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College and Career Readiness


Although readiness includes being prepared to take credit-bearing postsecondary courses in core subject areas, Illinois' College and Career Readiness objectives also extend to developing employability skills and opportunities for students to pursue personalized education plans based on their academic and career interests.

College and Career Readiness demands that students know more than just content. They need to demonstrate that they know how to learn and build upon that content to solve problems. They must develop versatile communication skills, work collaboratively and work competitively in a school or work environment. 


Internships are Key to College and Career Readiness 

Internships are career-based learning experiences that involve a “real world” work environment and standard workplace expectations. They are related to, but different from, volunteering and an actual job. Volunteering is valuable but may not be career-related. A job may limit the experiences to only those job tasks assigned. Internships are important learning experiences that can help students make more informed decisions about their career path by observing and becoming acquainted with careers in a more specific way. Integrated project-based learning with business professionals and real-world experience helps students understand the crucial link between academic achievement and their future success. To hear about the value of internship from the perspective of the student and the mentor, click here. 

What Qualifies as an Internship?

An Internship is:

  • Relatively short term – may be anywhere between a few weeks to a semester.
  • Paid or unpaid? – Internships are often unpaid due to the limited time-frame involved, the reduced expectations due to the increased learning opportunities, and the nature and type of business. Experience gained from an internship can outweigh the lack of pay. An internship is a career investment.
  • Variable in schedule – interns are enrolled students, so the schedule varies based on the intern’s availability.
  • Frequently project-based – internships often focus on a specific project and may involve a class assignment (paper, presentation, completion of a class project).
  • Career-specific and related to the student’s program of study and/or career interests.
  • Adjustable in expectations – compared to a “regular employee,” expectations for an intern may be adjusted based on course-work the student has completed and the student’s learning objectives for the internship.

An Internship is Not:

  • Provided at the expense of or in place of a regular or potential employee.
  • Equivalent to a part-time job which is generally limited to specific tasks students perform and may not relate to their program of study or career goals.
  • A “break” from class because students are expected to put their best effort into an internship in order to get as much as possible out of the experience.
  • The “dumping ground” for tasks not wanted by others. Internships provide challenging experiences that enable students to apply what they’ve learned in their courses and add to that knowledge through experience.

Six Standards Must be Met to Establish that an Intern Qualifies to Work Unpaid

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern; 
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff; 
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion, its operations may actually be impeded; 
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and 
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship. 

(*U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Fact Sheet #71: Internships Under The Fair Labor Standards Act, April 2010) ·  


Project-Based Learning Prepares Students for College, Career, and Citizenship     

Project-Based Learning promotes equity and access to deeper learning outcomes for all students. 

Preparing Students for a Project-Based World by Bonnie Lathram, Bob Lenz and Tom Vander Ark explores economic realities, equity, student engagement and instructional and school design in the preparation of all students for college, career and citizenship. There is also a quick start guide for students to get started with projects today. For more, see the latest articles and track the conversation at #ProjectBased or check out a few selected articles below.


Place-Based Education Connects Learning to Communities and the World Around Us

Place-Based Education is anytime, anywhere learning that leverages the power of place, and not just the power of technology, to personalize learning. It is an approach that connects learning and communities with the primary goals of increasing student engagement, boosting academic outcomes, impacting communities and promoting understanding of the world around us. In addition to these goals, there are many additional benefits to place-based learning experiences. These benefits can impact students, teachers, families, communities, and society.

Why Does Place-Based Education Matter?

“Instead of asking students to wait for 20 years to really understand the ‘why’ behind school, students should spend twenty years as integral and participatory members of learning communities. Imagine a world with Place-Based Education for every child — connecting learning locally, regionally, and ultimately, globally. With multiple opportunities to interact with professionals, design solutions to real challenges, and skills to understand the world through multiple lenses, these students are the citizens the world needs for tomorrow.” - Nate McClennen, Place-Based Education: Communities As Learning Environments

“The growing national interest in project-based learning coupled with the recognition that situating these projects in students’ home communities can deepen their meaning and impact suggests that interest in Place-Based Education could continue to expand in coming decades. As a means to engender among students a sense of affiliation with their home communities and regions, develop problem-solving skills and the ability to collaborate with others, cultivate a sense of responsibility for the natural environment and the people it supports, and instill a recognition of their own capacity to be positive change-makers and leaders, Place-Based Education is proving to be an effective antidote to apathy and alienation….. The environmental and social challenges likely to arise in coming decades will require many people with the kinds of attributes associated with the experience of Place-Based Education.” – Gregory Smith

