That question has been debated among educators for some time. Some educators believe "fully prepared" means graduating from high school with the skills necessary for success in college. Other educators emphasize the fact that not all teenagers can afford college and must go to work after high school, so it's important they have the skills necessary to find a job. But are "college-ready" and "work-ready" much different today?
It might have been years ago, but most employers today are looking for high skills, whether or not a job requires a four-year college degree. ACT's own research - "Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different?" - found that high school students who plan to enter work-force training programs after they graduate need academic skills similar to those needed by students planning to enter college. The findings suggest that the math and reading skills needed to be ready for success in work-force training programs are comparable to those needed for success in the first year of college.
It can be difficult for parents and teens to determine what plans they should make to ensure that a student is ready to succeed, no matter what path he or she chooses after high school. While there are no guarantees, there are steps that teens can take to make sure that the journey is smoother.
ACT recommends that all high school students experience a common academic program, one that prepares them for both college and work-force training, regardless of their post-graduation plans. The recommendations are at least four years of English, three years each of math (Algebra I, geometry and Algebra II), social sciences (courses such as U.S. history, world history and American government) and natural sciences (biology, chemistry and physics). Taking courses beyond the recommended core classes will give students the best chance to be ready to enter college without needing remedial classes.
Gaining work experience also is a smart idea. According to "Ready for What? Preparing Students for College, Careers, and Life After High School," employers also see a lack of "soft" or "applied" skills among high school graduates. For example, those in the work force need to be able to work comfortably with people from other cultures, be able to solve problems, write and speak well, and evaluate information critically, in addition to being dependable, punctual and industrious. Students who work part time or participate in an internship program learn these skills and become better-prepared for the working world.
Life after high school can't be predicted, but it's always an adventure. Whether it is a good or scary adventure depends on the planning you and your teen do before the journey begins.
Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send an e-mail to Rose at AskRose@act.org.