What Students Didn't Do

High school students didn't visit colleges, take the SAT or ACT, or meet with counselors and teachers during the last semester, survey says.

June 15, 2020
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A new survey details the things that high school students didn't do this spring -- such as visiting and picking colleges, taking the SAT or ACT, and meeting with their teachers and counselors.

The survey by Hobsons was based on results from nearly 10,000 students who are registered in Naviance, the college planning application of Hobsons, used by 13 million students at more than 13,000 U.S. schools.

It asked students in 11th and 12th grade a series of questions.

It asked 11th graders when they started looking for colleges to attend. Comparisons are provided to last year's answers:

When did you start … First Half of 11th Grade -- 2019 Second Half of 11th Grade -- 2019 First Half of 11th Grade -- 2020 Second Half of 11th Grade -- 2020
Searching for colleges 38.02% 26.92% 24.37% 14.82%
Visiting colleges 28.62% 26.63% 20.63% 8.40%
Took first SAT/ACT 37.21% 41.14% 25.90% 12.68%
Took last SAT/ACT 8.51% 48.20% 17.34% 14.36%
Met counselors/teachers about colleges 41.46% 40.93% 25.44% 17.57%
Finalizing college application list 5.25% 27.54% 6.04% 25.21%
Decided which colleges you wanted to attend 7.87% 19.68% 6.04% 13.83%

A majority of 11th graders last year searched for colleges, visited colleges and took their first SAT, but only a minority of this year's 11th graders did so. And overwhelming majority of 11th graders in 2019 talked with their counselors and teachers about college, but only a minority of students did so this year.

The figures on the SAT and ACT -- suggesting that many more will be trying to register for the test as seniors in the fall -- relate to why so many colleges are going test optional. The College Board called off several dates to take the SAT this spring, and kept one date just as the pandemic was spreading.

The 12th graders' responses indicated that only a minority of students abandoned plans to enroll in college. But there were increases in the percentage of students who said they wanted to work.

12th Graders Answer: What Are Your Post-High School Plans?

  2019 2020
Gap year 2.70% 2.23%
Technical certificate 1.60% 2.27%
Military 1.40% 2.44%
I don't know 4.20% 3.91%
Working/getting a job 2.50% 6.02%
Two-year college 19.40% 18.84%
Four-year college 68.20% 64.30%

The 12th graders were also asked for the top four factors in their college decision (they could pick four). The top four choices were the same but had much higher responses than did other answers.

Top Factors in College Choice

Factor 2019 2020
Financial aid 38.86% 58.91%
Majors 49.61% 67.13%
Location 48.58% 74.35%
Cost of education 59.65% 78.70%

Kate Cassino, the CEO of Hobsons, said she was struck by the large increases in the number of students who cited financial aid and majors as a top factor in their choice.

And she said she was also surprised by the high number of 11th graders who didn't make meaningful progress in their college searches during the year.

"It's really important that schools have strong advising programs," she said, especially for the fall, when high school seniors will be rushing with their college choices and freshmen will be arriving on campuses.

As for the things the high school juniors didn't do, Cassino said that just increases the pressure for senior year.

The spring semester, she said, will be known for "the transition, or lack thereof."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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