The Clearing House, 86: 136–141, 2013
Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0009-8655 print; 1939-912x online
Strategies to Prepare Middle
School and High School Students
for College and Career Readiness
RICH A. RADCLIFFE and BETH BOS
Abstract: Trends among adolescents continue to be
discouraging in terms of career and college readiness
based on National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP) achievement reports and high school gradua-
tion rate data. In response, this article presents ﬁve goals
and eight strategies we have engaged in during a seven-
year research study focused on building college and ca-
reer readiness among adolescents. During our ﬁnal year
of helping students build college and career readiness,
we found associated improvements in their academic-
related perceptions, beliefs, and strategies; positive
personal achievement a nd goal orientation; rising per-
ceptions of college; improving trends in academic per-
formance; and stronger perseverance in high school
when compared to a control group. Because the students
in this study have not completed their high school se-
nior year, we do not have data that predict their college
acceptance or career readiness.
Keywords: college readiness, career readiness, college-
rends among adolescents continue to be discourag-
ing in terms of college readiness. Recent National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (National
Assessment Governing Board n.d.) academic achieve-
ment reports present a continuing trend where only
about one-third of eighth-grade students rank within
the “at or above proﬁcient” category for mathematics,
reading, writing, and science, and a signiﬁcant gap con-
tinues to exist where Hispanic and African American
groups underachieve in comparison to other groups.
Adolescents’ low NAEP scores and the current drop-
out rates force the question: How many will be ready
for college by graduation? Overall, the gap in educa-
tion preparation among whites, Hispanics, and blacks,
Rich A. Radcliffe and Beth Bos are at Texas State University–C&I, San Marcos, TX.
as evident in their scaled scores, results in many minor-
ity students being poorly prepared for higher education
Equally disturbing is the news regarding adolescents’
career readiness. Recent high school graduation rate
data indicate that nationally about 71 percent of all
students graduate from high school on time with a reg-
ular diploma, but barely half of African American and
Hispanic students earn diplomas with their peers (Sum
2009). Each year approximately 1.2 million students
fail to graduate from high school, more than half of
whom are categorized as belonging to minority groups
(Editorial Projects in Education 2009). Legters and Bal-
fanz (2010) report that the employment market has
changed since the early 1980s when most high school
dropouts could ﬁnd a job at a living wage. To-
day dropouts are more likely to face unemployment,
poverty, ill health, incarceration, and dependence on
In response to these concerns we have been engaged
in a seven-year research study and program focused on
building college and career readiness among adoles-
cents. A distinguishing feature of this program is that it
has supported a cohort of young adolescents, starting
in their sixth-grade year and continuing through their
high school years. In this article we present the goals and
strategies that pre-service teachers implemented to build
college and career readiness among these students. Our
conclusions summarize the positive student outcome
that may be associated with pursuing these goals and
strategies, and are based on a Goal-setting Worksheet,
the Patterns of Academic Learning (PALS) survey, self-
report surveys, the school district’s student registration
records, and our state’s mandated Texas Assessment
of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. Because the stu-
dents in this study have not completed their high school
Strategies for College and Career Readiness 137
senior year, we do not have ﬁnal data on their college
acceptance or career readiness.
Three of Conley’s (2010) key dimensions for building
college readiness provide a framework for our strate-
gies and include college knowledge, academic behav-
iors, and content knowledge. College knowledge, also
referred to by Conley (2010) as “contextual skills and
awareness,” is deﬁned as “the privileged information
necessary to understand how college operates as a sys-
tem and culture” (40). Academic behaviors that gen-
erally relate to self-management are the dimension of
college readiness that includes a “range of behaviors that
reﬂects greater student self-awareness, self-monitoring,
and self-control of a series of processes and behaviors
necessary for academic success” (Conley 2010, 39–40).
Content knowledge is described as “overarching aca-
demic skills,” which include reading and writing, and
“core academic subjects knowledge and skills,” which
encompasses English, mathematics, science, social stud-
ies, world languages, and the arts (Conley 2010, 35–39).
