College Readiness – It’s in the Math

College Readiness – It’s in the Math

What academic courses do high school students need to take to be pass their college courses when they arrive on campus? That’s the $10,000 question since scholarships are tied to students passing their courses. It seems a waste for students and parents to invest time, energy, and money in the whole college planning process only to find that when students arrive on campus, they’re not ready to do the work required in classes. The harsh reality is many students find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of academic content covered in college.

Here’s the bottom line: Students need to take as much and as rigorous of a schedule of academic content as they can in high school to be prepared for college. I recommend four years of English, math, social sciences, and hard sciences. Additionally, many colleges require courses of foreign language and computer science (sometimes counted as a foreign language).

For years, I spoke to secondary school leaders about using data to improve instructional practices. The truth is parents and students can use data to make informed decisions too. Data informs us, and the drama of the college preparation dilemma plays out most dramatically when looking at math standardized test scores.

ACT reports out math scores by students’ self-reported course taking patterns. Here are math scores for the graduating class of 2016:

What does this information tell us? In general terms, the more math a student takes and the more rigorous the math courses are, the better the student does on the ACT math portion. That makes sense as The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement test. More math = more math knowledge = higher math scores.

Did you know that ACT also publishes math college readiness scores? The benchmark for predicted academic success in College Algebra, typically the first class that will count toward graduation and not considered a remedial class, is 22. That means a 50% chance of making a grade of B or a 75% chance of making a C.

Let’s look at the three largest population groups in math taking patterns reported by students:

Other comb of 4 or more year of Math – 33% of students take this pattern with an average math score of 23.6

Alg1, Alg2, Geo, & Other Adv Math – 18% of students take this pattern with an average math score of 19.3

Alg1, Alg2, Geo – 12% of student take this pattern with an average math score of 16.8.

Three years of math, starting with Algebra 1 in high school, doesn’t make a student ready for college algebra. Students taking this math sequence in high school could be placed in remedial math in college.

Students who are taking advanced math courses do better on the ACT math test. What are the advanced courses? Many students take Algebra 1 in grade 8 so they can take more advanced math in high school. Although I can’t be certain, I’m going to take a leap of faith and write that students may be checking other combinations of 4 years of math because they’re taking AP or IB math courses. Maybe their fourth year of math is labeled as Pre-Calculus at their high school.

Here’s the point I. If students are not taking four years of rigorous math in high school, and worse, if they are only taking three years of math in high school, neither they nor their parents should be surprised when the student is placed in remedial math in college.

Do the work in high school or do it in college. Do the remedial work in college and be prepared to pay the tuition for a class that doesn’t count toward graduation.

You do the math!        


If you want to learn about other ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, visit

Kira Janene Holt writes and blogs on college planning at Find her books on college planning at

College Essay – You, the Hero, Take a Journey

College Essay – You, the Hero, Take a Journey

Haven’t started your college essay yet and it’s due soon. Oops! I know you meant start weeks ago, but life got in the way and now it seems like a daunting task. Let’s see if this helps.

What’s your favorite movie? What’s your favorite fictional story or book? Mine is Wizard of Oz. In fact, I have the DVD from Netflix and watched it five times over Christmas. What’s so great about this classic? It’s the same story with Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker – Hero Takes a Journey. In fact, the hero takes a journey and its cousin, stranger comes to town, are two themes that form the basis of most fictional books and movies. When hero’s bloom or stranger’s arrive, things start shaken.

From left to right, Clara Blandick, Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton and Charley Grapewin star in the MGM film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, 1939. In this scene, Almira Gulch arrives to take Dorothy’s dog Toto away for termination, after he bit her. (Photo by MGM Studios/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

You’re the hero in your essay and you are called to action. Dorothy was called to action when Miss Gulch took Toto. Harry Potter was called when Hogwarts accepted him even when he didn’t know he’d applied. If neither had responded to the call, there wouldn’t have been a movie, right?

Heroes face obstacles and challenges that must be overcome. Dorothy had to find her way to Oz and take the broom away from the Wicked Witch. Harry had to keep himself safe from those who wanted to kill him. Each learned something during their adventure. Both had external as well as internal growth. Harry gained the confidence in his abilities to defeat the dark powers. Dorothy learned that home was where she belonged.

You get the idea, right? You, the hero, take a journey in your essay. You don’t have to land in Oz or fly to Hogwarts to be a hero. Let me demonstrate with a sentence outline:

I used to work at a fast food restaurant and ate there every time I worked.

We used to put dull pennies in the hot sauce for a few minutes until they turned shiny.

We joked about what it was doing to our stomachs. (Call to Action) I became concerned.

