Chapter 2
IV. Are your high school graduates ready to succeed in college?

More than half of all jobs in the next 10 years will require some sort of post-secondary degree making college readiness more important than ever. Some students report dropping out because they do not believe they will succeed in college even if they do graduate from high school. Other students assume their high school diploma will not lead to further schooling, so they drop out to find employment as soon as possible rather than waiting until graduation. Only 3 in 10 of 25-to 29-year- olds in the U.S. hold a bachelor’s degree. Challenges remain especially large for low-income students; their college completion rates have remained flat and low even while college enrollments overall have increased over the past 25 years.

Students need clear pathways, not only to move from high school to college, but also to succeed in college, including a college and career ready curriculum while in high school, help with college access, planning and finances, and appropriate supports while in school and in college.

Although there are not universally agreed-upon definitions of what “college readiness” means, communities can take several steps to gauge their current college readiness and access rates and the likelihood of their high school graduates’ success.


In the last five years, governors and others in the states have led the effort to raise standards for what students should know and be able to do, so they will be prepared for college and careers. State leaders and educators, joined by other experts, came together to create the voluntary Common Core State Standards for mathematics and English/language arts. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are implementing the standards, which build from kindergarten through 12th grade. The few states that have not adopted the Common Core Standards have developed their own standards. In April 2013, 26 states and four national organizations released the Next Generation Science Standards. All these standards provide a foundation for rigorous curricula and dynamic assessments but they do not set curriculum. Instead, they establish goals for what students should know and accomplish in each grade and by the end of high school. It is important that your community implement these standards, or other similarly challenging standards, to prepare students for post-secondary success.


Equipping students with the cognitive and non-cognitive skills needed to succeed in college is only part of the college completion equation. Many young people simply do not know the steps that are necessary to make the transition from high school to college, even when they are academically prepared. The financial aspects of attending college can be daunting. Students need assistance identifying which colleges they might attend, which are a good match for their interests and abilities – often with a stretch school built in but not an impossible one – and how and when to apply to colleges.

Each community must support and expect that its schools and out-of- school programs help students set goals of going to college, and later develop the skills to navigate the logistical and financial responsibilities of attending college, beginning in the early middle grades Students should learn to use the U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator database to research postsecondary institutions’ location, type, programs, and majors, and resources relating to financial aid, career exploration, and preparation for the college application process. School counselors are in a good position to address these challenges with students, as are programs sponsored by nonprofits, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Students should also cast a wide net when looking at post-secondary education. A recent study shows that the majority of high-achieving students from low-income families do not apply to a selective college or university. This contrasts with the choices of students from high- income families, raising many questions because the subset of high- achieving, low-income students who do apply to selective institutions are just as likely to enroll and progress toward a degree as high-income students with equivalent test scores and grades. Also to be considered is the fact that very selective institutions not only offer students much richer instructional and extracurricular resources, they also offer high- achieving, low-income students so much financial aid that the students would often pay less to attend a selective institution than the far less selective institutions that most of them do.

Other steps can be taken as well. Communities can foster college awareness by supporting middle and high school students on college exploration trips. Successful college graduates can return to their community’s middle and high schools and inspire youth, offering a unique perspective on what preparedness for postsecondary education, work, and life means in concrete terms.

Communities can also obtain a deeper understanding of how well the education they provide stands up to modern needs by probing how well prepared their college graduates felt for postsecondary coursework, job applications, expectations in the workplace, and their own financial literacy. In addition, community members can work with local universities and community colleges to establish the college completion rates of students who graduated from different high schools in the community, as well as the percentage of high school graduates from the community who must take remediation courses during their freshmen year. (Some estimate that one-third of all college freshmen need remediation coursework.) Also determine the percentages of graduates from your community’s high schools who drop out of college by the end of their freshman or sophomore year. Assembling these facts will give you the tools to convince others of the challenges that exist in your community.

Deeper Look

For more resources regarding the Common Core State Standards Initiative visit:

For a power-point addressing how one school is implementing the standards see:

For the PTA Parents’ Guides on Common Core see:

CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, provides further information and resources regarding SEL, why it matters and how communities can begin to implement. See the CASEL website,

According to the 2012 National Survey of School Counselors, “There is a growing national movement to better utilize school counselors and with changes in policy and practice, counselors can emerge as invaluable resources in our nation’s schools to boost college and career readiness at a time of fiscal constraint.” For further information on the role of school counselors and college access see the 2011 and

Return to Understanding Your Community’s Dropout Crisis and Graduation Challenge

2012 National Survey of School Counselors. Additional resources (including tools to support each of 8 components for a school counseling program that supports students’ college success) are available at the National Office of School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA) of the College Board.

2011 National Survey of School Counselors: Counseling at a Crossroads.

2012 National Survey of School Counselors True North: Charting The Course To College and Career Readiness. office-school-counselor-advocacy-nosca

To read about one example of how counselors are instrumental in one district’s college affordability initiatives see: Yonkers Public Schools, Yonkers, New York: Increasing Scholarship Dollars 

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