The Creating a College Culture Project (McClafferty,
McDonough, and Nunez 2002), which also provides
a framework for our research, emerged from concerns
about the declining number of college-bound students
from a southern California cluster of 24 schools that
are ethnically and racially diverse. The schools had
high drop-out rates and low participation by both low-
income students and minority students in honors and
advanced placement courses. McClafferty recommends
that schools should create a “college culture”: a school
culture that encourages all students to consider college
by introducing information about higher education op-
portunities during early adolescence and in high school.
This concept of creating a college culture among di-
verse adolescents who are considered at risk aligns with
Conley, who includes “create and maintain a college-
going culture in the school” among his key principles of
college and career readiness (McClafferty, McDonough,
and Nunez 2002, 105).
Our strategies were implemented in a school district
that is ethnically and racially diverse and enrolls many
students who may not graduate from high school. The
setting for this recent program is a professional devel-
opment model for pre-service teacher education.
The participants in our program initially included 100
sixth-grade students with a composition of about 60 per-
cent Hispanic, 30 percent white, and 7 percent African
American. With the assistance of school administrators,
these students were randomly selected from a pool of
about 120 students identiﬁed as at risk based on the
school district’s guidelines for academically and eco-
nomically at-risk students. Fifty of these students partic-
ipated in the treatment group and were engaged in the
strategies presented in this article; the other 50 partici-
pated in a control group. The participants also included
pre-service teachers, typically college seniors, enrolled
in two teacher preparation classes that were taught two
days a week in a blended approach on the students’
school campus; that is, the pre-service teachers were
enrolled in a “professional development model.” Each
semester a different group of about 30 pre-service teach-
ers mentored the students. During the writing-marathon
event, participants in the study also included college
professors who hosted the visiting middle school stu-
dents in the professor’s college freshman-level English,
math, or science class.
At the start of the high school phase of our study, after
the students had completed eighth grade, a change in
school boundaries led to some student attrition, result-
ing in about 40 treatment-group participants. During
the next three years, a few of our high school partici-
pants withdrew from the school district, resulting in 31
treatment-group students at the end of the 2011 aca-
Goals and Strategies for Building College
and Career Readiness
Following are the ﬁve goals that are the foundation for
the eight strategies used to help secondary students be-
come college-ready and develop a college-going culture:
The student will (1) understand the nature of college,
(2) recognize that a college education may be impor-
tant to his or her future success, (3) gain positive per-
ceptions and aspirations about college, (4) prepare aca-
demically for college admission, and (5) set short- and
long-term goals that support becoming college-ready.
Table 1 lists the eight recommended strategies for help-
ing secondary students become college-ready and a rec-
ommended schedule for implementing these strategies.
Students Create Digital Stories
While students are in middle school we recommend
that pre-service teachers coach them in creating three
digital stories that may help them become college-ready.
The topics of these three stories are “my positive school
experience,” “my future career and how to prepare for
it,” and “how to be successful in middle school.” Col-
lectively, engaging students in creating these three sto-
ries may support three of our goals (goals 2, 4, and 5).
Digital stories are from two- to three-minute multime-
dia movies that combine photographs, sound, music,
text, and a narrative voice. Digital stories are used as
an expressive medium for the young adolescents to re-
spond to the three topics that engage them in reﬂecting
about their past, current, and future academic prepara-
tion. Literature supports the use of digital stories in the
classroom. Bull and Kajder (2004) describe digital sto-
rytelling in language arts class; Hull and Nelson (2005)
138 The Clearing House 86(4) 2013
TABLE 1. Strategies to Build College and Career Readiness and Grade Implementation Schedule.
Strategy Implementation Schedule
1. Create three digital stories: 7th–8th grades
a. “my positive school experience”
b. “my future career and how to prepare for it”
c. “how to be successful in middle school”
2. Visit university and community college campuses. 7th–11th grades
3. Use a writing-marathon approach during college visits. 7th–9th grades
4. Participate in academic tutoring. 8th–9th grades
5. Attend presentations by college students about the attractions of attending
6. Attend presentations by college representatives about getting admitted into
college and obtaining ﬁnancial aid.
