Comprehensive College Readiness Series: What is Comprehensive College Readiness?

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

Being ready for college means more than just achieving academic skills and knowledge (Conley, 2010). Our work has revealed that students must be ready in five areas, or pillars:

  • Academic
  • Admissions
  • Career
  • Financial
  • Personal/social

Others divide and label readiness differently, but the content is similar (e.g., Conley, 2010). The CCRS Organizer is another excellent example that goes beyond the content and skills students need to include measures, processes, and supports.

In real life, this means a college-ready high school senior not only has developed sufficient academic knowledge but also understands the different types of colleges (two- and four-year, technical colleges, and potentially military or apprenticeship programs leading to transferable credentials). She has explored career possibilities and identified one or more careers of interest. Back mapping from her careers of interest, this high school senior knows which postsecondary options provide majors or programs that prepare students for those careers. She knows the entrance requirements for potential colleges, understands the cost, and is aware of the financial support she could receive.

Perhaps most importantly, the college-ready senior started exploring postsecondary options long before this ultimate year of high school. Beginning in middle school or maybe earlier, the college-ready student’s school started exposing all students to career options and emphasizing the importance of postsecondary education in today’s global economy (Hughes & Karp, 2004). The student learned that smart isn’t something we are born with; smart is something we work to become (Dweck & Master, 2009). The student practiced setting goals, managing time, budgeting money, persisting through challenges, and (at least occasionally) delaying gratification (Savitz-Romer & Bouffard, 2012).

A student who may be academically ready but has not developed all of the social-emotional skills is not college ready. Every college has experienced academically talented students who burn out during their first year, often because they struggle to overcome challenges by themselves or have trouble adjusting to the independence of college life.

American students can receive highly confusing and contradictory information about what it takes to gain access to and succeed in college (Kirst & Bracco, 2004). If we want to increase the number and diversity of students who obtain a postsecondary credential, schools must adopt the mission of preparing all of their students for postsecondary success by addressing each of the five pillars.

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

Photo credit: Flickr, the University of Washington (this image was not altered or edited).


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

Dweck, C., & Master, A. (2009). Self-theories and motivation: Students’ beliefs about intelligence. In Handbook of Motivation in School. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hughes, K., & Karp, M. (2004). School-based career development: A synthesis of the literature. New York, NY: Institute of Education and the Economy, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Kirst, M., & Bracco, K. R. (2004). Bridging the great divide: How the K-12 and postsecondary split hurts students, and what can be done about it. In M. Kirst and A. Venezia (Eds.), From high school to college: Improving opportunities for success in postsecondary education (pp. 1–30). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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

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