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Half of recent high school grads have changed their plans due to coronavirus

Students at the Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School graduation ceremony on May 06, 2020 in Bradley, Illinois.
Scott Olson

The future is suddenly looking very different for new high school graduates thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, 49% of the Class of 2020 have changed their plans as a result of the crisis, according to a survey by Junior Achievement and the PMI Educational Foundation.

Of those who made a shift, 36% said they will now work, 32% expect to delay their start date for college, and 16% changed the career path they wish to pursue. The survey, conducted by Wakefield Research between May 21 and May 29, polled 1,000 U.S. teens graduating high school in 2020.

While the findings aren't necessarily surprising, it does highlight the need to help teens navigate the current climate, said Ed Grocholski, senior vice president of Junior Achievement USA.

"A lot of these high school grads are making these decisions without really knowing for sure yet what's going to happen in the fall," he said.

"This probably has more do to do with their family financial situation then what college experience will look like."

Since the survey, more higher-education institutions have disclosed their plans for the fall semester.

So far, 65% of colleges are planning for in-person classes, 8% are planning for online and 12% are proposing a hybrid model. Additionally, 9% are considering a "range of scenarios" and 6% are waiting to decide, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking about 970 colleges across the U.S.

A Gen Z expert, Jason Dorsey, said Covid-19 is "a generation-defining moment."

"The fact that roughly half of graduating seniors have changed their plans as the result of a pandemic, which only really started three months prior to their graduation, shows the depth, severity, and impact of Covid-19 on the generation," said Dorsey, president and lead researcher at The Center for Generational Kinetics, a global Gen Z and millennial research and strategy firm in Austin, Texas.

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The Class of 2020 survey also found that 40% have had their plans to pay for college affected by the pandemic.

Of those planning to go to college, 35% say they are are less excited to go, 58% are concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on their classes and academic quality and 53% are concerned about the impact on dorm life. Additionally, 44% are worried about the effect on athletics and school-sponsored events and 40% are concerned about how it will affect dining halls.

"Seeing Gen Z's worry about attending college, paying for college, and the value they're going to get from the experience can have an outsized impact on their future should they choose not to attend college or pick a different college than planned," Dorsey said.

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While almost a third plan to delay their start date for college, Grocholski warns about the consequences of doing so.

"Once you take that break, it is hard to reengage yourself with that education," he said.

"Whatever they do, look at ways that they can continue their education going forward, even if it's not the ideal situation for them."

He urged parents to be proactive and have conversations with their teens.

"Parents need to initiate the discussion with their kids because kids aren't necessarily going to bring it up," Grocholski said.

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