What is College Readiness?

college readyby Zena Smith

By now you’ve probably heard the phrase “college readiness.” It may have come up in a conversation with your student’s guidance counselor, or you might have run across it while reading up on one of the many standardized tests and assessments your student has been required to take.

More and more, measuring “college readiness” has become the main goal of high school curricula around the country and one of the key measurements of our students’ performance in the classroom. But what exactly does college readiness mean?

On the surface, it seems simple. It sounds like something you might find out by asking your student if they’re prepared for the next big step in their life—going to college—and all the changes and challenges that come with it. In reality, being college ready means much more than that.

What is college readiness?

When you hear educators or admissions counselors talk about college readiness, they’re not interested in how your student feels about going to college; they want to know what your student will be able to do when they arrive

College readiness refers to the set of knowledge, skills, and habits of mind that allow students to thrive in the campus environment and succeed at college level coursework.

What does college readiness look like?


The graduation rate at Homewood-Flossmoor High School is satisfactory, but college-readiness ratings show room for improvement.

The graduation rate at Homewood-Flossmoor High School is satisfactory, but college-readiness ratings show room for improvement.

A student who is college ready will have a handle on all core content knowledge described by their state’s learning standards and the Common Core. The breadth of what they’ve learned in high school should prepare them to pick up with more advanced material in college-level math, language arts, science, and foreign languages courses. To learn more about the specifics of state learning standards and Common Core, visit the Illinois Board of Education website.

But the knowledge side of college readiness also extends beyond the classroom. True college-ready students should also have extensive pathways knowledge, which means they should be familiar with the options, processes, and requirements associated with going to college or starting a career. If your student is ready for college, they should be able to plan higher-ed and career goals and understand the individual steps they have to take to get there. Knowing how to fill out a college application, how to search a job board, or investigate certification requirements for a particular career are all great examples of pathways knowledge, which is a crucial part of college readiness.

On one level, college readiness skills are absolutely the hard skills that students learn every day in high school classrooms—how to write an equation and work out a math problem on paper, how to diagram a sentence, how to conduct a scientific experiment. Most students can expect to use one or more of these skills at the college level.

There are also a number of soft skills that, while absolutely critical to college success, are often overlooked as part of the college readiness package. After all, lifelong learning skills can also shape the college experience in big ways.

Emotional skills such as time management, relationship building, and decision making are an unmistakable part of the college readiness package. The same goes for thinking skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking; employability skills, such as inquisitiveness (being willing to ask questions), teamwork and collaboration, and communication skills; and finally, life skills, including civic engagement, financial responsibility, media consumption skills.

These are the skills that will determine how often your student attends class, how thoroughly they prepare for tests, whether or not they can juggle a job and a college workload at the same time, and their chances of being employed upon graduation.

A final way to weigh whether your student is college ready is to ask yourself if they have the right habits of mind for the college setting. In some ways, this is similar to the set of soft skills described above. These habits of mind will affect them in many of the same ways—including how much effort they put into assignments, how they develop and mature during their time on campus, and the ways they choose to use free time.

One example of college-level habits of mind includes the ways that students view their assignments. For example, does your student look at homework as an opportunity to grow and evolve in their chosen field, or are they something that needs to get done quickly so they can move on to funner activities? Another example would be how students are inclined to spend their free time. Are they more likely to revisit their notes to help internalize the material they’re being asked to learn? Or is every free minute interpreted as a chance to relax and do something more fun?

The way that these tasks are viewed can be surprisingly telling as to whether or not your student is truly “ready” to succeed at the college level.

Who cares about college readiness?

College readiness actually plays a bigger role than simply determining whether or not a student succeeds at the college level. There are a number of other individuals and institutions who look at this measurement, and for various reasons. Your student’s high school is interested in knowing if their students are being sufficiently prepared for the next step. College admissions officers look at college readiness to reinforce their admissions decisions. Scholarship authorities will weigh college readiness to help determine where their investment will be best spent. Internship or job hirers will also consider these skills as they look for a candidate who will be worth their time.

In short, while it’s called “college readiness,” it’s sometimes better to think of this as “life readiness,” because its implications will go far beyond the college or university. A student who is college ready will be on the fast track to success in the classroom, in the work place, and even at home!

Still not sure about college readiness? Here are a list of tasks that a truly “college-ready” student should be able to complete!

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