Taking a Holistic Approach to College and Career Readiness

Since 2012, the number of underrepresented students taking the ACT® test has increased by 26%, with the number of those students who aspire to attain a postsecondary education continuing to grow.

Unfortunately, the number of these students meeting the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks remains low and, in some cases, has even decreased. This is a concern because the benchmarks assess how likely a student is to pass an entry-level college course in core subjects (i.e., English and Math).

Students’ desire to continue learning is considerable. Their preparedness for college is not.

This “achievement gap” cannot shrink by solely focusing on a student’s core academic skills. ACT research shows that it can be better addressed by taking a more holistic approach. ACT has identified four essential domains—core academic skills, behavioral skills, cross-cutting capabilities, and education and career navigation—that prepare a student for success in college and their career. Below are explanations and the importance of the lesser known domains within ACT’s Holistic Framework:

Behavioral Skills

A variety of behavioral skills—acting honestly, open-mindedness, maintaining composure, sustaining effort, and getting along with others—are essential for educational and workplace success. By defining and accurately assessing students’ behavioral skills, we can have a more comprehensive profile of their strengths and areas of need, and can intervene with those individuals who need support to improve their chances of success. These behavior skills are foundational for a range of more complex skills and to achieve a variety of desired outcomes (e.g., engagement, achieving good grades, persisting to degree completion).

Cross-Cutting Capabilities

These include the general knowledge and skills that extend and enhance students’ abilities to succeed in a global society rich with both information and opportunity. These cross-cutting capabilities are comprised of a set of transferrable skills that facilitate learning and the application of that learning. When combined with behaviors and the knowledge and skills of the core academic contents, cross-cutting capabilities can empower students to fulfill their potential as effective and creative knowledge seekers, communicators, and problem solvers. These skills include areas such as collaborative problem solving, technology skills and thinking skills. Unfortunately, research has shown differences in some cross-cutting capabilities based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or gender, particularly in technology and information literacy. The skills found in ACT’s Holistic Framework could help shrink this “digital divide” and make it more likely for students to be prepared for postsecondary and workforce settings.

Education and Career Navigation

Education and Career Navigation acts like a GPS that guides you along a chosen path to your goal, using self-knowledge, environmental factors, integration, and managing career and education actions. Education and career navigation needs to be a priority for individuals across institutions and organizations if they are to make more informed education and career choices, and build plans they can achieve. A more holistic approach that incorporates individuals’ education and career planning could go a long way toward helping to close the achievement gap, to connect individuals with good fit education and career options, and to create a better prepared and more satisfied workforce.

Success is multidimensional and requires knowledge and skills beyond those covered by core academic subjects. Preparing for success needs to take other key domains into account. This is particularly important if we are to help underrepresented learners fulfill their potential. We invite you to attend a series of webinars to learn more about ACT’s Holistic Framework and how it can help students and workers better prepare for success in life.

Considering the Whole Student: Better Preparation for Success


March 28 – for K-12 Educators & Administrators

March 29 – for Postsecondary Professionals

March 30 – for Workforce Professionals

Time: Noon EST / 9 a.m. PST

Duration: 60 minutes

Sign Me Up

For questions, please contact Cade Scott in Client Relations Cade.Scott@act.org

The webinar will be recorded. If you register and cannot attend, you will receive the link to the recorded webinar.