Planning the Future

To better understand the student experience, navigate across these themes to hear from students who have shared their stories with us.

Planning the Future

When students plan the future they make critical decisions that have a lasting effect on their academic trajectory. Students often base their plans on very little (and sometimes wrong) information about options and opportunities. Decisions are often made with third hand information, without guidance from experienced mentors and based on "wishful thinking." Planning is further complicated by student's general lack of experience navigating the higher education system. Even for students who are diligent planners, making well-informed and successful choices remains a challenge.

Charlie, Undergraduate Student
Charlie relied heavily on the web during his college selection process and was frustrated by his inability to distinguish the differences between schools. He continues to question how schools present themselves.

planning for the future

Planning an academic path is an ongoing process that continues beyond choosing a school. Knowing what classes to take, when to take them, and how to plan for success are skills that not all students possess. Many students we spoke with needed help planning but weren't sure where to find the support. Read more


"Students must project themselves into an unknown future." —Shelley Krause, College Counselor

Selecting a School

Students tend to choose a school based on cost, location, or for reasons best described as "emotional," rather than on a balance of factors that takes into account a variety of quantitative and qualitative dimensions. Tools and resources to support student decision-making are in poor supply. Most offline and online services focused on schools that were likely ranked in the Top 100 schools rankings and have the largest marketing budgets. This drives many students to go after the biggest brand name rather than seek the educational experience that best suits them. Many students expressed a need for tools that help evaluate unique personal needs, explore options to meet those needs, compare offerings and select the best option. Comparison of schools is also difficult due to a lack of standardization across offerings and because accreditation only measures a small portion of the student experience.


Christine, Undergraduate Student
Christine was unsure of what major to select and chose to buy herself time to figure it out by focusing on her general education credits first.

Planning an Academic Career

Choosing a school is only the first step in planning an academic career. After making a selection, students must match interests and passions with an academic program and make important decisions about what courses to take and when to take them. Many students operate with little to no information about how construct a curriculum that will meet their long-term professional and personal goals.

Chayenne, Undergraduate Student
Chayenne looked to community college as a smart way to figure out her career goals while still making progress toward an education before transferring to a four-year school.

Liz, Undergraduate Student
Liz maps out her academic plan and how she strategically took classes in certain order to reach her goals.


Awareness of Opportunity

A critical factor in developing a practical plan for the future is a student's awareness of economic opportunity and how clearly they can see the opportunity that higher education afforded them. Students who have experienced or witnessed significant economic instability expressed a greater commitment to school and were more motivated to complete their education. These students often also exhibited a more practical approach to decision making. These students are motivated to achieve greater economic security and a higher quality of life. Students from a stronger socioeconomic status also want to get high paying jobs, but many viewed higher education as a means for personal growth and self-realization.

"I don't even know why [I chose this school]. My friend was going there and I just didn't want to go to community college. If I could do it all over again I would go to community college for two years and then come here." Christie, Undergraduate

"I don't want to finish school and see that I am $100,000 or $200,000 in debtg and think that I worked really hard to buy myself job or buy myself another mortage." Carlos, 27, Not in School

Jose, Undergraduate Student
Jose reflects on life in the Dominican Republic and how America has given him access to an education and a better life. Jose has seen how hard life can be and that motivates him to take advantage of the opportunity he has been given to get ahead in life. To get a job that "isn't boring." A job he can be proud of.


Lack of Advisors

Exacerbating student barriers to planning is the lack of academic advising happening in American schools. In places such as California, the ratio of students to college counselors is 900 to 1. Given the workload, many college and academic counselors use only passive communication techniques to reach students—information that never makes it onto most student radars. Thus, most students forge ahead unadvised when attempting bring a plan for their academic future to life. Parents and other potential guides who are actively involved often don't always ask the right questions or adequately assist the student in developing the skills they need to become good planners long-term. This leaves even "well-supported students" alone to learn by trial and error.

Planning the Second Time Around

Students who have been in the workforce and are returning to school tend to approach their education much differently compared to their first college experience. Having first-hand experience with the demands and limitations of the real world, along with a better defined sense of self, these students bring a greater level of maturity, passion and focus to their studies.

Kim, Undergraduate Student
Kim remembers her first time in college as being a care-free experience. Now, returning after many years, she is much more focused on maximizing her investment in education. Kim is also chasing her dreams this time rather than listening to others about what she "should" study.

Liz, Undergraduate Student
Liz is returning to school after being laid off. This time around she is making her studies a first priority, which was not the case at the beginning. Liz took a leap of faith to get her life in order and get a job that can sustain her.