BEYOND GO-ON: What high school seniors are saying about their future plans

Public education has long served to prepare students for college. For decades, educators have emphasized the importance of getting a higher education, positioning college as the ultimate next step. 

But the majority of Idaho students aren’t going to college — at least not right away. And they aren’t failing society or couch-surfing at mom’s house. Instead, most of Idaho’s youth are choosing to go straight into the workforce, travel, volunteer, attend a trade school or join the military. 

But Idaho’s go-on rates exclude these nontraditional post-high school options, and there’s no other data that reflects the full range of what students are really doing after high school. 

So, to get an idea of what the majority of students in Idaho are doing, EdNews asked seniors in Malad and Gooding about their post-high school plans. 

Here’s what they had to say. 

Our survey — and the results

In April, EdNews surveyed seniors in Malad and Gooding — two districts with go-on rates near the state average. 

The six-question survey asked teens about their plans for after high school, how they decided on those plans, and to what extent they feel prepared to exit high school and embark on their chosen paths. Each question was multiple choice, with an “other” option and room to comment. 

By June, we collected responses from 80 students across both schools. Of those respondents, 100% have a plan. 

But for nearly half of them, that plan doesn’t immediately include college. 

About 47.5% of students aren’t continuing their education — their goals include serving a religious mission, taking one or more gap years, traveling, volunteering, going to trade school or heading straight into the workforce. None said they were going into the military, and only one student responded she isn’t sure, but later said she wants a higher education, but doesn’t have the money. 

Over 50% of students in Malad and Gooding said they will attend college this fall, with 16.25% going to two-year colleges, and another 36.25% heading to four-year universities. 

These numbers only account for 80 out of around 150 seniors across both districts. According to Malad college and career counselor Nacona Smith, the numbers are pretty accurate. 

Smith keeps records of every Malad senior’s plans after they graduate. According to her data, around 57% of Malad seniors will go to college, another 18% will go to a technical school, and the remaining 25% will take a gap year or work. 

But Smith says she expects the number of Malad graduates who plan on going to college in August to drop over the next few months. The summer between graduation and college start dates, she says, is critical. 

“Kids need a lot of support their first year after high school,” Smith said. “Some kids come back and meet with me after graduating, but a lot of them will get overwhelmed with FAFSA or student loans, they’ll just give up over the summer and never make it to campus in the fall.” 

Even toward the end of the school year, Smith heard from students who had nixed their plans to go to college, choosing instead to work for a year and save money.

Idaho seniors feel the weight of their futures

Students aren’t making decisions lightly.

Stress and anxiety are high as seniors navigate the final months of high school, said Smith, who acts as the main support for seniors as they navigate their post-high school options. At just 18 years old, these students are making choices that will impact the rest of their lives. 

And they feel the pressure — from finances to family expectations to timing, students in Malad and Gooding factored plenty into their final decisions.

In our survey, 32.5% of students said college had always been the expectation, and another 6.25% said going to college was their decision alone. Some of these students also received college scholarships.

Another 15% of students said finances played a role in their choice.

One said she knows what she wants to study, but doesn’t have the funds to attend college in the fall — she’ll be working to save money and eventually attend college at a later date.

Another student is heading to a trade school, after discussing finances with his friends and family.

“A trade school would be a lot cheaper,” he wrote in the survey’s comment section.

Another 18.75% of students said they want to go straight into the workforce. Another 26.25% said their chosen career either doesn’t require higher education, or requires trade school or career training instead of a formal college or university degree.

One student said their current part-time job could turn into a full-time position after graduation, and they want to pursue that option instead of a college degree.

For 12 students, timing is a significant factor — they need more time to figure out what they want to do and if/where they want to go to college. Five students said they don’t see value in higher education: high tuition costs don’t match the value of a college degree, one student said.

Most students feel prepared for life after high school — but those who don’t are vocal

A wide majority — 80% — of students said their K-12 education prepared them for their next steps.

But the 20% of students who don’t feel ready had a lot to say.

Most said they feel prepared academically — but they don’t know enough about taxes, budgeting or how to navigate the real world as individuals.

“I feel I am still missing basic life skills,” said one survey respondent. “I feel that due to the nature of the school system, individual thought is not necessarily supported. I feel that being able to build my own schedule will be difficult at first when entering college and adult life. I do think that I was supported in my college career through high school, but I don’t think it is built right now to support individual paths as much as it could.”

Others agreed:

  • “Academically yes, experience-wise kind of, real life problems no.”
  • “There’s so much time wasted trying to get that A/B grade that I didn’t even learn, I just wanted to pass.”
  • “No, no one taught me the basics of how to start and run a business.”
  • “The world is different outside of school.”
  • “My parents and the internet have made me who I am and taught me what I know.”
  • “My school experience did not really give me the social skills that I would have liked to have so I would be more comfortable around new people.”
  • “I wish we got to focus on the classes that actually help us in the future.”
  • “I think we were never prepared for adult things.”

Students see themselves in a diverse set of careers

We asked students where they see themselves in five years — and their answers paint a vibrant picture of the future of Idaho. Whether they’re planning on going to college or not, Idaho’s students have dreams and aspirations — from traveling to teaching to piloting airplanes.

Check back Wednesday for our profiles of three recent graduates and their post-high school plans.

And some measure success by their quality of life. No matter what level of education or career they have, they just want to be happy, healthy and financially independent.

“Hopefully still alive, and maybe married with one kid or a pet,” said one respondent.

“Happier,” said another.

Here are some student responses — in their own words.

“I see myself working as a dental hygienist.”


“I see myself living out of state and working my dream job. I also will hopefully be one step closer to owning my own business after working in the cosmetology program for a few years building up clientele.”


“Working diesel mechanics.”


“Being a very successful business woman, and being a cowgirl.”


“Working in a hospital as a RN.”


“I see myself with a bachelor’s degree and a religious mission served.”


“I see myself helping individuals make smart financial decisions and setting them up for a comfortable lifestyle, while living comfortably myself.”


“Working my dream job and traveling the world.”


“In 5 years, I see myself finishing my bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I will be a BYU alumni and make a decision about whether I want to get my master’s degree. I would love to be settling down and finding a place to share my life with someone.”


“I will be an occupational therapy assistant and have a little ranch in Colorado.”


“Saved up money, exploring and starting to find somewhere to settle for a while.”


“Graduating UVU with an advanced degree.”


“I see myself trying to run my own makeup brand and hopefully owning my own salon.”


“Having a secondary education in math teaching at some school.”


“In five years, I will be beginning my career in wildlife research.”


“In five years, I see myself wealthy, working a good job as an EMT or cop, and being closer to God.”


“Graduating from college and heading towards teaching school.”


“Completing or having already completed grad school.”


“Hopefully, piloting an airplane.”


“Working at an auto shop.”


“I see myself in veterinary school.”


“In an apartment or house where I work as an artist.”

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected].

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