Are High School Students Ready for College? - Learn If Students Have Been Prepared

Image of figure pointing toward graduation cap and books.

High school is the end of compulsory education in America. Following graduation, young adults have to decide what to do next. For some that means entering the workforce, for others it means taking time off to evaluate the options ahead of them, and for many it means continuing their education by entering college and earning a degree.

For many of the young people that continue on to the world of higher education, college represents a major change in their lives, both in terms of the increased academic rigors they will face as well as the increased freedom that comes with a more independent lifestyle. High school will ideally have prepared students for these changes and transitions, but is that really what is happening?

To find out, our team, with help from our partner Grand Canyon Education, surveyed 1,500  recent college students to find out how well they felt their high school education prepared them for various aspects of collegiate life. Read on to learn more about what we uncovered.

In This Article:

General Preparation Insights

Bar graphs depicting how well high school students feel prepared for college

Overall, results indicate that high school appears to be doing a decent job of setting students up for success in college. Nearly four out of every five respondents feel high school properly prepared them. Getting more specific, the overall average preparedness level of our respondents on a 0-10 scale is 7.1.

When examining specific life skills and areas of preparation that high school can have an influence on, we get a better picture of the strengths and weaknesses of a modern high school education as it relates to life in higher education.

Unsurprisingly, high school is best at preparing students to understand and succeed in college-level classes. Over 57% of people report they feel high school succeeded in that area, making it the only skill with over 50% approval.

In an effort to see what skills students wish had been given more emphasis from grades 9-12, we also asked respondents to tell us the areas where they feel their high school education failed to prepare them for life in college and beyond. Over 53% of respondents say they wish there had been more effort put into teaching them life skills and abilities that would help them successfully live on their own.

What Students Wish They Learned In High School

Bar graph showings skills people wished they had learned in high school

In a similar vein we wanted to find out which specific life skills students wish had been a bigger focus of their high school education based on things they encountered and struggled with in college and their professional careers.

Nearly 61% of respondents wish they’d been provided with more personal finance skills, making this the most desired skill overall. The second most desired skill area was job preparation skills, which includes things such as learning how to write a resume and dress for a job interview.

Given that college is a time when young adults are living on their own for the first time and learning how to deal with tuition and other education fees, it is no surprise that many wish they had been taught more personal finance skills in high school. Tracking and budgeting for all of these new expenses for the first time can be overwhelming, Unfortunately mistakes and decisions made in this confusing time of life can have long-term financial consequences.

How Preparation Levels Vary Between Public And Private School Students

Comparison between how well private schools vs public schools prepare students for college

Another area we wanted to explore was how students’ level of preparedness compared based on whether they attended public or private school. We found that students that attended private high schools feel more prepared for college in general, answering affirmatively at a rate of 85.5% compared to 76.7% for public school students.

When asked to rate their preparedness on a 0-10 scale in specific areas, private school students average a rating of at least 0.7 points higher than their public school peers in every category. While these are not huge differences, they do point to private high schools doing a slightly better job preparing their students for life in college and beyond.

States With The Most And Least Prepared High School Students

Graphics showing states where students felt the most and least prepared for college

Finally, we evaluated preparedness based on the state in which respondents attended high school. The three states where the highest percentage of respondents said they feel prepared for college were Indiana, Georgia and Connecticut, all with positive response rates in excess of 92%. Alternatively, less than 75% of students from Virginia, New Jersey and New York feel properly prepared for college by their high school experiences, with Virginia’s number falling under 70%.

We hope this look at student opinions on how high school prepared them for higher education and beyond has been illuminating — illustrating the strengths in the current education system through high school while also pointing out a few areas of opportunity for improvement.

Here at GCU, we offer numerous opportunities in a variety of educational studies and experiences, both on campus and online, so you can be sure you are set up for success after your high school time is over. 


In January 2021, we surveyed 1,475 students about how well high school prepared them for college. All respondents indicated they attended college for at least one year since 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.