High School Students’ Perspectives on Their Futures

New Research on Student Optimism

High school students’ optimism pertaining to future life outcomes, such as having a career they enjoy, owning a home, and having a better life than their parents had, might have been influenced negatively by recent events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been particularly stressful for students. Using data from a sample of current high school students, this study examined students’ perspectives on their futures while considering family income and race/ethnicity, two factors known to be related to adolescents’ outlooks on success in life.

According to this research, survey respondents had a mostly positive outlook on their future outcomes despite pandemic-related challenges. More than 80% of students reported high levels of optimism that their lives would turn out well overall, with an average rating across the outcomes of 4.01 on a five-point scale. 

The research asked high school students about their chances of experiencing future outcomes, such as having an enjoyable career, being able to own a home, and being in good health. The study found Black students had the highest estimates, on average, of the chances of having a better life than their parents had or of their children having a better life than they have had in comparison to white and Asian students. 

Family income was found to be related to student optimism, irrespective of race/ethnicity. However, for some students in this study, the future seemed somewhat less promising—28% reported that their estimates of the chances of future outcomes would have been somewhat or a lot more positive if they had made their estimates before the COVID-19 pandemic began.