" into the mouthpiece, and voila! -- you're admitted.

Of course, we make you jump through the hoops of earning good grades, getting up on several Saturdays to take tests where the correct answers always form a Scantron silhouette of Snoopy, and writing several drafts of college essays designed to get you to communicate your understanding of yourself and the world around you -- but this is window dressing. The real work happens in our offices, when the moon is but a thin crescent in the southern sky and the wind blows towards Harvard Yard, Touchdown Jesus, or fraternity row at Faber College.

The world would have you believe this, but it isn't true. Yes, we help you find the right mix of challenge, support and opportunity at your next school. We also help you understand how to give colleges a complete picture of your life through the right mix of letters of recommendation, personal essays, and genuine interviews.

But we are not the ones who "get you in" -- you earn the grades, write the essays, and make it happen. That's as it should be, since it is who you are and what you do that not only gets you into college; it keeps you there as well...

... which leads me to my second point. Colleges care about your last semester grades as much as the grades you earned in 9th grade -- maybe a little more. It's great that you see college in sight, but if you slack off now, your decision to turn down the full-ride scholarship to Daisy's Dog Grooming School will prove to have been a poor one.

If you need help remembering what it was you were studying before senioritis struck, you might want to track down Dumbledore and borrow his Pensieve. But remember, school counselors ain't Dumbledore -- they honestly told the colleges you were a hard worker, and they'll have to honestly tell them you've stopped being so, if that's the case.

So how about if you forget about the Whoopee for now, and focus on the cushion?