I researched information about fast food for a school paper I had to write. (Begin journey) Boy, was I surprised at what I learned.

I quit. It took a while but I found a job in a natural grocery store so I could learn healthier eating.

I haven’t eaten fast food since. I lost twenty pounds and my acne cleared.

People noticed. I started talking about food choices and its impact on weight and skin. Some people made joked but others listened. (obstacles)

A few of us started bringing lunches and then started a nutrition club at our high school. We are working toward healthier food choices in the cafeteria. The cooks weren’t interested at first because they were used to their style of cooking. People from the natural grocery store came and gave training on healthier cooking.

I want to major in nutrition in college so I can continue helping people with healthy food choices. (resolution) Boy, I’m happy I learned about pennies in hot sauce.

Do you see that one event, putting pennies into hot sauce, started a chain of events that led to both external and internal changes? Bonus points for starting a club and bringing people from the community into the school. That demonstrated leadership and communication skills without blatantly writing that you’re a leader who knows how to communicate (It’s show, don’t tell).

Okay, what have you got? Doesn’t have to be big. The truth is it’s often the small things that provide big lessons. Where have you been called to adventure?

Dorothy learned home was where she wanted to be. Harry learned he had the courage to meet his fears.

Just to point this out in case you didn’t notice: I didn’t start with the essay. I wrote sentences, sixteen sentences, that formed a story foundation. From those sentences, I’ll add information and images to flesh out the essay. Truth is, with sixteen sentences I’m almost halfway finished. Colleges don’t want a book.

Last tip. Writing is rewriting. Once you’ve written sentences and added to them, let the paper rest. Come back and you’ll be surprised what you will want to add (and delete). Repeat three or four times to build your essay into one that stands out from the students who rushed through their writing. The application reader will know! And once you have this basic story, you will find you can shape it to fit most college application essays.

Why? They want personal stories about what makes you a hero.

Kira Janene Holt writes and blogs on college planning at Find her books on college planning at Ask her questions or suggest blog topics at or

Don’t Be Left in the Cold – College Admission Application Deadlines Fast Approaching

Don’t Be Left in the Cold – College Admission Application Deadlines Fast Approaching

Most Early Decision application deadlines have passed and even some colleges and universities regular deadlines are behind us, but there is still plenty of time to apply to most the nation’s colleges and universities. Applications may seem like a daunting task now that high school has started back after the winter break, especially if you are planning to apply to lots of colleges. Lucky for you technology has simplified the process, and you don’t have to find a typewriter (do they even make those anymore???) and fill out a paper application for each college. That’s like walking ten miles in snow to school.

The first application is the hardest since you must fill in everything. Save a copy so you can cut and paste to other applications. But, depending on the colleges of interest, there may be other ways to make this easier. There are several application consortiums where one application works for multiple schools. Here’s the list: The granddaddy of applications. It was even around in the pen and paper era. Almost 700 colleges and universities accept the Common Application. Many of the colleges are private, but there are public schools that accept it too. This year there are even 38 International colleges accepting one application. Note that in addition to the standard application, many colleges ask for additional information. This site is new competition to the Common Application (that’s my opinion). Over 90 colleges are participating and it’s growing every year, but the Coalition for Colleges doesn’t accept every school into their coalition. From their website, Coalition schools provide substantial support to lower–resourced and underrepresented students, offer responsible student financial aid support, and demonstrate a commitment to student graduation. Interested in attending a Historically Black College (HBC)? One application works for 50 HBCs. This isn’t an application sit. It’s Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and lists colleges where Hispanic students attend in substantial numbers. Want to attend college in Texas? One application works for all two and four-year public colleges and some private universities accept it too. Do University of California schools excite you? One application works for all the schools in their system Would you rather attend universities in the California State University system? They have their own application. State University of New York system has a common application.

Whew! That’s a list. There may be others. If you know of one that I’ve left off, please share it.

Here’s a tip when using any common application system: Change the Name of the College or University when cutting and pasting information for other schools. In other words, don’t tell one college you love it and get its name wrong. That’s a bad first date. Also, be sure to let you school counselor know all of the colleges you ‘re applying to.

If you’ve used one of these application systems, know of another state application system, or have experiences to share, please post so that others have that information too. Would love to know how these applications have worked for you, your students, or your kids.


Kira Janene Holt writes and blogs on college planning at Find her books on college planning at Ask her questions or suggest blog topics at or

Natchitoches, LA – Northwestern State University: A Town and University Worth Visiting

Natchitoches, LA – Northwestern State University: A Town and University Worth Visiting

Leaving Shreveport after celebrating an uncle’s 92nd birthday, I headed an hour south to Natchitoches, LA on a tip from one of the party attendees that Northwestern State University was a campus not to miss. I like to visit college campuses. I like to feel the vibes of a campus and see how the university interacts with the community. I am glad I went and plan to return to Natchitoches to spend time in what I found to be one of the most charming small towns I’ve visited. Natchitoches was voted #1 Best Southern Small Town by USA Today.


