College & Workforce Readiness

High School Students Getting More Interested in Activism, Counselors Report

By Catherine Gewertz — November 07, 2018 2 min read

Wonks and political junkies have been keeping an eye on first-time voters to see if the heated political climate of the last two years has galvanized a new activist generation. Findings in a new study suggest that it might have.

Counselors at 52 percent of the nation’s high schools said in a recent survey that their students are showing an increased interest in political activism. In 21 percent of the schools—particularly private schools—counselors reported students are getting more interested in the political leanings of the colleges they’re applying to.

The Education Week Research Center documented similar political sentiments. We surveyed 18- and 19-year-old first-time voters, and 40 percent said they’ve become more politically engaged in the past two years. Nearly two-thirds said they planned to vote in this week’s midterm elections. Other studies, including exit polls of yesterday’s election, have suggested a particularly strong turnout among younger voters.

The new insights from high school counselors come from a survey released recently by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which represents high school counselors and college admissions officers. Private schools are slightly overrepresented in that survey, which was conducted online last spring, but otherwise it captures a relatively representative snapshot of U.S. high schools.

Students’ increased interest in political activism might have come with a price, the NACAC survey suggests. Counselors at 35 percent of the schools said more students are expressing disillusionment.

The political climate has sparked two opposite dynamics in schools, as well: Counselors at many schools said they’ve noticed an increase in the level of civility among students, and counselors at many others said civility has declined.

College admissions officers have noticed changes sparked by the political climate, too. In a separate NACAC survey, 37 percent said in the last two years, they’ve seen an increase in the number of essays about political activism. Those increases were most likely to show up in private and more selective institutions. Thirty-nine percent of the admissions officers, however, said they’d seen no rise in the number of essays about political activism.

More than one-third of the admissions officers said students are increasingly interested in their college’s political leanings, but half reported no change in that area.

Related Story:

Is America’s Next Generation of Voters Ready for the Job?


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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.