Five Ways Public High Schools Are Failing to Prepare Students for College

Behold the classic college crisis: upon walking across the graduation stage, enjoying the sweet sun of the summer, and finally entering college in the fall, you realize that you spent the last four years completely unprepared for the circumstances you encounter in a university. Check out the top five ways our current public high school system is repeatedly failing to prepare students for success in their college careers.

1) Public high schools fail to address the mental health concerns of their students.  


The amount of stress that students face is overwhelming. On top of moving to an entirely new area for education, students have to face the stresses of growing up, succeeding in classes, applying for jobs and internships, and participating in enough extracurricular activities to keep grad school as an option. What’s more, students who are entering college are often more reluctant to receive mental health resources and counseling because of how taboo mental health concerns have become within the context of public high schools. Counseling is not normalized nor is it encouraged within the public high school system, which systematically turns students away from wanting to know more about their emotional self and find positive outlets for releasing the many emotions that are inevitable in the transition to college.

I cannot help but think of how many lives could be saved if we intentionally invest in the expansion of mental health outreach and resources for our many high school students within our schools. It would be a dangerous lie to believe that high school students do not face concerning mental health issues. We wonder why students are not completing their homework, but utterly fail to address the factors that occur outside of the classroom that are causing students to develop mental health issues. What’s more, we mock, we fail to accommodate, and we isolate students who are brave enough to seek the resources they need and get help.

Coming to college, I faced a lot of issues that required a professional to talk to in order to alleviate the burden of the situation I found myself in. When the time came that I reached out for counseling, I was welcomed and accepted by my peers, invited by the counselor, and accommodated by the professors and my internship coordinator. Although this was something I was desperately happy to receive, so many high schools in the public sphere do not know that this is something we deserve. Mental health is a right, not an afterthought.

2)  Public high schools fail to instruct students about sexual education.


In my high school, it was required to take a health course, whether as a physical class or an online module. Within the required health course is a section about reproductive health and sexual education, but it is extremely limited to a heterosexual couple. Even more so, it does not teach students necessary information such as putting on condoms, what lubricant is, or how students can receive HIV or STD testing. They overexaggerate what a sexually transmitted disease actually is, in order to scare students out of being sexually active.

Educators, here’s a newsflash. The majority of students upon or before entering college will have sex, regardless of how many times you attempt to force celibacy on students. If you want us to truly be healthy, you should be considerate of the differing gender identities and sexual orientations, how to use and implement these resources, and what the signs are when we need help. Not every student will be heterosexual, and it is necessary to shift the conversation from purity to protection.

It might seem outlandish but I did not know the actual definition or relevancy of consent until I entered UC Riverside. That’s a problem. Partying (and for many, drinking) begins in high school, and many students enter non-consensual situations that can cause permanent psychological damage that public schools do not have the resources to help with. Students should know that consent is enthusiastic, mandatory, revocable, and checked at every stage of intimacy, but they often do not receive the educational resources to know consent until they enter a university. If we do not introduce the notion of consent at an early age, we cannot make long-term change towards ending sexual assault and sexual harassment on college campuses, in which women run a 1 in 5 risk of being sexually assaulted.


3)  Public high schools fail to give meaningful feedback.


I took a lot of Advanced Placement classes in high school, allowing me to get ahead in my credits in my undergraduate career (yay!). However, these courses that are supposed to be held to the level of a college course often do anything but. While readings are intensified, a student’s final grade often lies in worksheets and in-class assignments that students can do half-heartedly and still pass the course with an A and a pat on the back.

That’s not how it is in college.

My university is based on the quarter system, where each course lasts for ten weeks. Not only is reading intensified, but the grades are dependent on what unique thoughts you contribute during the discussion sections, how much work you put into assignments, papers, tests and quizzes. Many students are thrown aback by how much work college is, but if AP and IB classes were doing their job, it wouldn’t be that big of a surprise.

This is not the student’s fault. Students sign up for an AP class knowing that it will transfer for college credit and do not deserve to have a class where adequate is acceptable for excellence. What’s more, students are left unaware that their work is unsatisfactory to the college degree because their educators fail to provide constructive feedback on how the student can perform better. A mere stamp on a paper for turning something in does not track the way the student has learned and developed, and what gaps remain. Thus, coming into college, students are tasked with having to assess and treat their own personal learning styles and challenges, which should have been established already at the high school level (if not earlier).

4)  Public high schools value quantity over quality.  


In high school, you’re told to wear several hats throughout the day in order to somehow be acceptable for your dream university. There’s the Academic hat, which studies all day, receives the best grades on the quiz, and whose group projects are outstanding. There’s the Social hat, which participates in clubs, goes to pep rallies, and follows all the Spirit Days in order to instill school pride. There’s the College Ready cap, which prepares for the SAT and ACT, has a personal statement that brings people to tears, and who has enough scholarships to do whatever they wanted to in college. However, trying to participate in everything systematically fails students in knowing what they truly want to do when they are older.

Don’t get me wrong: I love being involved and trying new things. However, as a public high school student, my time spent in trying to fill a laundry list of expectations was not valued when it came to the college admissions process. Colleges are looking for consistency, not that a student was able to participate in virtually every activity offered in their school or community.

Once you come to college, you will realize that so many different organizations exist to be involved in, but if you choose every single one, you’ll be burnt out and your grades will suffer. Without the conversation shifting to being able to say no to opportunities in a respectful matter, more students are going to be left feeling overworked, stressed, and with no direction towards their future careers. More students are entering into college as an undeclared major, which is a sign of the public high school truly failing to identify the students’ needs and aspirations, and counsel them throughout the process.

5)  Public high schools don’t teach you how to ask for help.



I am a proud University of California student, and within our institution is the desire for natural research and drive for innovation. However, this is not an isolated attempt. In high school, you are taught to not ask questions, to nod your head at every single thing the teacher says, and to manipulate sources based on their teachings. This is wrong, and does not prepare you for future success in a university, where it is literally the role of the course to deconstruct stigmas through the use of lectures, discussions and videos.


It is time to teach our students how to disagree with the material. While it may create longer discussions, debating is what helps content become retained in the memory of a student. While they can rehearse a list of facts and figures, students should be challenged to look beyond the simplicity of a statistic to understand underlying meanings such as who sponsored the research, why did they sponsor it, and what impact did it make to society as a whole. Students need to learn how to defend their arguments clearly and rationally, as life in the university requires it.

How did your public high school fail to prepare you for college? Let us know in the comments below.

Written By Julia Schemmer

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