Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Need to Keep Your Seniors Focused on School? Try This

By Patrick O'Conner

Seniors, I realize you’re 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.  A record number of students applied to college this year, so 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 are coming by my office to thank me for “getting them in” to college. I think I know what you mean when you say that, but I’m not sure you do.

As I’ve said before, 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, orfraternity 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.  I’ve just reviewed your course grades since you were admitted to college, and if this keeps up, 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 or why finishing high school with strong grades is important, you might want to track down Dumbledore and borrow his Pensieve.  But remember, I ain’t Dumbledore—I honestly told the colleges you were a hard worker, and I’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 cushion, and get back to class?

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