7. Plan school-related goals that help prepare for college readiness. 10th–12th grades
8. Collaborate with college students on college entrance tasks, including visit a
college resource room at school, select a favored college, respond to the state’s
college admissions site, and complete the Free Application for Federal Student
Aid (FAFSA) application.
discuss the expressive power of digital storytelling; Ka-
jder, Bull, and Albaugh (2005) explain the nature of
digital stories; and Salpeter (2005) describes the g row-
ing popularity of this technology-based strategy.
The approach for coaching young adolescents in cre-
ating a digital story includes the nine steps presented
in Table 2. Necessary resources include a computer
lab, PowerPoint software, microphone input capabil-
ity, computer scanning equipment, and access to the
Visit University and Community College Campuses
In order to help adolescents become college-ready,
we recommend that pre-service teachers lead them on
university campus tours starting when they are in sev-
enth grade. Careful organization and scheduling of all
aspects of the tour are essential to meeting three of our
TABLE 2. Steps for Coaching Students to
Create a Digital Story.
1. Show an example of a digital story.
2. Determine the topic for the assigned digital story.
3. Ask probing questions to help students develop ideas
for the story.
4. Describe the format for the story, speciﬁcally the
number of slides, guidelines for inserting images, the
amount of text, background music, and how to record
5. Help student develop a project timeline.
6. Discuss images to use and sources.
7. Guide the student in sketching a story line to create a
8. Help the student write text and secure images.
9. Help the student assemble the digital story.
goals (goals 1, 2, and 3). We recommend scheduling
a school bus to transfer adolescents to the university
campus, a rriving at 9:00 a.m., when they are greeted by
pre-service teachers. Small groups of six persons each are
formed that include two pre-service teachers and four
visiting adolescents. The pre-service teachers, who have
planned their own walking routes, escort their young
visitors around campus. Half of the groups immediately
begin their tours, incorporating a writing-marathon ap-
proach. The other half goes directly to underclassman-
level college classes, such as biology or creative writing,
where they observe and may be invited to participate.
An hour later, the two large groups switch agendas. At
noon, all persons converge at a university dining hall
where they sit together, talk about their tours, and enjoy
lunch. As lunchtime ends, staff from the campus admis-
sions ofﬁce and ﬁnancial aid ofﬁce give presentations
on college application procedures.
Use a Writing-Marathon Approach during College Visits
We suggest incorporating a writing-marathon (Rad-
cliffe and Stephens 2009; Stephens, Radcliffe, and
Schaefer 2007) into the university tours because it sup-
ports the three goals of the previously described tour.
Richard Louth (2002), of the Southeastern Louisiana
Writing Project, describes a writing-marathon as a visit
to an engaging and new setting where a small group of
writers walk and explore, stop to write about what they
are experiencing, and then share their writing. They re-
peat this cycle a small number of times. Marathoners
write freely and spontaneously; their writing becomes
a response to the exploration of the context that the
writers are experiencing. The sharing period is impor-
tant but brief, and no particular response is requested
from the listeners other than a simple “thank you” or “I
Strategies for College and Career Readiness 139
TABLE 3. Steps for Tutoring a Student in One
1. Pre-service teacher talks with student’s content-area
teacher to determine the student’s motivation and/or
learning needs and tips for helping the student.
2. Pre-service teacher and content teacher agree on a
3. Pre-service teacher documents the plan.
4. Student(s) and pre-service teacher meet twice
weekly for tutoring in a location such as a classroom,
cafeteria, or library.
5. Four times per semester, as part of tutoring, the
pre-service teacher presents a short lesson on a topic
using a real-world problem.
enjoyed hearing that.” The writing-marathon is facili-
tated by the pre-service teachers, who should choose
stopping points based on the availability of a comfort-
able place and the potential for responses to a particu-
larly rich segment of the tour, such as an art gallery.
