Why Most College Prep...Isn't

I’m not one to bury a lead.

The bottom line is that the majority of college prep – whatever its source or how it is packaged and presented – is not preparation for college.

That’s the simple and devastating non-fun fact.

It’s been 20 years since I first taught a high school class of my own, a decade of summers instructing almost 300 10th graders in UCLA’s VIP Scholars program, five years educating more than 100 writing-phobic college freshmen loathe to depart from math and science, and a few years of coaching students locally and nationwide in completing their college application essays through A Draft Supreme.   For the last three years I’ve explored hundreds of student experiences through facilitating mental health workshops on college campuses. From this sample set and others, what was initially a sneaking suspicion has loudly asserted itself in the open with each passing year.

Despite involvement in a variety of “college prep” enrichment programs, earning high grades in their respective public schools’ college prep curricula, excelling at cutting edge or subpar charter schools, or even attending private, elite high schools that are more ivy than the Ivy League, students are not prepared for college.

They are, however, sometimes prepared for applying to college.

Those who receive the gold standard of so-called college prep are trained in how to successfully gain admission (not a given with applying). 

And for most students, there it ends.

College prep is really college admissions prep – if that.

This concept of being admitted to college as the end game is where the true trouble for even the brightest of students begins.

From what I’ve witnessed and done my best to dismantle and re-engineer, students rarely exit high school or enter college prepared for the experience and their role in it.  Unrealistic and presumptive expectations, some bordering on fantasy, collide with scarcely planned or nonexistent strategies for adapting to a new environment that not only confound students but also generate unnecessary, crippling anxieties.

I could go into specifics, but this blog is designed to explore the varied nature and multi-layered angles of this jacked up phenomenon.  So for now, I’ll ask the reader a simple question:

What do you think of when you think of college prep?

 Base your answer on what you experienced, what your children or students are currently undergoing, or what the secondary institution of your choice provides under the auspice of this general term.

Next question:  How much of what is covered occurs before a student becomes a college admit – let alone an actual student on campus?

If it’s more than 50%, it’s not true college prep.

 At A Draft Supreme, real college prep is always genuine life prep.

The “real” world of college prep rarely embraces or burdens itself with this reality.

Some ask the question, “What’s the harm in that?”

You have to first get in before you can do well.


You also have to first get in before you can do poorly or travel a catastrophic path.

If getting into college is the end goal and the celebrated pinnacle of high school, you – or rather your child or student – is in for an awakening that will most definitely be rude in some capacities, but may also prove brutal.

This is not just an “urban” school problem or an issue for students in poverty, though these factors rarely help.

This is not just a problem for charter schools that generate thought leaders or those that are wracked with grade inflation, but neither tends to rise to the occasion on this issue.

And this topic is so unrecognized and taboo at pricey private high schools that are considered conveyor belts to pricier, private colleges and universities that their students often end up the most shocked to realize how poorly prepared they are to enter college on their own terms.

I’m supposed to state that this is not every school, but the issue is so common and pervasive that saying I’m supposed to say it is as much as you’ll get from me.

It’s a damn shame and college prep should live up to its title.

Solutions to this issue are multi-faceted and particular to the needs and goals of individual students.

Yet an even more optimal solution than our various workshops and seminars is for everyone – students, parents, administrators, teachers, other educators, and program directors – to WAKE UP to the obvious.

Truly consider the psychological, academic, social, financial, and other types of dynamics that are bedrock to the college experience.

Address these.

Prepare students to get in, celebrate, and then open their eyes to the true demands of freshman year.

From there, train them to leverage that college prep into self-navigation of their upcoming undergraduate years and the graduate or professional ones that may follow.

Enduring a sane and life-affirming journey through college admittance to graduation is a colossal dream.

It’s much more likely to come true for those who are wide-awake at the wheel of preparation.

Open your eyes and drive safely, folks.