Youth Voice: Three Ways Schools Can Better Prepare Students for College

Carla Miranda

I am afraid I am not ready for college. I just graduated high school, and a statistic I recently found worries me: 70 percent of Americans will study at a four-year college this year, but less than two-thirds will graduate.

In my senior research project at Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA), I discovered students often drop out of college because they are not academically prepared and that anxiety and depression negatively impact their academic performance.

As a result of these findings, I concluded that there are three ways high schools can better prepare students for college.

1. Implement the SAILS Program

More than 60 percent of all students entering community colleges must take developmental math courses, the New York Times reported in 2014, but more than 70 percent of them never finish those classes, “leaving them unable to obtain their degrees.”

Why are students graduating high school with no basic knowledge around math content? What are possible solutions to this problem?

When Tennessee started using the SAILs program
When Tennessee started using the SAILs program—which offers remedial college courses in high school—an overwhelming majority of students completed their courses. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons.

A few states have begun offering remediation coursework while students are still in high school through the Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support (SAILS) program, which identifies students in their junior years or earlier—some use ACT scores—who need college preparation and offers them remedial courses as seniors.

When Tennessee started using the program, 92 percent of the students in the math program and 97 percent in English completed it. "A lot of us can't really afford to pay those costs in college, so the fact that they were taken care of in high school helped a lot," one student said in this American Public Media story.

2. Focus on Social and Emotional Learning

Mental health has become a critical issue on college campuses. “The number of students in crisis coming in for help has increased sharply—from 647 in the 2014–2015 academic year to 906 last year,” the Behavioral Medicine clinicians at Boston University reported.

Last year, the ACHA-National College Health Assessment II reported that stress, anxiety, sleep, and depression difficulties affect college students’ academic perfromance more than any other factor. Stress topped the list with 31.8 percent of students reporting it caused them to drop a class or receive a lower grade; comparatively, only 3.5 percent said alcohol was to blame.

Stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and depression are affecting college students’
Stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and depression are affecting college students’ academic performance, according to the ACHA-National College Health Assessment II. Photo credit:

Students who speak English as a second language—students like me—may have additional struggles. “ESL students are learning that new language and culture of college and they are learning the language of English and new culture of America,” Michael LeBlanc at the University of Massachusetts Boston told me. “It's not that college is harder, but it's struggle on top of another struggle.”

Learn more about the challenges English Learners experience in the youth blog “We Must Never Give Up” and the Center for Promise report I Came Here to Learn.

LeBlanc said high schools can better prepare students for college by getting them

“used to the idea that their ideas matter.” He said students should believe others want to know what they think about academic material, which helps boost confidence and self-esteem.

I believe schools could also offer workshops in high school covering the five competencies of social and emotional learning along with workshops (especially for seniors) about anxiety and depression in college.

3. Offer College Classes

Dual-enrollment programs let students get a sense of the academic rigor college expects and help them become knowledgeable about the overall college system. It's also an advantage for students to enter college already armed with some credits.

UMass Boston
The author will attend UMass Boston in the fall, where academic support staff member Michael LeBlanc encouraged her to take advantage of campus resources and meet with professors one-on-one. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

LeBlanc said UMass Boston has a number of high school students taking dual enrollment classes and some of their faculty members are working with Boston Public Schools in the GEAR UP program, which helps low-income middle and high school students prepare for college. I believe all high school students must have exposure to a college class (dual enrollment, AP, or IB classes) before leaving high school to help prepare them for the real thing.

Since I will be attending UMass Boston in the fall, I also asked LeBlanc to give me some personal advice for how I can be college ready. He told me to continue to do what I am doing, to always ask questions, take advantage and be aware of the resources available at UMass Boston, show that I care and be engaged in class, and to go see professors during office hours so they can know me individually.

I plan to follow his advice, but I hope more schools do their part to prepare more students for college so that more of us are excited to enroll in college than we are afraid.