Starting College

Welcome to the student section of Adult Basic Skills Professional Development's online course entitled Be Prepared! A Guide to College Success. Based on interviews with college instructors and administrators from across the United States, this course will help you understand what college is really like so you will be ready for success.


Upon completion of the course, students will understand:

  • What the college placement test is and how to prepare for it
  • How college is different from high school/adult basic skills
  • What a college curriculum class is like
  • The expectations college instructors have for their students
  • What study skills college students should know
  • The academic skills college students need to learn

As you move through each section, you will find questions to focus your learning. They will help organize your thoughts and integrate this new material into your current knowledge. All the questions can be found in the Student Reflection Guide, a Word document you can download to put in your answers and notes. Student Reflection Guide. Let's get started learning more about what you can expect as you transition to college!

Why College?

Most of the good paying jobs our parents and grandparents were able to get right out of high school no longer exist. Surviving in today's economy demands more than a GED or AHS. To earn enough money to support a family, you need a postsecondary credential. This could be a one semester certificate program, one year diploma program, or two year associate degree program. There are many programs available at your college including medical assisting, welding, food service, pharmacy technician, and cosmetology.

I'm the First in My Family to Go to College!

Congratulations on wanting to be the first in your family to go to college! Here is some advice to guide you as you take this important step:

Reflection 1: Why is it so important for you to have a postsecondary credential?

Reflection 2: If you are the first in your family to go to college, what did you learn from the video that will help you?

Your Guide to the College Placement Test (CPT)

Before registering for classes in a college credit program of study, you are required to take either the Compass or Accuplacer college placement test (CPT). These tests will put you in certain courses based on your current ability level. You will either place into college level courses (course numbers beginning with 100 such as CIS 110) or developmental courses (course numbers below 100 such as Math 070).

Developmental classes are designed to prepare you for college level courses and you must pass these courses before taking college classes. Depending on your score, you may have to take from one semester to two years of developmental classes before beginning college level classes.

The chart below shows how a student placing in the lowest level of developmental classes would spend most of their first three college semesters taking non-credit developmental classes (the classes in blue print). Of the 44 credits earned in the first year and one half of college, only 8 would count as college credit toward a credential.

First Semester Second Semester Third Semester
Math 60 Math 70 Math 80
Reading 70 Reading 80 Reading 90
English 70 English 80 English 90
ACA 111 MUS 110 CIS 110
Semester Credits: 14 Semester Credits: 15 Semester Credits: 15
College Credits: 2 College Credits: 3 College Credits: 3

Placing in developmental classes makes it much harder to reach your goal. Studies have found that taking more than one year of developmental classes means you are far less likely to earn a certificate, diploma, or degree. Less than one in four students enrolling in any developmental course end up completing a credential within eight years of starting college. Now that you know more about developmental courses, what can you do to take as few of them as possible?

These next few sections will help you understand how to do your best on the CPT.

Reflection 3: What is the purpose of the college placement test (CPT)?

Reflection 4: How does the number of developmental classes a student needs to take affect how long it will take them to complete a postsecondary credential?

Understanding Computer Adaptive Tests

Both Compass and Accuplacer are taken on the computer. There are free study guides and practice tests available on the Internet for both tests that your instructor can help you find. The placement tests are adaptive, meaning that the difficulty level of each question changes based on whether you answer the previous question correctly or incorrectly. Getting the last question right will give you a harder question, missing the last question will give you an easier question. You cannot go back and change answers, so it is important to take time and eliminate answers you know are wrong and take your best guess. Unlike the GED, the CPT is untimed so take all the time you need.

Doing Your Best on the CPT

We know you are anxious to start college! But spending time making sure you are ready to place into college level classes will save you months of extra work and thousands of dollars. Your instructor will help you review reading, writing, and math skills. You will also have a chance to practice taking tests similar to the CPT. Here are some other things to think about:

Reflection 5: How does a computer adaptive test work?

Reflection 6: What are three specific things you can do to score your best on the CPT?

Reflection 7: What are the advantages to re-taking the CPT?