PUBLISHED: 1:22 PM on Wednesday, October 5, 2005
Bridging the 'Ambition Gap'
Most teenagers see a college degree as necessary for getting ahead in life, according to a recent CBS news poll, but you wouldn't know that if you looked at how they prepare themselves for college and careers while in high school. The so-called "ambition gap" shows that students say they want to attend college, but for one reason or another, they don't take the right classes to succeed.

Consider that more than one-third of the students who take the ACT college entrance exam report that they have not taken-and are not planning to take-high-level courses such as trigonometry, pre-calculus, chemistry, and physics. These are students who, for the most part, plan to go to college because they are taking a college entrance exam.

Parents should start by talking to students when they are in middle school, even elementary school, about college. Talk about why a college education is important. Students may understand the main message such as "get a college education," but the details don't sink in. A friend of mine learned the importance of filling in the blanks for her junior high son when she discussed why getting good grades in school is necessary. He didn't understand that what he learns now affects how prepared he will be for college.

Many parents of today's teenagers grew up when a high school diploma could land you a decent job with the possibility of moving up within a company. Now, that's very seldom the case. Almost all of the jobs expected to grow the most in the coming years require some kind of training or education after high school. Not to mention that in purely monetary terms, college graduates make nearly a million dollars more over their lifetimes than people who only have a high school diploma, and it goes up even more as they receive professional or advanced degrees.

Talk to your student's teachers and counselors to make sure they are taking the most challenging courses they can handle. Research shows that taking at least one upper level math class, such as trigonometry or pre-calculus, or taking a physics class can improve a student's preparedness for college biology and college algebra.

Parents can help their students choose their classes as early as middle school to make sure they are on the right track. If you don't know what your student needs, talk to your student's guidance counselor. The "ambition gap" is wide, but with the right guidance from their parents, teachers and counselors, students can bridge that gap to move on to college success.

Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT.