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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.

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

They may have perfect grades, but can't 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 percent 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.”

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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.


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.

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.

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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.

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