Natchitoches is the oldest town within the Louisiana Purchase territory, established in 1714, and its intact downtown stretches out along the Cane River, reminding one of a stroll through New Orleans French Quarters. Complete with B&Bs, their Christmas celebration was in full swing; shops, a basilica, and even a French fort are within walking of both downtown and NSU. NSU grounds were first a catholic school and then became the state’s normal college – that’s an old name for teacher’s college. What I found intriguing about the grounds were the mix of old buildings with new. Some colleges don’t strive to have the new buildings mesh with the architectural style of the old, but NSU managed to finesse the process. Their team mascot for Division I sports is the Demons – a bit ironic considering the school’s beginnings.


Admission for all students requires students to meet the Regent’s Core Curriculum, have a 2.35 high school GPA, and with these criteria met, no minimum ACT score is needed. Students must also need not more than one developmental course. They can have a 2.0 GPA with an ACT composite of 20. Out-of-State students can qualify for in-state tuition if students have a 2.75 GPA and a composite ACT score of 21 or SAT score of 990.


NSU awards a variety of scholarships based upon standardized test scores (ACT/SAT) and high school GPA. Performance scholarships are also awarded by class rank, GPA, standardized test scores, and participation in extracurricular activities. Scholarships are awarded via completing the FAFSA. NSU is also a Louisiana Scholars’ College, a comprehensive interdisciplinary honors curriculum in liberal arts and sciences. Find out more at There are multiple scholarship deadlines.

A Division I school, they compete in 14 sports. They have a new state-of-the-art wellness center. Dorms choices include on-campus apartment style residence halls and an on-campus apartment complex. Students under 21 are required to live on campus unless exempted, as are all students attending schools within the University of Louisiana system.


Cost of attendance is approximately $3400 a semester. Out-of-state not qualifying for in-state tuition can expect to add $8800/semester. An affordable education for students and parents!

Want to know more? Check them out at The woman who sent me to NSU knew what she was talking about when she said I should go check out the campus. If you’ve been to Natchitoches or attended NSU, please share your experiences.


Kira Janene Holt writes an blogs on college planning at Find her books on college planning at

LSU – Shreveport: A Campus on the Rise

LSU – Shreveport: A Campus on the Rise

On a recent trip for my uncle’s 92nd birthday, I snuck away to tour the Louisiana State University – Shreveport campus. The students had finished their finals and left town as I walked the southern, landscaped lawns almost exclusively alone. A few students popped up and I found friendly staff members to answer questions.lsus1

LSU – Shreveport is a new relatively new campus – established in 1967, and the buildings are clustered together inside a road that circles campus with parking close to all buildings. That is except for dorms and LSUS Health Science Center. The dorms are located between the main campus and the hospital that houses the health sciences. Outside this loop road, as well as inside the ring, are magnificent, ancient trees with branches that stretch out almost touching the ground. Think southern, subtropical landscaping with trees lining walkways and lush, flowering plants even into early December.

LSU – Shreveport offers twenty-five undergraduate degrees and twelve graduate degrees, with several MBA specialties online. While touring, I stumbled into the Noel Memorial Library. Wow! The third floor had an exhibit on the magic of children’s books. What I found was the complete collection of James Smith Noel’s rare books on permanent loan to the library. The earliest book dated back to the 1400’s and people come from all over the world to look through the collection.

Admission and financial aid deadlines are generous. Tuition and fees for in-state students are affordable at approximately $3600/semester. Great news is students from out-of-state can qualify for in-state tuition with a 20 or higher on their ACT (or SAT equivalent), have a cumulative high school GPA of 2.0 or higher, and have no need for remedial coursework. That’s a bargain for freshmen, and students can transfer in with eighteen hours or more and receive the same deal. There are multiple scholarships available with deadlines of July 1, prior to fall enrollment.


I didn’t tour the dorms, but they looked nice from the outside and the literature about them looked good. 875 square feet for either two or four students! They even have spaces for individuals, and all the apartment-style living quarters have full kitchens.

LSU-Shreveport is close to Barksdale Air Force Base and waives fees for the military. They offer day, evening, and online classes to be flexible to meet all their students’ needs. The university even offers accelerated 8-week classes so students can complete their degrees faster.


Want to learn more about LSU – Shreveport?


If you’ve attended LSU-Shreveport, please share your experiences.


Kira Janene Holt writes and blogs on college planning at Find her books on college planning at