College uncertainty

College Uncertainty: How Parents Can Support their Teens

Today’s high school students are extremely skeptical about the value of college. Negative media coverage about high student debt, underemployment for college grads, legacy admissions, and societal hot topics have a huge impact on whether students choose to go to college. College uncertainty is being echoed across social media. Parents play a key role in guiding and educating their teens about the value and risks associated with a college degree.

A recent study was conducted by Edge Research and HCM Strategists with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The 2023 study expanded their 2022 survey about higher education attitudes to include high school juniors and seniors. This study is filled with insights that many families will value.

Is college the only path?

As adults, we know the answer to this question. No, college is not the only path. The study found that high school students recognized this too.

They felt that on-the-job training, licensing courses, and professional certifications provided a better value than a four- or two-year college. Trade or vocational schools were ranked as having the same value as a two-year college.

For families wanting to learn more about Ohio Technical Centers (where students can earn certifications/credentials for in-demand careers), watch our Fast Track to Success program.

Despite the college uncertainty, students know that college serves a purpose.

In the study, students gave many reasons for why college was important. 81% see a college degree as a way to get a better job and to make more money. This statistic echoes what we say in so many of our programs. Students go to college to get a job they could not otherwise have.

But they still have concerns.

The high school students in the survey are afraid of making the wrong choices in terms of:

  • What to study (major and intended career)
  • Where to apply
  • Being socially and emotionally prepared

In addition, they are very worried about paying for it. What can they afford, and how does it all work? What aid will they qualify for and how it is maintained during the college years? So many students lack a strong understanding of the impact of a student loan on life after college.

Students who said they may not go to college gave many reasons. These were the most frequent:

  • Almost half said college is too expensive.
  • They don’t enjoy school.
  • It’s not worth the cost.
  • There’s too much pressure and stress.
  • They don’t know what to study.

How can parents guide their teens to be more confident about their choices after high school?

The study confirmed that high school students get most of their information about college from school counselors and parents. Somewhat surprisingly, only 29% said they got most of their information about college from their friends, peers, and classmates.

Almost 50% of the students felt that the information they got from parents and counselors was a very pro-college, positive message while fewer said the information from their friends was positive. “Those who perceive their college-related information to be positive are significantly more likely to indicate they will attend college in the future.”

As parents, we can really engage in conversations about career thinking, lifestyle goals, financial impact, etc. when it comes to the educational options after high school. We can use our stronger voices to overcome false or misleading messaging our teens hear.

Most importantly, many parents share the sense of college uncertainty our teens feel. Is this huge expenditure worth it? Evaluate and embrace the options. Dig into them together with your teen.

Teens want assistance.

The high school students in the study had specific ideas about what would help put them on a path to college and better career certainty—the biggest of these being eliminating debt for those attending community college or trade school. (Many students understand learning a trade or attending community college can be a step on the path to a traditional college degree.)

In addition, the students in the study want someone to help them navigate through their college experience (choosing classes, academic struggles, etc.), to help them understand how to pay for it, and to help them find internships and find a job in their field. Hopefully, colleges see their opportunity to provide this increased support.

A super interesting fact for us…43% of the students felt that “having a program in high school that helps them determine what careers best match their skills and interests” would be extremely helpful. (Since 2012, we’ve been providing that support to our student clients through Guided Self Assessment!)

Schedule your family’s 30-minute meeting to learn all about Guided Self Assessment and how it can put your teen on a path to confidence and clarity surrounding their future career.

Making those connections.

After reading this study, we had some final takeaways. High school students are craving guidance about their options, their post-high school path, and the financial impact of their choices. They recognize that college comes with a high cost and have concerns. They are also open to non-college paths to a career like apprenticeships and certifications.

We can’t ignore their uncertainty about what to study. Teens tell us they are career illiterate. They don’t know enough about the wide variety of careers available. They also want to connect who they are with a career path that would be a good fit.

Help your student overcome their natural uncertainty of what to do after high school. Because it can help tremendously, encourage your student to join you when you’re watching our educational programs. Receiving knowledge from a trusted resource will go a long way to overcoming college uncertainty.

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