Participate in Academic Tutoring
Achieving high grades in academic courses is impor-
tant to adolescents’ progress toward becoming college-
ready and supports two of our goals (goals 4 and 5).
We recommend that pre-service teachers tutor students
twice a week, starting when students are in middle
school and based on the structure described in Table 3.
Initially, pre-service teachers are matched up to one or
two students based on content areas where students
most need to improve their achievement and are also
consistent with the pre-service teacher’s area of content
strength, such as mathematics or language arts.
Attend Presentations by College Students About
the Attractions of Attending College
Starting when students are in high school, we rec-
ommend that college students and pre-service teachers
present information to adolescents about college that
includes telling their own stories about deciding to at-
tend college, preparing for college admission, gaining
ﬁnancial aid, attending college classes, participating in
campus life, and explaining the expected beneﬁts of a
college degree. Such presentations support all ﬁve of our
Planning presentations by college students to high
school students involves determining topics that col-
lege students would be willing to discuss that would
interest adolescents and that would also support build-
ing college readiness. For example, in our program we
discovered that high school students held a strong inter-
est in participating in collegiate sports. In response, our
pre-service teachers hosted a panel of college athletes
who talked about collegiate sports. Two other examples
of presentations that we hosted include a talk by the
editor of the university’s student paper who had over-
come many challenges to attend college and a talk by
a senior-rank college student who had, in her words,
“worked the scholarship system to get a full ride.” We
suggest hosting these presentations at the students’ high
school and also during their college tours.
Attend Presentations by College Representatives About
Getting Admitted into College and Obtaining Financial Aid
The college-readiness goals of our program, includ-
ing helping students gain an understanding of college,
give students the opportunity to appreciate the potential
beneﬁts, develop positive perceptions, and prepare for
college admission. Some students may come from fam-
ilies where postsecondary education is unfamiliar and
adult family members may lack information about the
nature of college, how to apply to college, how to ac-
cess ﬁnancial resources, and how to guide their teenager
through the complexities of enrolling in college. We
recommend that, starting in high school, the univer-
sity tours feature detailed presentations about college
entrance requirements, tuition, and ﬁnancial aid. We
found it convenient to host these presentations dur-
ing the college tours when all participants were having
lunch in a reserved section of a university dining hall. To
help adolescents understand this complex information,
we suggest presenting essentially the same information
each time they complete a campus tour.
Plan School-Related Goals That Help Prepare
for College Readiness
We recommend that pre-service teachers help ado-
lescents set and work toward goals that prepare them
for college through a mentoring approach that merges
an emphasis on both g oal setting and building re-
lationships. As summarized by Karcher and Nakkula
(2010), two constructs for characterizing a “mentoring
match” are the developmental style and the instrumen-
tal style. The developmental pattern of interactions in-
cludes both goal-directed and relational interactions.
Emphasis is initially placed on building the relationship
and then shifts into goal-oriented interactions. Mentors
who adopt an instrumental style enter the relationship
with an agenda that is predominantly goal-oriented.
However, like the developmental style, there is a hy-
brid of relational and goal-oriented interactions. The
strength of the relationship increases over time as the
dyad collaborates on the focus, purpose, and manner
of accomplishing goals. For high school students, we
recommend an instrumental mentoring style to help
them set and work toward goals. Although students in
our study focused on setting goals for high school, we
suggest that goal setting be extended to include life goals
over the next 10–20 years.
140 The Clearing House 86(4) 2013
Larose, Cyreene, Garceau, Brodeur, and Tarabulsy
(2010), who address mentoring older adolescents, sup-
port a goal-directed approach while meaningfully re-
sponding to mentees’ needs, displaying authoritarian
and directive guidance as necessary, and focusing on
conventional purposes, such as future academic success.
