Preparation for College
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Having a high school degree and the requisite skills to enroll in and benefit from a two- or four-year college program means that individuals are prepared to build the skills that lead to sustained success in the labor market. College readiness is critical to enabling students to attend, complete, and succeed in college by both preparing them academically and psychologically and building their skills.

Evidence of the Relationship between Predictor and Related Outcomes

  • According to Kurlaender, Reed, and Hurtt (2019), the literature on college readiness has four facets: aspirations and beliefs, academic preparation, knowledge and information, and fortitude and resilience.
  • College readiness is a strong predictor of future educational outcomes, such as college performance and completion (Chingos 2018; Destin 2018). Academic preparation, including more rigorous high school coursework, better performance on standardized tests, and higher GPA, can all set up a student to attend and succeed in college (Chingos 2018). Further, a student’s ability to complete coursework, achieve academically, graduate, and ultimately obtain gainful employment are all influenced by college readiness (Kless, Soland, and Santiago 2013).
  • Test scores, such as SAT and ACT scores, are predictive of college GPA and (less consistently) college completion (Chingos 2018). State standardized test scores have similar predictive power as SAT and ACT scores on college grades (Chingos 2018; Fina, Welch, and Dunbar 2017). Although standardized test scores remain a common measure of college readiness, high school GPA is a stronger predictor of college completion (Chingos 2018).
  • The level of a course in high school (e.g., AP class, level 1) and grade performance in courses affect secondary and postsecondary education outcomes (Chingos 2018). For example, Long, Conger, and Iatarola (2012) found that students who take more difficult math courses in 9th or 10th grade were more likely to graduate high school and attend a four-year college, even when controlling for socioeconomic status, race, and other school characteristics.
  • Another form of college readiness relates to psychological factors such as student mindsets and motives, which are important for college success (Destin 2018; Kurlaender, Reed, and Hurtt 2019). Motivation and resource interventions such as peer learning and connecting students to role models or access to counseling about goals can help students better understand, prepare for, and persevere throughout college (Destin 2018; Kurlaender, Reed, and Hurtt 2019).
  • Another aspect of college readiness is the knowledge of the institutional processes to apply and pay for college. Students interested in attending college may lack the necessary information about the application process and financial aid options, thereby decreasing their chances of college attendance (Kless, Soland, and Santiago 2013).

How Investments Can Influence the Predictor at State or Local Levels

Policymakers can increase college readiness by supporting high school student academic preparedness (Chingos 2018). Interventions aimed at increasing the knowledge learned in high school classes in an effort to improve grades likely influence college readiness more than interventions aimed at increasing test scores (Chingos 2018). Psychological preparedness, including interventions that increase access to information, knowledge, and planning tools about college among students who may lack resources, may also be important (Chingos 2018; Kless, Soland, and Santiago 2013; Kurlaender, Reed, and Hurtt 2019). Such interventions could provide more information about and assistance applying for college, financial aid, and scholarships (Bettinger et al. 2012; Kurlaender, Reed, and Hurtt2019). One such intervention is the H&R Block partnership program, which provided students assistance completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (better known as FAFSA) along with financial aid estimates for local colleges. FAFSA submissions increased 40 percent among families who participated in the program compared with those who were offered general information but not assistance filling out the forms (Bettinger et al. 2012).


The primary reference is marked with an asterisk.

Bettinger, Eric P., Bridget Terry Long, Philip Oreopoulos, and Lisa Sanbonmatsu. 2012. “The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 127 (3): 1205–42.

*Chingos, Matt. 2018. What Matters Most for College Completion? Academic Preparation is a Key Predictor of Success. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.

Destin, Mesmin. 2018. Leveraging Psychological Factors: A Necessary Component to Improving Student OutcomesWashington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.

Fina, Anthony, Catherine Welch, and Stephen Dunbar. 2017. Establishing Empirical Links between High School Assessments and College Outcomes: An Essential Requirement for College Readiness Interpretations. Iowa City: University of Iowa.

Kless, Lambrina, James Soland, and Maribel Santiago. 2013. Analyzing Evidence of College Readiness: A Tri-Level Empirical & Conceptual Framework. Working paper. Stanford, CA: John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.

Kurlaender Michal, Sherrie Reed, and Alexandria Hurtt. 2019. Improving College Readiness: A Research Summary and Implications for Practice. Davis: Policy Analysis for California Education.

Long, Mark, Dylan Conger, and Patrice Iatarola. 2012. “Effects of High School Course-Taking on Secondary and Postsecondary Success.” American Educational Research Journal 49 (2): 285–322.

High-Quality Education

Related outcome: Age-appropriate cognitive development and educational attainment

Mobility dimension engaged: Economic success

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