High School Career Exploration Programs: Do They Work?

In Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 86, No. 2 (Oct. 2004), pp. 135-138

Many schools find it difficult to bridge the gap between encouraging academic and vocational paths for their pupils. Under the No Child Left Behind Act in the USA, schools were required to improve academic achievement and help more students into further education or better careers. The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of career exploration activities on high school graduation and post-secondary enrolment rates.

Career exploration programmes (job shadowing, internships or apprenticeships, mentoring, school-sponsored enterprises, career education etc) are increasingly popular in schools, but implementing such activities causes much debate amongst teachers. Some have argued that encouraging academic pupils to take part in career exploration programmes will ‘waste time’ or ‘dilute learning’, whereas others have argued that such programmes may cause a rift between more and less academically-able pupils. The main aim of such programmes, however, is to encourage more pupils to go on to further education and study, because of the impact this will have on career prospects. This research investigated the impact of career exploration activities on high school graduation and post-secondary enrolment rates.

The authors used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 which tracked the school and career histories of nearly 9,000 people born between 1980 and 1984. Narrowing this down, the report is only concerned with those between the ages of 12 and 20. Matching the data from 1997 with data from 2000, the authors asked the following questions:

  • Who participated in career exploration programmes?
  • What are the characteristics of schools in which significant numbers of students participated?
  • Did participation affect students’ high school completion rates and their preparation for college?
  • Did participation influence students’ enrolment in post-secondary education?

The major finding from this research was that greater career exploration activities tend to improve the aspirations and achievements of students from all backgrounds, meaning they are more likely to graduate and to go on to post-secondary education. Furthermore, students who took part in career exploration programmes between 1997 and 2000 were more likely to take college entrance and Advanced Placement exams than those who did not participate in career exploration programmes. As a result, students who participated in career exploration programmes were more likely to apply for and attend college.

The authors stress that academic achievement should not be the only aim of education policy, but that career exploration programmes can play an important role both in motivating non-academic students to achieve and in preparing all students for further study, training and employment.

High School Career Exploration Programs: Do They Work? Phi Delta Kappan 86 (2): 135-138