From student enrollment to instructional technologies, the pandemic’s reach was far greater than anyone anticipated. And while most areas of education have returned to what educators believe to be the new “normal,” its effects still linger. Now, students are thinking more critically about their lives post-graduation.
This year’s high school graduating class was in ninth grade when the pandemic struck. Some might say 2023-24’s incoming college freshmen haven’t had a traditional educational experience in four years.
“These kids have never had a normal year,” one counselor at Platte County High School in Platte City, Missouri, told USA Today.
And because of those experiences, perspectives on what life looks like after high school has changed dramatically, according to a new report released Wednesday by the American School Counselor Association.
“The pandemic was a defining aspect of their high school journey, leading to many circumstances that made these students’ high school years different from those of other graduating classes,” the report reads. “What are they thinking about their college and career choices? How did the pandemic affect their thoughts about these choices?”
In an effort to answer these questions, the ACT surveyed more than 1,500 students from the graduating class of 2023. The research uncovered five ways the pandemic altered their postsecondary trajectory, namely their future career choices. For instance, more than 10% of students contemplated whether or not to attend college at all.
According to the data, students said the pandemic affected their thoughts on:
- Future career: 31%.
- Program of study or major: 27%.
- Which school to attend: 26%.
- Type of school to attend: 17%.
- Whether or not to attend college: 12%.
Several students shared their thoughts as to why they felt these feelings. For instance, one student said, “I also decided that community colleges are more suitable for me as they are not as expensive as universities.”
Another student said COVID made them second-guess their decision to go to college because of how much it negatively impacted their academics.
“Before the pandemic, I always looked towards college and furthering my academics but once the pandemic hit it altered the way I looked at college,” they said. “It made me struggle in my high school years and made me doubt whether or not college was the best choice down the road.”
To that end, students were asked to identify the top challenges surrounding their thoughts toward college and their careers. Unsurprisingly, financial barriers top the list.
Students’ top challenges post-graduation:
- Greater financial difficulties: 37%
- Changing academic circumstances: 26%
- Doubt about college: 26%
- Heightened career influences: 23%
- Ranging mental health issues: 21%
- Education or career undecidedness: 18%
As the data suggests, these students’ postsecondary decisions may never be considered what’s been described as the traditional norm. Yet, colleges and universities must adapt to meet their needs. That said, here are four recommendations the researchers offer higher education institutions that want to make the class of 2023’s transition to college as seamless as possible:
- Connect with families who need scholarship assistance, work-study options and financial aid.
- Use reliable assessments and information to determine incoming students’ preparedness. Use that data and decide whether to offer short courses, tutoring, summer bridge programs and other options designed to support unfinished learning.
- Make mental health resources readily available to students.
- Encourage students to take advantage of opportunities that reflect their thoughts and feelings toward their life goals. Offer first-year experience courses, career planning programs and early internships.