Prepare children for college-level course work

October 06, 2003|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

There is a strong chance your child will not be ready to take college-level math or science classes even after he or she graduates from high school.

But a high school diploma means your child is ready for college - doesn't it?

Maybe, but this year's ACT score report for the graduating class of 2003 contained messages that might surprise you.

For the first time, the scores were analyzed with an eye toward "college readiness benchmarks." The result was surprising. Only 40 percent of college-bound students are prepared to earn a "C" or higher in college algebra.

The picture is even worse in science. Only around one-quarter of college-bound students are ready for college-level biology.

What happens to your child when she gets to college and can't handle the difficulty of an algebra course that will count toward her degree?

She may be placed into a remedial course to prepare her for the credit-bearing class. This is where it gets expensive. You still have to pay the tuition, and the student has to spend a semester in the class, but it won't count toward the degree.


It could mean your child won't graduate in four or five years. Parents and students both end up paying a high price to bring a student up to speed.

About one-fourth of college freshmen don't return to school for their sophomore year. There are many reasons this happens. Some students switch schools, some take a break and return later, but some never come back.

One reason is that they are not academically prepared for college-level course work.

I know a man who was editor of his high school newspaper and president of the student council during his senior year. By his senior year, his grade point average was around 3.5.

But he took the easy way out of high school and didn't study advanced math and science. In his first semester at college, he had a 1.4 grade point average and nearly dropped out of school.

The reality hit him in the face. In college, he couldn't get by on personality and by taking the easy courses. College courses usually are a lot more difficult than high school, and the instructors weren't swayed by a friendly attitude.

Only through determination and perseverance did he return to college and ended up earning a degree in four years.

The moral of the story is: Students who plan to attend college must take a series of challenging courses in high school. In math, that means four or more years, including Algebra II, geometry, trigonometry and pre-calculus. In science, that means four or more years, including biology, chemistry and physics.

If your children are not yet high school seniors, there is good news: You still have time to take action and prepare them for college. Work with them on their class selections. Talk with their guidance counselors.

It's a good sign if their scores are rising, but a more important question is whether they have reached the level they need to be for college.

If your student takes a college entrance exam as a junior, or if he takes a 10th-grade test such as PLAN, talk with teachers about his academic weaknesses and discuss tutoring or other methods to boost achievement. Make sure he is taking the tough courses that will prepare him for college, and don't let him coast during his senior year.

Enrolling in college isn't an event that happens after high school graduation. It's a process, and it has to begin early.

You can help your children prepare so that when they arrive on campus for their freshman year, they'll have the academic tools to succeed.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. For more college and career-planning information, visit on the Web. If you have a question you want answered in a future column, send e-mail to Rose at

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