Three Ways to Build College Knowledge in High School

by Kerry Friedman
October 27, 2020

(Repost of a June 27, 2019 post on the REL Appalachia Blog. REL AP serves educators in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia to support use of data and evidence to improve academic outcomes for students.)

Photo of Student Meeting With Counselor

The college application and transition process can be overwhelming for young adults, particularly for first-generation college-goers. Students who are accepted to college can easily wander off the pathway from high school to eventual postsecondary degree attainment. Between 10% and 40% of students accepted to college do not show up to campus in the fall,1 and only about half of first-time degree-seeking students earn a degree in 6 years.

One strategy for keeping students on the path between high school and postsecondary success is to build “college knowledge,” the skills and knowledge needed to engage with and navigate the application process, transition to postsecondary institutions, and participate in the college experience.2 College knowledge includes an understanding of the options that exist beyond high school, requirements for applying to and financing postsecondary education, campus expectations and norms, supports postsecondary institutions offer, and many other aspects of going to college or pursuing additional credentials.

Below are three ways schools and districts can help students in their postsecondary transition by building their exposure to and understanding of the college context and requirements. 3, 4

College Knowledge Resources

Interested in learning more and finding tools to empower students with college knowledge? Here are resources to share with students and families to support college knowledge.

  • College Preparation Checklist. This to-do list is designed to help students and families prepare academically and financially for education beyond high school.
  • The College Knowledge Materials. This webpage from the Washington College Access network provides resources for students in grades 9—12 on the following topics: All About College & Career, Getting Ready, College Bound Scholarship, Paying for College, Applying for College, and Enrolling in College.
  • State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Website. This webpage includes resources for students and families in Virginia on preparing for college. Many of the resources are also useful outside Virginia.
  • KnowHow2Go. This website has information and resources to encourage students and veterans to prepare for college, including advice and success stories.

These resources provide more information and considerations for counselors and college access providers on supporting students to build college knowledge.


1 Castleman, B. L., & Page, L. C. (2014). A trickle or a torrent? Understanding the extent of summer “melt” among college-intending high school graduates. Social Science Quarterly, 95(1), 202–220.

2 ConnectEd: California Center for College and Career. (2012). College and career readiness: What do we Mean? Author.

3 Barnett, E. (2016). Building student momentum from high school into college. Ready or not: It’s time to rethink the 12th grade. Jobs For the Future.

4 Page, L. C., & Scott-Clayton, J. (2016). Improving college access in the United States: Barriers and policy responses. Economics of Education Review, 51, 4–22. 02.009.