Comprehensive College Readiness Series: Connecting Academics and Careers

This is the third in a series of five blog posts examining college readiness by Julie Sweitzer, Director of the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota.

A comprehensive college readiness program provides students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing, college-level classes without remediation. Yet the content of many high school courses is misaligned with what students need to know and be able to do in college, leading many students to believe that they are ready for postsecondary success when, in fact, they actually aren’t (Conley, 2005). College-ready students have received periodic assessments of their developing academic knowledge and skills, which are tied to college readiness standards, not just class grades or internal school rankings (Tierney et al., 2009). ACT and SAT assessment suites, including ACT’s college readiness benchmarks, are useful periodic assessment tools.

State longitudinal databases can help schools identify the areas in which a high school’s graduates have succeeded and areas in which their preparation was lacking. School partnerships with local colleges can help dig deeper and improve preparation for specific programs.

By middle school, students often raise questions about the relevance of their classroom learning to their futures. For many students, school is something they do only because they have to. Sooner or later, school will be over, and they can get on with their real lives. Many times when middle school students dream of that "real life," their view of the future can be idealistic—or worse, fatalistic, for those who can’t see a way out of challenging circumstances.

Career exploration helps connect academics with the child’s dreams. Most young adolescents only know about a handful of jobs, usually jobs they come in contact with on a regular basis (teacher, doctor, nurse, store clerk, police officer, etc.). A comprehensive college readiness program includes regular opportunities for students to explore new career fields via interest surveys and assessments of learning style and personality type as well as gain practical experiences inside and outside of the classroom.

When a career of interest is identified, the program should guide students to identify the qualifications needed for related jobs and back map to make them relevant to the classes they need to take beginning in middle school (Orfield & Paul, 1994). These college readiness programs have students ask questions such as:

  • What type of postsecondary training is needed?
  • What colleges offer relevant majors?
  • What are their admissions requirements?
  • What do I need to achieve in high school to be ready for admission?
  • (And for the middle school student) what do I need to do to be prepared for high school?

Even the young middle school student who dreams of being a professional athlete can identify a college he or she wants to play for first. An aspiring fashion designer needs training in addition to creativity. 

By repeating this process periodically and exploring a variety of careers, students start to see a pattern of preparation relevant to their future. A student who is interested in technical careers learns that welders need strong high school mathematics skills, and automobile mechanics need college-level reading skills to understand repair manuals. They understand that a "college-ready" student has done more than pass the required combination of classes needed to graduate from high school.

Julie Sweitzer is Director of the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota.  For more information, see and

Photo credit: Flickr (this image was not altered or edited). 


Conley, D. (2005). College knowledge: What it really takes students to succeed and what we can do to get them ready. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Orfield, G., & Paul, F. (1994). High hopes, long odds: A major report on Hoosier teens and the American dream. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Youth Institute.

Tierney, W. G., Bailey, T., Constantine, J., Finkelstein, N., & Hurd, N. F. (2009). Helping students navigate the path to college: What high schools can do: A practice guide (NCEE #2009-4066). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. 

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