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3 Topics Families Should Discuss for Life After High School

College • June 9, 2020 • Jennifer Berg


What you’ll learn


In partnership with Sallie Mae, we spoke to high school students and their parents about plans for life after high school. Here’s what we learned about the conversations they’re having in preparation for life after high school, specifically when it comes to continuing their education.

Our formative years are all about preparing for the future, but are 17 and 18-year-olds ready to take the next step? As they look to the future, parents and students should zero in on three key points to guide conversations about setting students up for success after high school:

  1. Discuss plans for after high school, especially career aspirations.

    The majority of families (94%, in fact) believe it is likely their student will continue their education after high school, though the path for each student varies, and might include two- or four-year colleges and universities, vocational programs, or skills-related boot camps.

    Regardless of the type of institution or program students might be interested in pursuing after high school, career outcome, including increased earnings, is the primary driver for pursuing higher education. Nearly 8 in 10 students considering higher education know either the general field in which they’d like to work or the exact profession, and their top consideration when choosing a school will be that it offers a course of study that aligns with their career plans.

    Discussions among students and families can start here. If the student knows what he or she wants to do, the path forward becomes a bit clearer. If the student hasn’t decided on a career, having a discussion early gives families more opportunities to explore options and look for opportunities that will fit best with the students interests and skills.

  2. Potential educational pathways soon-to-graduate high school seniors might consider

    Choosing a school is an important milestone in navigating the student’s educational journey. Nearly two-thirds of families (63%) with a student who plans to continue their education after high school say they have discussed what type of school the student should attend.

    Students have plenty of options to further their education after high school, from a two-or-four-year degree to vocational or career training. Parents and high school students should take the time to discuss the pros and cons of the different educational pathways available to them so they can decide where the student will be positioned to thrive.

    Our research confirms that students are interested in the full range of educational opportunities at their disposal. Six in ten students plan to attend a two- or four-year college or university, one in ten plans to attend a technical, vocational, or career program, and two percent plan to attend a skill-training boot camp.

    Other factors that most families consider include educational programming, location, and financial aid.

  3. How to pay for education

    Last but not least, we recommend that families and students talk openly and honestly about how to save and pay for education after high school. Our research suggests that developing a plan for how to pay alleviates a lot of the uncertainty and worry about the student’s future education – and as an added bonus, helps keep students on track.

    About half of families who have expectations that the student will continue his/her education after high school have discussed how to pay or who will pay for that education. Further, 54% of families have created a plan for how to pay for the student’s education beyond high school.

    Most families with a plan say the parents and students are working together to develop this plan. One-quarter of families say the student is contributing equally or more than the parents to the development of the plan. Half say the parents take the lead, but the child is actively engaged. About one in five students are aware of the plan but not contributing, and 5% say the student is not involved at all. Conversely, 6% of students are doing all the planning by themselves.

    Conversations about finances and saving are critical because having a plan for how to pay for education is linked with higher confidence on a number of metrics, including:

    • the student will get accepted into the school of his/her choice (77% compared to 47% of those who don’t have a plan),
    • the student will be successful in completing their program (87% compared to 62% of those who don’t have a plan),
    • the student will get a job after completing their education (79% compared to 54% of those who don’t have a plan),
    • the student will get an education that is worth the time and money (80% compared to 53% of those who don’t have a plan), and
    • the family will be able to meet the cost of the student’s education (63% compared to 20% of those who don’t have a plan).

    Many of these planning families are researching financial aid eligibility guidelines or creating a budget for amounts they may use from things like savings, scholarships, financial aid, and/or loans.

    Saving is often an important part of planning for how to pay for the student’s future education. About half of families who expect the child will continue their education beyond high school say they have some money saved for that education. Those who have a plan for how to pay are significantly more likely to be saving than their non planning counterparts (73% and 19% respectively). Three in four families say the student is more likely to continue their education if they know there are some savings set aside for their education; there is significantly higher agreement with this statement among high school students compared to their parents (78% and 68%).

Having these three important conversations with family members are critical for preparing for life after high school. Talking about the student’s career goals, which educational pathway would be the best fit, and how they’ll pay for higher education are important first steps in helping the student be successful in the next stage of his or her life.


Jennifer is a Research Director at Ipsos with a Master’s degree in Sociology. When she’s not polling the American public, Jennifer can often be found exploring nature with her dogs.


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