Preparing High School Students for University


By Fiona Clyne

One should enter higher education fully cognisant that one will proceed on a path towards  higher order analysis and thinking enabling one to contribute in society and ultimately instill changes in one’s environment for the betterment of humanity as a whole (Cote & Allahar, 2011). Reflecting back on my past, I perceived university as a means to employment. I had a consumer-product mentality (Calingo, 2013). I was not provided with the necessary insight of the demands of what a university education would entail. I did not have the right mind-set because I was not prepared (Cote & Allahar, 2011).

How did I develop my erroneous reasoning? Was I misdirected? Actually, I was not directed at all. I explored careers, volunteered, visited university campuses and attended school marketing campaigns; however, this did not provide adequate insight into university. I was the first generation to attend university; my parents had no knowledge of what was involved and could not help me in this regard. My teachers and counsellors did not provide any guidance or direction. I had no concept of the demands of higher education; this became quickly evident upon entering first year. In addition to having the stress of being away from home and being independent, it was overwhelming trying to maneuver a new environment, manage responsibilities and handle the workload.

The academic skill set needed in university is more advanced than in high school (Jansen, & van der Meer, 2012).   The structure provided in high school to nurture the learning process disappears in university giving way to a highly independent environment (Gibney, Moore, Murphy & O’Sullivan, 2011). Although I graduated, I wonder what would have made my transition from high school to university easier. Cote & Allahar (2011) emphasized the responsibility high schools have in preparing students for university and purported that change should be instilled by teachers as they have the closest proximity to student related issues. Perhaps if I received more support and guidance from my teachers and counsellors, I would have had a more accurate perception of the expectations of university.

Aside from one’s residence, students spend a large amount of time in school; guidance from teachers/counsellors to provide information and insight is crucial in preparing students for their future. Despite this, few high school students utilize guidance services or find them to be effective in future planning (Bloxom, Bernes, Magnusson, Gun, Bardick, Orr & McKnight, 2008). Bardick, Bernes, Magnusson & Witko (2004) found that students gravitate to people they trust for advice, thus teachers and counsellors need to be proactive and build stronger relations with students in order increase approachability.

Students need the support and direction from their teachers/counsellors to provide a realistic insight into university.  Attending a university marketing campaign and finding out about courses or programs is not an adequate portrayal of the academics and demands. Research shows that students who receive support in high school are able to adjust better in post-secondary pursuits (Hudley, Moschetti, Gonzalez, Barry, & Kelly, 2009) and are more successful in graduating (Walker, Downey & Cox-Henderson, 2010).

High schools have a vested interest in preparing students as they are accountable to the taxpaying public and the government. Universities also benefit from retaining their students as it impacts funding, future employment for staff and campus creditability (O’Rourke, 2013). Therefore all parties, students, high schools and universities have a stake in ensuring students are prepared for the pursuit of higher education. Educators need to identify and implement specific protocols to support high school students with gaining insight into academics at a university level. The role of parents and universities in this process should also be examined in order to promote a holistic support network for students. Moving from high school into university can be a stressful. Having an awareness of what to expect enables one to feel more prepared and can ease this transition.


Bardick, A. D., Bernes, K. B., Magnusson, K. C., & Witko, K. D. (2004).  Junior high career planning: what students want.  Canadian Journal of Counselling, 38(2), 104-117.

Bloxom, J. M., Bernes, K. B., Magnusson, K. C., Gunn, T. T., Bardick, A. D., Orr, D. T., & McKnight, K. M. (2008).  Canadian Journal of Counselling, 42(2), 79-100.

Calingo, L. M. R. (2013).  The arms race in higher ed: From both sides now.  Huffington Post.

Cote, J. E., & Allahar, A. L. (2011).  Lowering higher education:  the rise of corporate universities and the fall of liberal education. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press.

Gibney, A., Moore, N., Nurphy, F., & O’Sullivan, S. (2011).  The first semester of university life; ‘will I be able to manage it all?’.  Higher Education, 62(3), 351-366.

Hudley, C., Moschetti, R., Gonzalez, A., Su-Je, C., Barry, L., & Kelly, M. (2009).  College freshmen’s perceptions of their high school experiences. Journal of Advanced Academics, 20(3), 438-471.

Jansen, E. P. W.A. & van der Meer, J. (2012).  Ready for university? A cross-national study of students’ perceived preparedness for university.  Australian Educational Researcher, 39(1), 1-16.

