High School Students Need More Support Now to Get Back on Track for College, Survey Shows

By Gabrielle Wanneh — June 11, 2020 3 min read
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The disruption of the coronavirus pandemic on schools has left many incoming high school seniors behind on their college and career planning efforts. According to a new survey of almost 10,000 students, the roles of counselors, educators, and colleges will be significant in providing members of this class with the support they’ll need to get back on track in the fall.

Among students who have just completed their junior year, the study by Naviance, a college preparation app, found that large proportions had not yet engaged in the process of searching for colleges, visiting campuses, or even meeting to discuss postsecondary plans with a counselor by the time the pandemic hit and school closures began.

About 26 percent of juniors had managed to take their first SAT or ACT exam during the first half of the 2019-20 school year, while only 13 percent were able to do so during the second half. The cancellation of all SAT and ACT spring administrations due to the coronavirus left an estimated 1 million first-time test takers unable to take their exams earlier this year.

The story is similar for the graduating senior class of 2020, as the survey also found that many of these students were unable to participate in the transitional activities meant to help them move smoothly into their new academic environment.

“This is a class of students whose graduation happened amid a pandemic and protests going on around the world, and they’ve missed out on some significant milestones,” said Kate Cassino, CEO of the Naviance parent company, Hobsons. “They’re in an interesting place with a transition out of high school that is atypical, and are likely to enter into college with an experience that’s not typical as well.”

In response to the disruptions, many seniors flocked to different methods of researching colleges and making their final decisions, according to the survey. Eighty-five percent of students reported relying more on college websites for information on their options, and about 39 percent said that they had talked less with their counselors.

“They were not in a position to rely on those resources like the school counselors, who could provide an objective perspective and help them weigh all the factors in making their choice.” said Cassino.

Given the economic turmoil and public health risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift was also found in the factors students were considering when making their decisions on where to go to school in the fall. Among those considerations, financial aid and scholarship offers (59 percent), ensuring that their majors were available (67 percent), and campus location (74 percent) were more important to students this year than in 2019.

The survey also highlights a combined five percentage point increase in the number of students looking to go straight into the workforce, pursue a technical certificate, or join the military. Meanwhile, the share of students wanting to attend a four-year institution dropped four percentage points from last year, and the overall number of students wanting to attend a two- or four-year institution went from 88 percent in 2019, to 83 percent in 2020.

The abruptness of school closures and the overall effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ abilities and options in regard to college and career planning underscores the importance of the tools and processes set up to help students best navigate into the postsecondary world, according to Cassino. As these resources were not as easily accessible to students for about six months, Cassino added that it will be interesting to see how this year’s “summer melt” will look come next school year as a result.

“More than ever, it’s going to be so crucial for schools to provide those college and career resources and tools that counselors need in order to help students meet their goals,” Cassino said.

“On the higher ed side, it’s going to be imperative that schools have really engaged faculty and strong advising programs, predictive analytic tools, and social and emotional well-being programs to help students persist in their studies and reach their goals,” Cassino added.

Graphics: Naviance by Hobsons

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.