During goal-planning sessions we suggest that men-
tors regularly direct their mentees’ attention to question
prompts for goal setting and engage them in reviewing
previously set plans that support the mentees’ academic
We recommend that during the pre-service teacher’s
and student’s ﬁrst mentoring meeting each semester,
the mentors focus on learning about their new mentees,
including their shared interests, hobbies, families, mu-
sic, friends, college interests, and goals. In general,
the mentors and mentees share their stories. However,
quickly and early in the semester, the mentoring ap-
proach shifts to working together to engage the mentee
in writing speciﬁc college-readiness goals for the upcom-
ing semester, discussing obstacles they may encounter,
planning how to cope with foreseen difﬁculties, and re-
viewing progress. Over the course of the semester and
multiple meetings it is hoped that the dyad will develop
a trusting and positive working relationship.
Speciﬁcally, we suggest that pre-service teachers use
a goal-setting worksheet that includes 15 question
prompts encouraging mentees’ open-ended responses
that describe personal goals, plans, and steps to achieve
goals, “pros and cons associated with each plan or
strategy,” and other considerations related to achiev-
ing goals. The source for these questions is the Hope
Worksheet adapted from Lopez, Floyd, Ulven, and Sny-
der (2000, 147–8). The mentors guide their mentees to
handwrite goal-planning responses on the worksheet,
answer questions to help the mentees understand the
prompts, and sometimes elaborate on the prompts.
Collaborate with College Students on College
We suggest engaging students and their mentoring
pre-service teachers in collaborating on college entrance
tasks, including a visit to the high school’s college re-
sources room, select favored colleges, apply on a state-
wide college admissions site, and initiate the Free Ap-
plication for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application.
These tasks support all ﬁve of our goals.
We recommend that pre-service teachers guide their
mentees in a visit to their high school’s college resource
room. In preparation, we suggest collaborating with the
high school counseling department to schedule use of
the room and to arrange for the high school’s college re-
sources specialist to orient the pre-service teachers about
the nature and location of resources. After pre-service
teachers become knowledgeable about these resources
they can schedule a time to meet with, guide, and sup-
port their mentee in a search for useful college informa-
tion. We recommend that discussions about favored col-
leges, which develop while visiting the college resource
room, be continued during the dyad’s subsequent goal-
planning meetings. We encourage pre-service teachers
to guide their mentee to c onsider c olleges that best
match the area of study that interests the mentee and to
select several favored colleges to apply to. Some states,
including Texas, offer a universal application website
(called ApplyTexas), which allows college applicants to
apply to many universities in the state. Pre-service teach-
ers, who may have recently used this site for their own
applications, can sit at a computer with their mentee
and guide completion of this application process. Sim-
ilarly, pre-service teachers are likely experienced with
the FAFSA, a source of federal aid for college expenses.
Because the FAFSA application requires much informa-
tion, we recommend that pre-service teachers describe
to high school students the types of information that
they will need before they enter the FAFSA site. We sug-
gest that pre-service teachers and their mentees sit at a
computer, enter some information together, and discuss
the additional information that the student must collect
and enter later, often with a parent’s assistance.
During our study we collected student data using a va-
riety of tools including the Goal-setting Worksheet, the
PALS survey, and mentees’ self report surveys. School
records were a source for students’ scores on the state
mandated TAKS test. School records also allowed us to
track students’ annual registration in the school district,
an indicator of attendance and drop-out trends. As we
enter the ﬁnal year of helping our students build col-
lege and career readiness, we ﬁnd associated improve-
ments in their academic-related perceptions and strate-
gies, positive personal achievement and goal orienta-
tion, and rising perceptions of college. When compared
with the control group, the students engaged in this
study’s strategies demonstrated a stronger rate of im-
provement in their academic performance based on the
state-mandated TAKS test and stronger perseverance in
An analysis of students’ Goal-setting Worksheets,
which were administered three times during high
school, identiﬁed the types of goals that students are set-
ting, plans to attain these goals, perceived barriers, and
their predictions for successful attainment of the goals.