For more information on Place-Based Education:                                                                                                  

16 National Career Clusters Bridge Secondary and Postsecondary Curriculum

As an organizing tool for curriculum design and instruction, Career Clusters provide the essential knowledge and skills for the 16 Career Clusters and their Career Pathways. It also functions as a useful guide in developing programs of study bridging secondary and postsecondary curriculum and for creating individual student plans of study for a complete range of career options. As such, it helps students discover their interests and their passions and empowers them to choose the educational pathway that can lead to success in high school, college, and career.  

  1. Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources


  2. Architecture & Construction
  3. Arts, A/V Technology & Communications
  4. Business Management & Administration
  5. Education & Training
  6. Finance
  7. Government & Public Administration
  8. Health Science
  9. Hospitality & Tourism
  10. Human Services
  11. Information Technology
  12. Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security
  13. Manufacturing
  14. Marketing
  15. Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  16. Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

Download a full list of the Career Clusters and Career Pathways here.  And learn how to access the Career Cluster logos hereFor additional CCR Resources click here.


Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act Supports College & Career Readiness

The Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act (PWR), signed into law in 2016, takes a student-based and competency-based approach to helping student achieve college and career readiness. Being equipped to attend college and obtain meaningful employment is a top priority in Illinois education, because many students are currently graduating unprepared. PWR implements four strategies:     




Often, students leave high school without a clear understanding of the skills needed to persist through college and gain meaningful employment. Students need exposure and experience to gain a better understanding of their career interests. School curriculum should allow students to craft an educational plan to meet their goals. Under the PWR act, education agencies must adopt a framework that outlines what students should know about college and career each year from 8th to 12th grade.The framework must address, in an integrated way:

  • Career Exploration and Development
  • College Exploration, Preparation and Selection;
  • Financial Literacy and Accessing Financial Aid opportunities.




The PWR Act establishes a voluntary system for school districts to award college and career pathways endorsements on high school diplomas. The endorsement will demonstrate students’ readiness for college and careers and completion of instruction and professional learning experiences in a selected career interest area, and incentivize career exploration and development, particularly in high-demand career fields. College and career pathway endorsements require an individualized learning plan, career-focused instruction, career exploration activities and 60 hours of internships or similar experiences. State agencies will coordinate with employers in prioritized areas for state economic development to identify minimum career competencies to incorporate into endorsement programs.

College & Career Pathway Endorsement Example



The most compelling learning experiences combine appropriate, relevant material and a clear understanding of how skills in high school can be used in the future. A major barrier to postsecondary persistence and completion is remedial education, and many Illinois high school graduates require remedial courses in math. The PWR act law includes provisions for evaluating students’ math proficiency during junior year. Students who are shown ready can decide whether they want to take a math course during senior year. Students who aren’t ready can choose from three types of transitional math courses for 12th grade and the content of each course corresponds to the student’s career pathway of interest.

The STEM Transitional Math course is tailored to career goals that require application of calculus or advanced algebraic skills. The Technical Math course is tailored to career goals in technical fields that do not require application of calculus, advanced algebraic, or advanced stats skills. The Quantitative/Literacy Stats course is tailored to career goals outside of STEM or Technical - focus on general stats, data analysis, quantitative literacy and problem solving.



In contrast to an education model focused on “seat time” (the amount of time a child spends in a class), a Competency Based Education (CBE) allows students more flexibility to progress as they demonstrate mastery of concepts. The PWR Act establishes a pilot program for voluntary school district participation in moving from “seat time” graduation requirements to competency-based high school graduation requirements. The Act includes a streamlined waiver process for pilot districts of laws and regulations that may restrict the competency-based system’s implementation. The pilot is limited to 12 school districts per year in the first two years of implementation, and 15 school districts per year after.


Want to Learn More?

Check out these websites for information on College and Career Readiness in Illinois.


Informational Materials on the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act:


Additional Resources

Additional College and Career Readiness resources are available using the Resources tab or by clicking on one of the links below.