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Growing up in East Palo Alto — a Bay Area city once best known as the murder capital of the nation — Mar Y Sol Alvarado realized the importance of doing well in school.
Unlike many of her classmates, Alvarado managed to connect the dots between her aspirations and her reality. She graduated from nearby Menlo-Atherton High School with a 3.9 grade point average, nearly perfect, earning a full-ride scholarship to nearby Menlo College, a four-year business school. But when she arrived on campus, she discovered her nearly perfect academic record really hadn’t prepared her for the rigors of college work. Suddenly, the A student was struggling, not understanding her homework, and bringing home B’s and C’s.
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“I was ashamed to realize how many times I had to read the same section over and over to comprehend,” recalls Alvarado, now 30. By the end of her first semester, she had a 2.5 GPA and she was reeling from her fall from academic grace. She remembers calling her former high school counselor and crying about how difficult college was.
“I felt so lost,” she says.
Alvarado is not alone. About half of first-year college students discover that, despite excellent GPAs and getting into college, they are not ready for continued studies after high school, according to The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Taking college-prep courses, earning high school diplomas, and passing state high-school exit exams — none of it is sufficient to ensure that these students are actually ready for college work.
I felt dumb. I felt like I didn’t fit in,” Alvarado says.
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It may not surprise us to hear that many less-than-stellar high school students struggle when they get to college classes. But Alvarado earned top marks in high school. Shouldn’t the A students at least be assured of college readiness?