What is Academic Readiness?


By Julie Sweitzer

Academic readiness seems simple at first. If a student gets decent grades and graduates high school, they’re ready, right? Isn’t there a magic number on the ACT or SAT that says they are ready? Or a teacher says Naomi or Shakira is ready. Maybe. I wouldn’t rely on any one of these criteria alone, but together they are a strong indication. Probably. 

The fact is we don’t have easy, reliable metrics for measuring academic achievement or readiness. Most students are stronger in some areas than others, and some do not demonstrate those strengths well on standardized tests. A student is academically ready when she or he has the knowledge and skills to do first-year, credit-bearing, college-level work, but how will we know?

Completing a high school set of courses that align with the type of college the student plans to attend and in some cases their chosen major, and ideally includes at least one college-level course, with mostly A and B grades, is a foundation of college readiness. School counselors can provide the best guidance on what students need to take for different types of college. Anyone considering health, science or engineering careers should be taking math and science courses every year. Statistics has become important in many fields. Succeeding at an AP or IB course, or other college-level offering, not only is evidence of ability but also builds confidence in students.

Most importantly, college ready students need to think critically, demonstrated through the ability to gather, analyze, synthesize, and present information. They need to use effective study strategies, such as participating in study groups and keeping pace with reading and review, rather than cramming for tests. College ready students regularly evaluate and revise their academic work to ensure accuracy. Teachers should be able to describe how they are integrating those skills into their instruction and assessments, and discuss whether and how a student is meeting them. 

Any student who takes the ACT should look beyond the single number score that gets most of the attention (on a scale of 36) to the Readiness Benchmarks in Math, Science, English and Reading. ACT compared scores on their test to the grades students received in entry level college courses in those subjects.  The benchmark scores provide a reasonable estimate of the likelihood of obtaining a C or better in those classes, but it is not a guarantee (nor does it mean a student inevitably won’t pass if they have a lower score.)

When readiness is the goal, ‘not yet’ ready, rather than never, is the way to describe a student. A growth mindset tells us that with effort and persistence any student can progress in any subject. 

Recently CAREI conducted a study of Ramp-Up to Readiness, the 6 - 12 college and career readiness curriculum we have developed here at the University of Minnesota. The findings indicate that Ramp-Up is positively impacting the students who use it.  88% of the students surveyed reported that as a result of their work in the program they are more committed to getting good grades. 84% said they are more committed to making their school work accurate, and 84% said they hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to their school work. We are encouraged!

Click here to learn more about academic readiness.


About the Author

Julie Sweitzer is Executive Director of the College Readiness Consortium and Ramp-Up to Readiness. Previously she directed the Minnesota Principals Academy and helped create Youth Central, a website that makes it easy to find the University of Minnesota programs and activities that serve K12 students and families. Julie was an elected board member of the St. Louis Park Public Schools for 12 years.

She holds a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public
Affairs, and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota’s Law School.

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