Pandemic Impacted Career Goals of 42% of Low-income High School Seniors: Report

An ACT report found that the pandemic greatly impacted college and career choices for high school seniors from low-income families and non-white high school seniors.
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Published on June 20, 2023
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  • ACT surveyed 1,549 class of 2023 high school seniors to gauge how the pandemic influenced college and career goals and challenges and opportunities from the pandemic.
  • The survey received more opportunity responses than challenge responses
  • 31% of all students said the pandemic affected their thoughts on a future career; 27% said it impacted their program of study or major.

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted high school students from low-income families and non-white high school students' college and career decisions, according to a new study by ACT.

ACT researchers this month released their new report "Influence of the Coronavirus Pandemic on High School Seniors' Views: College and Career Choices, Challenges, and Opportunities." It surveyed 1,549 students from the class of 2023 to learn their views on future careers, programs of study or major, which school and the type of school to attend, and whether or not to attend college.

Overall, 31% said the pandemic affected their thoughts on a future career, and 27% said the pandemic influenced their program of study or major. However, the study also found that students from low-income families were more than two times more likely than those from non-low-income families to question whether to attend college and almost twice as likely to change their thoughts on what major to pursue.

According to the study, 42% of students in low-income families said the pandemic influenced their thoughts about a future career, 40% changed their views about where they would go to school, and 39% changed their ideas about which major to pursue.

For non-low-income students, 29% reported changing career thoughts, and even fewer changed their thoughts about which school to attend and what major to pursue.

The study also found white students were less likely to change their thoughts on college and career in all categories than other racial/ethnic groups.

Latino/a and Asian students were overall more likely to have their thoughts influenced by the pandemic in all categories than white students. The highest points were what schools to attend and what majors to study.

Latino/a students were almost two times more likely than white students to reconsider what type of school to attend, while Asian students were more than two times more likely than white students to reconsider what type of school to attend.

High School Students Became More Aware of Their Post-College Career Trajectories

Researchers also asked students open-ended questions about how the pandemic changed their thoughts on college and careers. The researchers received 151 responses for challenges from the pandemic and 302 for opportunities.

The top six challenges were greater financial difficulties, changing academic circumstances, doubts about college, heightened career influences, mental health issues, and education or career undecidedness.

The top six opportunities were discovered interests and passions, increased self-reflection, expanded set of school characteristics, enhanced sense of priority, greater exploration of options, and focused career characteristics.

Students reflected on how the pandemic affected different careers and their healthcare, medicine, and education trajectories.

The way healthcare and education workers were treated discouraged some students. Others were encouraged to pursue those careers after seeing the need for medical scientists, doctors, and mental health professionals.

The pandemic also changed the way students valued job security.

Some students highlighted how the pandemic caused non-essential workers to lose their jobs. One student said, "Because of this, I began changing my thoughts on my future career to something I know would remain necessary despite the state of the world."

This also prompted some students to pursue careers that are less susceptible to job loss and allow more broad movement between occupations and industries. Other students were motivated to pursue high-paying careers because of the financial struggle their families experienced during the pandemic.

"I decided to pursue a concentration of study that gave me a more broad approach to business," said one student. "Originally, I wanted to be a pilot but after seeing how the Aviation industry was affected I leaned more toward something that allows me to dabble in many different industries. (AKA more opportunity for growth)."

Some students took advantage of free time away from school activities and discovered passions and career paths they had never thought of.

"I thought I wanted to be in architecture, but the pandemic gave me lots of creative freedom since I didn't have school and I discovered my love for filmmaking."