O’Rourke, C. (2013). Every student counts.  In M. Kompf, & P. M. Denicolo (Eds.), Critical issues in higher education: The future of learning and teaching  (pp. 67-81). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishing

Walker, D.A., Downey, P., & Cox-Henderson, J. (2010).  REAL camp:  a school-university collaboration to promote post-secondary educational opportunities among high school students.  The Educational Forum, 74, 297-304.



2 thoughts on “Preparing High School Students for University

  1. I agree there is a lack of preparation for High school students transitioning into University and I don’t think there is a simple answer to this problem. A 2009 study out of Queens University showed that 60% of high school graduates attended postsecondary education of which 34% attended University, 20% attended College, and 6% enrolled in Apprenticeship (Ontario, et al., 2009). This means there are still 40% of graduates not attending postsecondary at all. I think instead of focusing on programs to prepare students for University we need to look at better guidance of students into the appropriate opportunities upon graduation.

    Students interviewed in the Who doesn’t go to post secondary education? (2009) study identified a few themes. Reasons for not attending post secondary education (PSE) included Uncertainty of career path, financial concerns with tuition rates, and dissatisfaction with secondary school education. Students also identified reasons for pursuing PSE, which included realizing lack of career opportunities without PSE, finding career interest through work experience, less concern for financial issues, role models who found success after PSE. There generally was a lack of knowledge in the students part of what PSE would be like and what benefits it may entail.

    Recommendations from the Who doesn’t go to post secondary education? (2009) study focused primarily on school to PSE preparation courses. I am curious if this could be an elective of its own in which students participate in the class in a more individualized learning plan focused on the students interests and academic standings facilitated by teachers and perhaps including coop experience and guest speakers. I think this should be a mandatory class in grade 11 to help students better choose their destination post graduation. Their would definitely need to be a Grade 9 orientation to PSE options to open up students to the possibilities, this could be done through a PSE prep day similar to career fair where there are booths and talks given by graduates from a variety of programs university, college, and apprenticeship as well as workplaces.

    This is not a simple problem to face, but it is definitely an area needing further research and innovation in order to better prepare our high school graduates.

    Ontario, C., King, A. J. C., Warren, W. K., King, M. A., Brook, J. E., & Kocher, P. R. (2009). Who Doesn’t Go To Post-Secondary Education?.

  2. Fiona,
    Thank you for your reflection on this topic – an issue I think many of us can relate to and a concern that requires attention and action from all stakeholders. In reading your post, I realize we had similar experiences regarding our transition from high-school to post-secondary. Also being a first generation student and only child of five to attend university, my decision to pursue higher education was completely my own – exempt of any family pressure and completely void of adequate secondary school guidance or direction. While my parents were proud and helped to encourage my academic venture in all ways they could or knew how (with moral and financial support), I do recall a personal sense of under-preparedness and lack of understanding regarding the demands of higher education. I was no longer able to rely on the guidance, knowledge or leadership of my closest kinship – something that until this point I had always depended upon. Like many of my student colleagues, there were challenges and hardships – the transition was anything but seamless, and nor did I expect it to be; reflecting, I think the challenge helped me to make meaning of my PSE experience and helped to identify my sense of self efficacy. I can’t say however that I never felt ‘cheated’ or that I didn’t resent the lack of assistance and provision my high school offered. Other than one grade 9 initial guidance meeting, there was very limited academic and career counseling support – no follow up assistance or mention of first-generation considerations…simply no accountability – both for students and administration. We were pooled into either “advanced” or “general” courses, so our future pathways were pretty well determined by grade 10, with no prior skill or interest assessment. I too had no true sense of the purpose of PSE, other than the assumption that university would/should guarantee me a well-paying career – this unfortunately being my only clear sense of direction and motivation.

    So here I am, six years post-grad, climbed my way up the metaphorical corporate ladder; I landed my sought after “dream job” and am comfortably situated in my (evolving) career. It wasn’t until beginning my MEd last fall that I realized that the purpose of higher education deserves further consideration and prospective students deserve a right to know. Yet, this knowledge gap continues to exist.

    Fiona, you allude to some significant considerations. Where does the responsibility of student-preparedness lie? What resources are lacking and who is accountable for a student’s successful transition from high-school to post-secondary? Moreover I question, what are the most referenced barriers associated with student under-preparedness and what studies exist to demonstrate proactive approaches to student PSE success? I think we could further benefit from further research focused on how student under-preparedness influences PSE completion and student attrition rates. I would recommend Ozga & Suckhnandan’s (1998) study for reference:

    Ken – I fully agree and support your point with regards to guiding students toward appropriate or diverse post high-school graduate opportunities. I would however argue that this still requires a sense of preparedness, and similar issues about when, who and where would still exist. Your suggestions seem well research and supported!

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