You don’t need to visit this Web site to know – or easily guess – that a high school diploma requires a certain number of completed courses for credit, a figure that varies across the country.

That makes sense, of course. There has to be some sort of minimum bar that all students meet in order to receive their high school diploma.

But according to On Course for Success, a 2005 study from ACT and The Education Trust, not only is taking the right number of courses important, but taking the right kind of courses is critical to student readiness for college.

We’d like to share some of the findings of this ACT-The Education Trust study with you, so that you as a parent can understand what these “right kind” of courses are, as well as learn what are the components within those courses that can put students On Course for Success.

In general, the right kind of courses to set your child up for college success are those which offer the greatest rigor, both in the content of what is studied and in the manner in which the course is taught. On Course for Success found that the very best high school courses:

  • are filled with college-oriented content;
  • are presented by qualified and experienced teachers;
  • are offered in a teaching style that is flexible and responsive to students; and
  • are always in a context that provides extra student support when needed.


The components of these courses are also very important, and this information should be shared with students and parents in a comprehensive and well-organized course syllabus. Such a syllabus should contain:

  • a course description or overview with clearly states goals and purposes;
  • an outline with topics and themes of study, including a clear calendar with reading/writing or other work requirements;
  • required course materials such as textbooks or mathematical tools;
  • an easy-to-follow description of class policies, dealing with issues such as attendance requirements, homework and classroom rules/expectations;
  • a grading policy primer, with information on how grades will be determined, how work will be assessed, etc.;
  • where applicable, more extensive course procedures should be explained, especially for courses that require lab work or team projects;
  • a personal statement from the instructor on what he or she is hoping to accomplish and what his or her expectations are for the students; and
  • additional relevant information such as school-related work opportunities and extra help options.


On Course for Success set out to answer this question: What are the characteristics of high school courses that prepare students for successful entry into postsecondary education? The goal of the study is to be instructive to anyone concerned with helping students move confidently from high school to college. An encouraging part of the study is that ACT and The Education Trust intend it to be helpful not just to school administrators, educational practitioners, teachers, policymakers and community leaders, but also, as they state at the outset, “for parents and students themselves who want to know how to plan for the future during and after high school.”

That’s you. And that’s one of the many reasons why College Parents of America wanted to bring this valuable study to your attention. We applaud ACT and The Education Trust for their work.

So now what should you do? We can’t say it any better than the study itself which, as part of concluding recommendations says two things to parents:

  1. Advocate to have your child enrolled in higher-level courses; and
  2. Advocate for more rigorous college-oriented courses to be offered in your school or within your school district, using this report as a springboard.