Almost two-thirds of the students set going to college as
their major goal with most students also stating an as-
sociated career goal such as becoming a nurse, graphic
organizer, or social worker. Similarly, about two-thirds
of the survey respondents described academic strate-
gies such as “study hard,” “get good grades,” “pass all
classes,” or “do my best in school” as their major goal-
attainment plan. The results of the PALS survey, which
Strategies for College and Career Readiness 141
was administered three times during high school and
evaluated using paired t-test analysis (p < .05), reveal
statistically signiﬁcant student gains in the assessment’s
scales including the Academically Related Perceptions
and Strategies category and the Personal Achievement
and Goal Orientation category. As determined by a self-
report written survey administered four times between
students’ seventh and tenth grades, students’ percep-
tions about college became more positive after being
involved in this study’s strategies (statistically signiﬁ-
cant at p < .05). These survey responses were analyzed
using a paired-samples approach and were based on
survey mean scores.
We expect that these factors will contribute to improv-
ing these students’ likelihood of attending college. Al-
though our reported outcomes are positive, the s trength
of these ﬁndings is limited by the relatively small num-
ber of participants in the study. As we continue this
longitudinal study, following and supporting this group
of students through their senior year in high school, we
will collect additional information and publish our ﬁnd-
ings regarding how to build college and career readiness
among adolescents who were identiﬁed in their sixth-
grade year as at risk in s ucceeding in school.
Bull, G., and S. Kajder. 2004. Digital storytelling in the language arts
classroom. Learning and Leading in Technology 32 (4): 46–9.
Conley, D. T. 2010. College and career ready: Helping all students succeed
beyond high school. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Editorial Projects in Education. 2009. Diplomas count 2009.
Broader horizons: The challenge of college readiness for all stu-
dents. Education Week, June 11. http://www.edweek.org/ew/toc/
Hull, G. A., and M. E. Nelson. 2005. Locating the semiotic power of
multimodality. Written Communication 22 (2): 224–61.
Kajder, S., G. Bull, and S. Albaugh. 2005. Constructing digital stories.
Learning and Leading with Technology 32 (50): 32–40.
Karcher, M. J., and M. J. Nakkula. 2010. Youth mentoring with a
balanced focus, shared purpose, and collaborative interactions. New
Directions for Youth Development 126: 13–32.
Larose, S., D. Cyreene, O. Garceau, P. Brodeur, and G. M. Tarabulsy.
2010. The structure of effective academic mentoring in late
adolescence. New Directions for Youth Development 126: 123–
Legters, N., and R. Balfanz. 2010. Do we have what it takes to put all
students on the graduation path? New directions for youth development
Lopez, S. J., R. K. Floyd, J. C. Ulven, and C. R. Snyder. 2000. Hope
therapy: Helping clients build a house of hope. In Handbook of hope:
Theory, measures, and applications, ed. C. R. Snyder, 123–50. San
Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Louth, R. 2002. The New Orleans writing marathon. The Quarterly 24
McClafferty, K. A., P. M. McDonough, and A. Nunez. 2002. What is
a college culture? Facilitating college preparation through organizational
change. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA, April 1–5.
National Assessment Governing Board. n.d. The nation’s report card.
Radcliffe, R. A., and L. C. Stephens. 2009. Writing marathons help
build middle school students’ college aspirations and strengthen
their literacy skills. The Clearing House 83 (1): 20–5.
Salpeter, J. 2005. Telling tales with technology: Digital storytelling is
a new twist on the ancient art of the oral narrative. Technology and
Learning 25 (7): 18.
Spellings, M. 2006. A test of leadership: Charting the future of U. S. higher
education. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Education. http://
Stephens, L. C., R. A. Radcliffe, and J. Schaefer. 2007. Using a writing
marathon to create a college culture among at-risk sixth graders.
Voices from the Middle 14 (4): 26–31.
Sum, A. 2009. Left behind in America: The nation’s dropout cri-
sis. Boston, MA: Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern