Confident in Their College Prep

Fall 2016

By Amada Torres

Every year, the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA conducts The Freshman Survey, a national longitudinal study that covers a wide range of student characteristics — from secondary school achievement and activities to educational and career plans to values, attitudes, beliefs, and self-concept. To identify the academic and personal development of independent school students during their last year in high school, NAIS asked HERI to create a special report based on the 2015 Freshman Survey results.

Compared with all college freshmen, independent school graduates reported entering postsecondary studies with more skills and experiences that can help them succeed in their new educational setting. For instance, when all students were asked about activities they performed frequently during their last year in high school, a higher percentage of independent school graduates noted being asked to support their opinions with logical arguments (70 percent vs. 61 percent) and to ask questions in class (67 percent vs. 55 percent). They also spent more time during their last year in high school integrating skills and knowledge from different sources and experiences (65 percent vs. 58 percent), seeking solutions to problems and explaining them to others (63 percent vs. 56 percent), and seeking alternative solutions to a problem (52 percent vs. 48 percent).

The HERI report also reveals that independent schools students develop close relationships with their teachers during their high school senior year. More independent school graduates reported asking teachers for advice after class (92 percent vs. 86 percent) and talking with teachers outside of class (96 percent vs. 89 percent). Students also anticipated continuing this type of relationship with their professors at college. Forty-six percent of independent school graduates expected to communicate regularly with professors, compared to 41 percent of all other students.

Students were also asked to rate themselves in comparison with the average person their age on several skills. A higher percentage of independent school graduates rated themselves above average or in the highest 10 percent in critical-thinking skills (28 percent vs. 22 percent), problem-solving skills (28 percent vs. 24 percent), time-management skills (20 percent vs. 17 percent), foreign-language skills (17 percent vs. 12 percent), interpersonal skills (21 percent vs. 16 percent), and knowledge of people from different races/cultures (18 percent vs. 12 percent).

When weighing the importance of various factors in their decision to attend college, independent school graduates were more likely than their peers to say that it was very important to gain a general education and a better appreciation of ideas (75 percent vs. 71 percent), learn things that interest them (84 percent vs. 82 percent), and become a more cultured person (53 percent vs. 47 percent).

Life in college offers more than just an academic experience, and the independent school graduates surveyed said they plan to take advantage of this. More independent school graduates noted that there is a very good chance they will be participating in student clubs or groups (57 percent vs. 51 percent), recreational sports (35 percent vs. 30 percent), and fraternities or sororities (22 percent vs. 14 percent).

When discussing future goals, independent school students were more likely than their peers to say it is essential or very important for them to become successful in their own businesses (50 percent vs. 40 percent) and to become community leaders (42 percent vs. 36 percent).

The HERI report not only presents valuable information to assess student outcomes but also provides independent school administrators with benchmark numbers that can help them identify areas of strengths and areas for improvement. Since a vast majority of current and prospective parents at independent schools place a high value on receiving a college education, clearly articulating how independent schools prepare students for college success and beyond is a powerful way to show the value of an independent school education.

To read the full report, go to

Amada Torres
Amada Torres

Amada Torres is vice president for studies, insights, and research at NAIS.