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Aren’t Most High Schools College Prep Programs?

Authored By: 
Krista Sergi, College Guidance and Outreach Coordinator

Like most specialized fields, education has its buzzwords. You’ve probably heard a few of them: grit, data-driven, student-centered, inquiry-based, flipped classroom, etc. Despite taking different approaches to education, all of these new perspectives on what teaching and learning could look like seem to be adding up to one big conclusion: college.

As a result of the cultural emphasis Americans place on college, a plethora of “college prepprograms and “college prephigh schools have seemingly sprung up to meet the needs of students. Are these programs new? Were high schools not preparing students for college before?

While the answer to this is not straightforward, what is important to keep in mind is that this title, “college prep,” is just there to let you know that when students finish the program or graduate from the school, they will have certain skills and/or knowledge necessary for success during college.

If, then, all of these programs and schools are emphasizing college preparedness, how are you supposed to choose the right path? It’s not as hard as you might think. The answer is, to use another buzz phrase, “you do you.”

Students, parents, and teachers know that every learner has individual needs, and finding a college prep program that both supports those needs and pushes students to confront areas that need improvement is pivotal when preparing for college.  Some students need small class-sizes and personal attention from a teacher, while some students need a more traditional setting with school plays and Friday night football games.  Now, you might be asking, “Are football games and school plays really necessary for college?”  And the answer is, if this is going to make the student feel like a part of the school community, as well as create or enhance cooperative and even some technical skillsets, then why not?

There are also some high schools and nonprofit-run programs that support students with specific college-prep needs. For example, there are many students who are the first in their family to go to college and therefore need extra time and support during the application and financial aid process. For some students with learning disabilities, college prep could mean finding a program that helps them gain academic, social, and emotional skills needed for interacting with new peers and new professors in college. 

It might seem daunting, especially for students and parents of students in the eight, ninth, and tenth grades to think about college, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused, just remember to put learning needs first. Almost every high school, whether it is public, private, or charter, is going to meet the same educational standards: four years of English, three years of math and science, two years of a language, etc. If a student is interested in becoming a scientist, look for a school that offers robust science programs in the eleventh and twelfth grades; if a student is not sure what he or she wants to do, find a high school that provides a variety of programs that allows students to explore all of their interests.

The best college for you is the college that meets your needs both academically and personally, and pushes you to think and grow and reach goals beyond what you envisioned for yourself. High school is the time to figure out what those needs and goals are.