Is My Teen Academically Prepared for College? How to Know

There are a variety ways in which teens can be college-ready; and many ways they might not be.

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There are a variety ways in which teens can be college-ready; and many ways they might not be. They may have perfect grades, but cannot do their own laundry. They may have all the confidence in the world, but struggle to write an essay. Certain life skills are extremely important for your teen to have before living on their own, but to succeed in college, your teen needs to be academically ready to take on the demanding coursework. According to the Journal of College Retention from the Center for the Study of College Student Retention, only 50% of students who enter higher education actually earn a bachelor’s degree. Ensuring that your student is academically prepared is the first step toward the ultimate goal of seeing them start and complete their college education. Here’s what your teen needs in order to be academically prepared for college:

  • Thinking and reasoning

    Students entering college need thinking and reasoning skills. These skills carry through any subject and help students engage, process, and learn the material. Bon Crowder, a math professor at Houston Community College says, “This is the biggest thing I see with incoming college students, that they have been trained instead of taught.” She says many students are put on the path to “see this, and then use that.” Students need to be able to think about how to apply learned concepts when there is not a clear formula in place. This is true across the board, no matter the subject.  

  • Math

    Students have to be able to test into college algebra, Crowder says. Students need to know how to use fractions, basic functions, basic arithmetic, and statistics and probability. “If you’re not solid on functions and fractions, then you are starting at a serious disadvantage,” Crowder says. “You need to master the little things before progressing to the more challenging things.”

    For more information on where your teen should be in math by the time they finish high school, check out the 12th Grade Academic Math benchmarks. And if you want to help your student brush up on some of their math skills the summer before college, here are some tips:

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  • English Language Arts

    Students need to be able to read and write effectively before entering college. This includes analyzing texts, reading and understanding a wide range of literature, engaging thoughtfully in discussions around reading materials, appreciating diverse ideas and perspectives, and evaluating the strength of reasons and evidence.

    • Reading: College students read a lot. Students must be prepared to read and comprehend a wide range of texts. President-elect of the National Council of Teacher of English Jocelyn A. Chadwick says that students must be able to read without the guidance that is sometimes provided by teachers in high school. Students must be able to cite strong evidence to explain what a literary or informational text clearly says, what it leaves uncertain, and what is implied or suggested.

    • Writing: Writing is arguably the most important skill your college student must have, Chadwick says. College students must write clearly and effectively in nearly every course they take. Students must be able to analyze information from multiple sources and select the most relevant evidence to support their ideas. Chadwick says students must also understand writing for a variety of audiences, which they will have to do in college with different subjects and professors.

    For more information on where your child should be academically by the time they finish high school, check out the 12th Grade Academic English Language Arts benchmarks. And if you want to help your student brush up on some of their English Language Arts skills the summer before college, here are some tips:

    Read these English tips for the summer before college.

  • Mastering study skills

    Study skills are extremely important to effectively review and learn course materials. Read the Study Skills for College Students Checklist for more information.

  • Time-management skills

    Your teen should be able to manage their own time in order to be academically (and independently) successful in college. This includes managing their own schedule (studying, sports, friends, appointments, etc.) and dedicating an appropriate amount of time to their studies. Former assistant professor at Kansas State University Laurie Curtis says academic readiness can really come down to self-regulating behavior.

  • Knowing when to ask for help

    A great skill that can sometimes be overlooked is a student’s ability to ask for help when they need it. “Sometimes it is because they think they can do without it, sometimes they are embarrassed, and sometimes they don’t know where to go or who to go to [for extra help],” says Wendy Rock, a Louisiana-based high school counselor. Some students may also feel intimidated approaching professors in college Students should be able to identify when they are struggling and need some extra help in a subject or assignment.

  • Grade point average in high school (GPA)

    If your student is earning mostly As, Bs, and some Cs, they likely will continue working to earn good grades in college. GPA is a good indicator of academic success in college.

  • Confidence

    Crowder says one of the biggest indicators of college academics is the confidence to “get in there and give it a try.” If your student messes up or fails a test, they can bounce back from it and learn, which builds resilience, Crowder says. “The student who has confidence and says, ‘if I get a B, I get a B, but I’m going to give it my best shot” will be much more prepared than the person that goes in and says, “I have to get an A on everything.”

  • FAFSA completion

    Completing the FAFSA application can be a great financial help to families and students in paying for college. With less of a financial burden, students can focus more on their studies instead of more hours working a part-time job or worrying about putting food on the table. For more information about the FAFSA application, click here.

  • College academic advising

    Connecting with school counselors who can provide college academic advising is really important. This can help set your student up on a successful path early and start thinking about their future.

  • Redefining Ready indicators:

    Another way to determine academic readiness is by the indicators developed by the Redefining Ready researchers. They gathered data from many national organizations like the College Board and Harvard Graduate School of Education about college readiness. Based on this data analysis, they developed a set of guidelines. Students who are academically ready for college should meet either the following academic indicators OR standardized testing benchmarks.

    Academic Indicators: GPA of at least 2.8 out of 4.0 AND one or more of these academic indicators:

    • A score of 3 or more on an Advanced Placement Exam

    • A, B, or C grade in an Advanced Placement Course

    • A, B, or C grade in a dual-credit college English and/or Math course

    • A, B, or C grade in a college developmental/remedial English and/or Math course

    • A, B, or C grade in Algebra II

    • A score of 4 or more on an International Baccalaureate Exam

    Standardized Testing Benchmarks 

    • Minimum SAT exam score in Math: 530

    • Minimum SAT exam score in Reading and Writing: 480

    • Minimum ACT exam score in Math: 22

    • Minimum ACT exam score in Reading: 22

    • Minimum ACT exam score in English: 18

    • Minimum ACT exam score in Science: 23

    • Passing a college readiness placement assessment (determined by the post-secondary institution)

    There are many readiness factors beyond academics that go in to your teen being prepared for life after high school. Read the 8 Life Skills Your Teen Needs Before Moving Out list to learn more and consult the Social and Emotional Learning 12th Grade benchmarks for more information.

  • What If My Teen Is Not Ready for College?

    As hard as it may be to accept, there are some signs that your kid might not be ready for college, whether in their academics or with their maturity. Here are some signs:

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