Comprehensive College Readiness Series: Personal Social Readiness

This is the fifthand lastin a series of five blog posts examining college readiness by Julie Sweitzer, director of the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota.

Underlying all of the other areas of readiness is a set of personal—social and emotional—skills that successful students and adults need in their work lives and for their academic success (ACT, 2007). A college-ready student can set educational goals, make progress toward them, and create relationships with peers and adults who enable them to achieve those goals (Conley, 2010). Increasingly, research confirms that these so-called soft skills are anything but soft; they are foundational for the development of cognitive abilities (Farrington et al., 2012).

An early challenge for many students is developing the confidence that they can learn new and difficult things. Most commonly known as a "growth mindset" based on the work of Carol Dweck, this belief that our basic abilities can be developed through hard work and persistence is critical (Dweck, 2006). Too many students think they aren’t capable of learning math, for example, and give up. A college-ready student has learned (hopefully by middle school) that “smart isn’t what you are; smart is what you work to become.”

Social-emotional skills can encompass a variety of mindsets, including personal accountability and interpersonal skills. For example, developing positive relationships with teachers comes easily to some students but is intimidating for so many others. College students need to work cooperatively with peers, whether on projects or in study groups, and should develop that ability in their K–12 years. Procrastination and poor time management skillls have beaten many a college student who wasn’t familiar with using a planner (Conley, 2010).

Seeking help and specifically knowing when you need help and how to find it are essential college survival skills (Savitz-Romer & Bouffard, 2012). Many academically gifted students never learn this in high school and struggle when they face their first academic or personal challenge in college.

So how do we develop college-ready students? Researchers are beginning to confirm strategies that work, one of which is surrounding students with adults and peers who support their aspirations (Tierney et al., 2009). A schoolwide approach creates knowledgeable and supportive peers and adults. It is the only way to ensure that all students receive the basic information they need. Providing support in middle school affects students’ trajectories in high school before it is too late to take that second language or reach the higher level math classes.

We took that approach in developing Ramp-Up to Readiness™, a middle and high school schoolwide college readiness advisory curriculum. Schools can create their own readiness program by combining multiple programs and tools. The CCRS Organizer is a good guide for schools to use to organize existing resources and identify gaps. It requires intention and effort to address all five areas of readiness, but it doesn’t have to require a lot of money or time, the most precious commodities in education.

In short, one of the best ways to address the growing educational and economic inequality evident in American education (Duncan & Murnane, 2014) is to make sure each and every student understands why postsecondary education matters to their future and how to get there.

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

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


ACT, Inc. (2007). The role of nonacademic factors in college readiness and success. Iowa City, IA: Author. Retrieved from

Conley, D. (2010). College and career ready; Helping all students succeed beyond high school. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Duncan, G., & Murnane, R. (2014). Restoring opportunity: The crisis of inequality and the challenge for American education. Cambridge MA: Harvard Education Press.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Farrington, C .A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T. S., Johnson, D. W., et al. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research, University of Chicago.

Savitz-Romer, M., & Bouffard, S. M. (2012). Ready, willing, and able: A developmental approach to college access and success. Cambridge. MA: Harvard Education Press.

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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