Is there a divide in college readiness?

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I realized college was a thing. As a first-generation Vietnamese-American student, I did not grow up with a family instilling in me the hopes to be a Tar Heel born, bred and dead.

I didn’t think about post-high school plans, didn’t watch Gilmore Girls and didn’t have plans for college. I believe it was a lot of luck that

Columnist Jennifer Tietnguyen

Columnist Jennifer Tietnguyen

got me to UNC-Chapel Hill, but I could’ve just as easily not gotten in.

At Jordan High School, there is a bin in the guidance counselors’ office during college application season where each student must fill out a form, detailing what schools they have applied to or plan to apply to.

When I was a senior there in 2011, it terrified me to go into that office because I felt surrounded by peers in my AP classes who had planned for college since childhood. I was under the impression that everyone in the school was the same—that I was the only one confused and lost.

But when it came time for me to face that bin, I found that it wasn’t as full and brimming as I had expected it to be. Each student was given a designated file, and yet, as I sifted through, file after file was completely empty.

I wondered: were these students getting the help they needed?

The U.S. News & World Report calculates a College Readiness Index by looking at exam participation rates and percentages of students passing at least one exam. According to their website, Jordan’s index number is 43.1, with an AP participation rate of 51 percent for the 2011-2012 school year.

This suggests that, to be “college ready,” a student must take AP classes and must do well on the exams.

Darly Gomez, a junior at Jordan who plans on attending a four-year college, said that while she does think that high-level classes help prepare students for university, there is also a tension between students who take AP classes and those who do not.

“People who take AP classes tend to surround themselves with those who are also taking those classes, because they think those who take standard classes couldn’t help them in any way, if they ever needed something,” Gomez said.

As we begin to look at and rethink inequalities in the education system, the divide between those who take AP classes and those who don’t is only one part of a much larger puzzle.

Former student at Jordan, Justin Thach, said that he faces a lot of challenges in applying to college because of his family’s background.

“My parents have never been to college, so this is a new experience for me,” he said. “I try to see my counselors as much as I can, but it can be hard doing most of it on my own.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 45.1 percent of people older than 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher in Durham, N.C. Like Jordan, this is a reflection of an almost evenly split level of educational achievement.

There are so many questions that arise from these statistics, and so many questions that arise for students who find themselves unprepared to face what comes after high school.

How does socioeconomic status affect how a student does in high school? How prepared are they for college?

Even four years down the road, I look back on my high school experience and wonder what made the difference for me—and who or what could have made the difference for others.

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One thought on “Is there a divide in college readiness?

  1. Jenny Cahoon says:

    I am a school counselor at a high school in Raleigh. I think there is definitely a divide here and we are always trying to figure out ways to meet the needs of all of our students. There is a ton of research in this area that points to students needing to hear about college early and often (in individual, small and large group sessions and from family, friends etc). I am definitely interested in how you would answer the question you posed at the end of your piece – who or what would have made the difference?

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