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‘COVID Cohort’ of College-Bound High School Seniors Report High Levels of Academic, Social, and Personal Preparation for College

Graduating seniors call for greater transparency about admissions timelines and processes

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Nearly nine in 10 (86%) college-bound high school seniors felt academically prepared for the rigors of college, according to survey results released today by ACT, the nonprofit organization that administers the college readiness exam. However, students also say they need more preparation for and insight into the college admissions process.

“Overall, students say they’re ready for the many challenges of college, but the admissions process remains confusing and opaque even for those who say they’re prepared,” ACT CEO Janet Godwin said. “Our research shows that college preparation activities help students feel more prepared, and that getting support in school makes a big difference. Integrating college preparation into the school day and making learning about the admissions process a normal part of high school will help more students find a path to and through college.”

ACT’s survey focused on the college and career preparation of students from the class of 2023, who were in their first year of high school when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S. The results build on a recent ACT report on high school seniors in the “COVID cohort” who said the pandemic affected their college or career choices.

Overall, most high school seniors felt academically prepared, with a large majority (86%) feeling very or mostly prepared to earn Bs or higher grades in most college courses. A similar percentage (85%) rated themselves very or mostly prepared for keeping up with the work required in college, such as studying and attending classes and labs. Eight out of 10 students also felt very or mostly prepared for accessing academic resources such as the library and office hours.

But students said they wished they had received more support to better prepare for certain aspects of college, including expanded application information, timely preparation guidance, and direction on preparing application materials.

“I wish my school told every student the steps to applying to college with recommended deadlines. If a student didn’t go out of their way to attend a college app boot camp like I did, they don’t know all the steps to apply,” one high school senior shared. “I have to explain so many things to my friends who don’t have the information they need.”

Another added, “I wish we would have talked about college before senior year. We are just starting to talk about it and it’s almost time to apply but some people don’t even have any idea of where they want to go because they didn’t know where to look.”

“Though students say they’re prepared for college, they find the application process daunting, showing the critical role school counselors play in supporting students’ college preparedness,” Jill Cook, executive director of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), said. “Collaborating with students, families, and teachers, school counselors work to ensure all students develop an academic and career plan reflecting their interests, abilities, and goals. They also help ensure students engage in rigorous, relevant coursework and experiences that support their postsecondary plans.”

Compared to academic, social, and personal preparedness, financial preparedness had relatively low ratings among high school seniors. Less than half (47%) reported they were very or mostly prepared when it came to being able to pay their tuition, and 49% felt very or mostly prepared for managing their own finances. About one-quarter of students (ranging from 21% to 26%) reported they were only slightly prepared or not prepared at all to accomplish financial tasks in their first year of college.

Visit Supports Key to the College Preparation of Students From the COVID Cohort to view the full report.

Key Findings:
  • Most high school seniors felt academically prepared for college. A large majority (86%) felt very or mostly prepared for earning Bs or higher grades in most college courses.
  • Students in urban areas were more likely than students in towns or rural areas to say that school staff helped them understand college application requirements.
  • A majority of college-bound students felt socially and personally prepared. Almost two-thirds (64%) rated themselves very or mostly prepared for making friends during their first semester in college, and 63% reported that they were very or mostly prepared for finding an extracurricular activity that they wanted to do. More than three-quarters (77%) reported they were very or mostly prepared for applying the life skills necessary to succeed in college, such as doing laundry and shopping for food. About two-thirds (65%) felt very or mostly prepared for managing their time to meet multiple demands.
  • Students taking four or more college credit-bearing courses in high school considered themselves more academically and personally prepared than students taking three or fewer of these types of courses. But 29% took fewer than four courses, and 11% took none. One out of five students from low-income families reported that they did not take any college credit-bearing courses, compared to one out of 10 students who were not from low-income families.
  • Of the surveyed students who had taken a college credit-bearing course in high school, such as Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or dual/concurrent enrollment, more than half took up to six credit-bearing courses.
Key Recommendations. ASCA and ACT’s American College Application Campaign (ACAC) provided recommendations for better supporting college-bound students based on the findings of this research study:

  • Incorporate timely college preparation guidance as part of regular course planning and provide students access to personalized college counseling and advising.
  • Create a comprehensive postsecondary planning program that includes guidance on good-fit college, major, and career options.
  • Build in discussions about good-fit choices during typical activities occurring throughout the school year, such as family-teacher conferences and career fairs.
  • Expand and vary the delivery of college preparation supports to afford students more opportunities to obtain college application and related information that resonates with them.
  • Incorporate peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities to give seniors the chance to share their college and career planning experiences with younger students.
  • Create opportunities during the school day for all juniors to develop a preliminary college list.
  • Help prepare college applications and help every senior create an application checklist.
  • Provide time and space for all seniors to complete and submit their college applications and schedule application activities in the fall of senior year, during the school day.

About ACT
ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Grounded in more than 60 years of research, ACT is a trusted leader in college and career readiness solutions. Each year, ACT serves millions of students, job seekers, schools, government agencies and employers in the U.S. and around the world with learning resources, assessments, research, and credentials designed to help them succeed from elementary school through career. Visit us at

Contact: Allie Ciaramella;