College & Workforce Readiness

Students Say Schools Do Poor Job of Preparing Them for College

By Catherine Gewertz — August 04, 2017 2 min read
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Adults in education spend a lot of time debating about how to get high school students ready to succeed in college. But students have a less-than-rosy picture to report about how well that’s going.

A new survey of 55,000 high school students across the country finds that only about half say their schools are doing a good job.

The study was conducted by YouthTruth, a San Francisco nonprofit that contracts with schools and districts interested in using the online surveys to kickstart dialogues focused on improvement.

The 2017 report is based on a survey given online to students in 114 schools in 21 states. It’s not a nationally representative sample. But

the study echoes and highlights worrisome themes that affect high school students’ prospects.

For instance, some schools are doing far better with college preparation than others. That’s an inequity we’re painfully aware of, but here’s yet another round of figures to remind us.

Eighty-four percent of the students said they wanted to go to college, yet some schools got shockingly low ratings on students’ perception of how effective they’ve been getting them ready to meet that goal.

The lowest-rated school got a positive rating from only 11 percent of its students, while the highest-rated got good marks from 78 percent. Across all the schools studied, the average was 43 percent.

Another troubling facet of the survey illustrates the extent to which students are not connecting with important support services like college counseling. As the chart below shows, most students who use these services find them helpful. But relatively few students are taking advantage of them. Of all the services discussed, counseling about how to pay for college gets the lowest uptake, a worrisome sign, since financing is often a key stumbling block to college entry.

Based on feedback from partner schools and their students, that’s because schools are often financially strapped and unable to provide as rich an array of services as they’d like, and because students too often are unaware that these services exist, says Jen Wilka, YouthTruth’s executive director.

The survey gave students an opportunity to make suggestions about how their schools can do a better job of getting them ready for college. Here are a few of their comments, provided to EdWeek by YouthTruth. How good a job is your school doing?

  • “I feel like my school should do more to get me with my counselors to talk about college and what to do about applying. I’m actually really upset that my school doesn’t do more to help their students with the scary and confusing process. They haven’t helped me in choosing a major, choosing a school, applying to that school, knowing what I need to do to get into my dream school, how to pay for my school, what I should expect from college life, or even to help me register for scholarships or other things that could help me pay for my university.”
  • “I love that there are a lot of AP courses offered, but I feel as though all of my classes focus on preparing us only for the AP exam, rather than helping us learn in-depth about the actual subject. It helps me prepare for the exam, but not necessarily for college. Classes are challenging in course load, but they seldom challenge me to think critically or creatively.”
  • “The advisory programs and surveys didn’t offer a concrete layout of the steps in choosing a career or future college opportunities, and the few programs offered didn’t majorly help.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.