Getting Ready for College and Beyond


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 A Thinking Pro Blog Series College Career and Civic Readiness

  • Getting Ready for College and Beyond (2/5)

College readiness and how to cultivate it

In the first part of our series on the “Three Cs,” we explained how critical thinking and good thinking habits help us prepare for college, our careers, and our civic responsibilities. In this and the following two posts, we’ll delve deeper into each of these three aspects of our lives and how to be successful in each.

On the road to adulthood, college is usually the first of the “Three Cs” encountered. It’s a very exciting time for any young thinker! All the hard work of high school has paid off, the bags are packed, the family van is loaded, and before long, new college students are on their own.

Clearly, then, it’s important that they’re ready for the challenge that lies ahead. “College readiness” is probably a term you’ve heard before, but do you really know what it means?

Rice University is home to the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, which operates a center dedicated to college readiness. They describe college readiness as the ability of a student to enter college and complete entry-level classes without any remediation. It’s the seamless transition from high school senior to college freshman that signals a truly college-ready student.

The question is begged: just how many students are able to make this seamless transition and go on to find success in college? Unfortunately, the number is probably not as high as you might think. In 2012, the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research published some eye-opening information on college readiness:

  • High school teachers estimate that 63% of their students are college-ready
  • Only 25% of high school graduates who took the ACT test were truly college-ready
  • The estimated cost to states and students of remedial education for unprepared students is $3 billion per year

These and more statistics reveal the gap between how prepared teachers believe their students are, how prepared they really are, and the consequences of this lack of college readiness. Our high school seniors just aren’t as ready for college as they could be.

Fortunately, there are ways to help improve college readiness, and critical thinking is a key component. Rice University cites “the ability to think critically and problem solve in the context of a continually changing set of circumstances and reality” as one of the core areas of college readiness. When students develop, practice, and internalize a sound method of approaching and solving problems, they can take this framework and apply it to many different contexts -- in the college lecture hall and beyond.

To build and refine this framework for problem-solving, it’s important that high school students take high school courses that will challenge them and push the boundaries of their critical thinking capabilities. Multiple choice-style questions are popular because they’re easier to objectively grade, but open-ended, complex problems are better exercises in critical thinking. Students should also be encouraged to think critically outside of the classroom, whether it’s creating a new time-saving process at a part-time job, or keeping up with current events to discuss around the dinner table.

Finally, using extracurricular programs that help prepare students for college readiness may cost a bit up front, but it could potentially save a lot in the long run. Programs like Thinking Habitats are investments in education -- they come at a cost, but could save learners and their families all the costs of extra remedial education that will be required if they’re not fully college-ready.

According to The College Board, the average cost of one extra semester at a public, in-state college was roughly $12,000 last year. If this were your student, how much would you be willing to spend up front in college readiness to save the cost for that extra semester in the long run? 1% = $120? 2.5% = Cost of Phlox - Thinking Modules? 5% = $600? Or would you just take the gamble?