College Prep vs. Work Prep: What's the Difference? Blog Feature
Sarah Layton

By: Sarah Layton on July 7th, 2015

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College Prep vs. Work Prep: What's the Difference?

Career Readiness | College

Are your business education classes directed towards workplace prep or college prep? Should there be a distinction? If so, what should it be, and to whom should each path be directed and encouraged?

The research review, "The Essence of College Readiness: Implications for Students, Parents, Schools, and Researchers" says:

"Today’s high school graduates must possess the skills and knowledge to adapt rapidly to the ever-changing landscape of a knowledge-based economy...Thus, for today’s students, there is little difference in being “workforce ready” versus “college ready.”

A little later in the review, the researchers seem to back up that statement, by defining college readiness as "the level of preparation a student needs to be ready to enroll and succeed in postsecondary institutions or gain viable employment."

You see that "or" in that definition? I thought you did, but I wanted to make sure.

All that being said...Are your business education courses geared toward college prep or workplace readiness?

This was the gist of the chat "Teaching in #busedu… Workplace Readiness vs. College Prep" on February 4th, 2015.

Work readiness vs. college prep

I wasn't terribly surprised to find after reading the entirety of the chat that most of the contributors didn't really make that their courses. In fact, when asked "What % of your school’s classes are primarily Work Ready focused & what % are Coll Prep focused," a typical answer was along these lines:

college prep

There were exceptions to that, of course, but the majority didn't recognize a distinction within their business education courses.

What followed though, showed that even though there is little distinction in course offerings for college prep versus workplace readiness, those who teach it obviously understand the differences. Or did they?

What determines workplace readiness vs. college prep?

So if business education teachers distinguish between the two, in most cases, why don't their courses reflect that?

Well, there are a number of reasons.

One of the most interesting I saw was in reference to neither students nor teachers:

college prep

Are parents really driving this? And if they are driving this, what else are they influencing? That's an interesting question for another post, for sure (mentally filing that away)! It certainly did catch my attention, though.

But is the real reason we see no distinction between college and career readiness because there is none?

Why are students interested in career readiness and essential life skills?

Let's take a closer look at what students are actually looking for. Another question posed to the group was: "Why do you think students take classes in your building? What are they expecting more, work prep or college prep? "

My favorite answer was this:

college prep

I had to chuckle because in my mind, this sounds just about right...hopefully get an idea where you want to head with your career (workplace or college) and how to manage all that money you'll be making when you get there! (Or even how to finance that education while you get there?)

Examples of life skills important for college and careers

So what do business teachers consider the most important life skills in regards to college and career prep?

There were some great answers here. Answers that make me want to go enroll my kids in these teachers' classes! Seriously, who doesn't want their kid in this classroom:

college prep

Other great skills the teachers mentioned included:

  • The 4 C's - communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity.
  • The "soft" skills are so important.
  • Either 1. Interpersonal skills or 2. Taking initiative without needing hand holding.
  • Problem solving & reflection.
  • They are so good at "playing school" which is so far from "playing life"!! Helping them learn to fail productively is key!
  • Most important is the ability to communicate properly.
  • Good old hard work and persistence never goes out of style.

And how do you assess these skills? The consensus among these teachers seemed to be that it's nearly impossible to assess these skills. Several suggested something more closely resembling a job performance evaluation, which I think is genius in this scenario!

Workplace skills to integrate into any business education class

The final question in the chat was "What kinds of workplace ready skills can you incorporate in any class?" This talented group of teachers had ready answers, including:

  • Using real world problems/simulations. Allow students to work together to solve.
  • Presentation skills, collaboration, writing skills, critical thinking, project management and leadership, problem solving
  • Collaboration. Self guided learning. Planning / evaluating, Self monitoring / accountability. Response to failure (RTF) skills.
  • Accountability, collaboration, time management

And the best workplace ready skills answer is guessed it, Gerri Kimble, with:

college prep

I'm starting to think that everyone could use a semester in Gerri Kimble's class! What a wonderful world it would be to encounter colleagues, associates, and adversaries that all learned these important lessons.

What's with the "vs."?!

After playing at both angles and reading comments from teachers and research by experts, my conclusion is that the two are essentially the same.

Whether you enter the workforce immediately from high school or CTE or continue your education all the way to a Ph.D., the goal is the be successful in your workplace role. Today's students need to be taught so many of these essential workplace readiness skills.

They aren't going learn them IN college or IN the workplace. And so it seems to me that it is critical that both college prep and workplace prep be taught at a time where those paths are about to divide, ensuring all future employees have been exposed to this curriculum.

I just don't see a "vs." here. Do you?


About Sarah Layton

Sarah has been with AES since 1998, first serving as a curriculum developer, and now as a customer support analyst and content creator. She is committed to helping instructors gain experience and confidence using our solutions and to providing excellent customer care.