Most High Schoolers Feel Pressure to Make Premature Decisions About Future

Students are looking toward their futures with thoughtful consideration and expressing uncertainty about what they really want after graduating high school.

Updated June 23, 2022

Most High Schoolers Feel Pressure to Make Premature Decisions About Future
Survey Reports
Photo by Carol Yepes / Moment / Getty Images

  • 52% of high school students feel pressure to make decisions about their future too soon.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 students believe that college costs and mental health struggles will impact their future plans.
  • 53% of students are optimistic about their future after high school, 14% are not.

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High school students are looking toward the future with a mix of hope, concern, and uncertainty. In a new BestColleges survey of 1,000 currently enrolled high school students, 52% say they feel pressure to make decisions about their future too soon.

Despite this pressure, 53% of students report they're optimistic about their future after high school. A third of students (33%) neither agree nor disagree that they are optimistic about their future, and 14% are not optimistic.

As they ponder their post-graduation plans, students have primarily sought advice about life after high school from family (72%), friends (51%), and school faculty or staff (45%).

A third of students (33%) have turned to the internet or other media like books or television for advice about what to anticipate after school, while 31% have asked their peers. Only about a tenth of students (11%) have sought advice from current or previous employers or coworkers.

Female students were also significantly more likely to get advice from high school faculty or staff (50% vs. 40%).

Though students are actively looking for guidance about what's next, more than a third (39%) are unsure about what they want for their future.

Students Are Considering a Wide Array of Options After High School

As high school students try to determine what they'll do after graduation, they're looking at numerous possibilities.

The majority of high schoolers have considered pursuing a college degree or certification (67%) or working (66%) in a new or current job after high school. Slightly more than half (52%) have considered taking time off either informally or by participating in a gap year program.

Female students were more likely than males to consider pursuing a four-year degree (53% vs. 43%) and to consider participating in a gap year program (33% vs. 22%).

Latino/a students were most likely to say they've considered finding a new job after high school (67%) out of all racial or ethnic groups.

Less Than Half of Students Plan to Pursue Further Education Immediately After High School

While most high school students are considering continuing their education (67%), only 48% say that they are planning to pursue this path immediately after graduation. Still, 62% agree it's important to continue their education now as opposed to later.

With about half of students (48%) planning to pursue a college degree or certification immediately after graduating, the other half have different plans.

Nearly a quarter of students (23%) plan to be employed at a new job or their current job post-graduation, and 16% plan to take time off either informally or by participating in a gap year program. Eight percent of high schoolers are not sure what their plans are for the year following graduation.

There were a significant number of demographic differences in plans based on students' year in school, gender, and family background in education.

Students in their senior year of school were more likely than students in their first three years to say they plan to pursue higher education (an associate or bachelor's degree, technical degree, or professional certification) immediately after graduating (51% vs. 43%).

Female students were more likely than male students to say they plan to pursue an associate or bachelor's degree immediately after graduating (47% vs. 36%).

And high schoolers with at least one college-educated parent were more likely to say they plan to pursue a college degree immediately after high school (46%) compared with those whose parents did not go to college (35%).

1 in 3 High School Students Say Mental Health Struggles Will Impact Plans

When looking at factors that could have the biggest impact on their post-graduation plans, high students pointed to the cost of higher education (32%), struggles with mental health (31%), and difficulty making decisions (26%).

Mental health struggles and affordability of further education, in particular, were top concerns for high school students depending on their different demographic backgrounds.

Female students were more likely than male students to say that struggles with mental health would have a large impact on their plans after high school (38% vs. 21%).

More than 1 in 3 students (35%) with plans to pursue a college degree or other certification also said struggles with mental health would have the biggest impact on their plans after school.

Less than 1 in 4 (22%) students who do not plan to pursue a college degree or certification said affording costs of pursuing further education would have the biggest impact on their plans after high school. This suggests that cost is not an overwhelming factor as to why high school students are forgoing further education plans. A slightly higher percentage of these students credited mental health struggles (27%) and difficulty making decisions (26%) as large factors impacting their post-graduation plans. These were the most commonly selected factors contributing to students' choices.

Students who plan to pursue further education were nearly twice as likely to say affordability of doing so would have the biggest impact on their plans (43%). These students were also much more likely than those who do not plan to pursue further degrees or certification to be optimistic about their future after high school (63% vs. 43%).

High schoolers with at least one degree-holding parent were more likely to say they are optimistic about their future after graduation (57%) compared to those whose parents do not have a degree (47%).

Overall, high school students are looking toward their futures with thoughtful consideration and making a variety of plans as they figure out what comes next.

Methodology

The survey was conducted from January 31-February 4, 2022. Student respondents were fielded by Lucid LLC. Survey participants included 1,000 currently enrolled high school students nationwide. Respondents were 16-19 years of age. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy.