Survey finds 2020 high school graduates delayed college plans, concerned about financial security


Class of 2020 Significantly Impacted by COVID-19, concerned about financing college and financial future

COVID-19 has significantly impacted how teens are thinking about their financial futures, prompting 25% of 2020 high school graduates to delay their college plans in the face of reduced financial support from parents and guardians because of the pandemic, according to a new survey from Junior Achievement (JA) and Citizens. The findings, which indicate broad-based concern among teens regarding how they will pay for higher education, highlight an increased need for financial literacy educational resources to assist them in making financial decisions that impact them over the long term.

In addition to prompting increased concern among teens generally, the survey indicated that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on teens of color, with 60% of Black and 59% of Hispanic teens* reporting that COVID-19 has affected how they will pay for college, compared to under half (45%) of their White peers. 

The survey was conducted among 2,000 American teens ages 13 to 19 not yet graduated from high school and 500 teens who graduated high school in 2020.“The past year has brought unprecedented challenges and uncertainty to everyone, and high school students are feeling this as they navigate the transition to the next phase of their lives post high-school,” said Christine Roberts, Head of Student Lending at Citizens. “Equipping students with the skills and knowledge they need to make important financial decisions is critical to easing uncertainty and ensuring teenagers are able to make sound financial decisions.” 

Despite showing greater uncertainty and anxiety among young people amid the challenges created by the pandemic, the survey revealed an overall sense of optimism among respondents, with a majority (74%) of teens who have not yet graduated high school remaining bullish about their financial future. This is in contrast to last year’s survey, which showed just 31% of respondents not concerned about the financial impact of COVID-19. Even with many delaying post-high school plans, most of the Class of 2020 (65%) remains optimistic overall about their financial future. Many of those surveyed reported that COVID has prompted their families to pare back financial support for college, with nearly three in four (72%) Class of 2020 high school graduates and 79% of high school-aged teens indicating that they will need to rethink how to finance some or all of their higher education. 

“Last spring there was concern about how the pandemic would impact the Class of 2020, and this survey reinforces those concerns,” said said Jack E. Kosakowski, President and CEO of Junior Achievement USA. “After the financial crisis of 2008, we saw a doubling of student loan debt and young adults impacted by that situation delaying major life decisions, such as purchasing a home, starting families and planning for the future. It is important that we offer support for today’s teens experiencing the economic fallout from COVID. For Junior Achievement, that means providing education about critical life skills to help them navigate uncertain times.” 

Additional survey findings include:

  • More than half (55%) of Class of 2020 high school graduates have discussed their families’ finances more as a result of COVID, compared to just 44% for teens as a whole.
  • Two-thirds of Class of 2020 high school graduates (69%) are somewhat or very concerned about the financial impact of COVID-19 on their families, compared to just over half (55%) of teens who have not yet graduated high school.

More information and an executive summary is available at this link.

*In 11th or 12th grade

Survey Methodology: The JA COVID-19 Graduation Survey 2021 was conducted by Wakefield Research ( among 2,000 nationally representative U.S. teens ages 13-19 who are not currently enrolled in college, with an oversample of 500 students who graduated high school in 2020, between February 26th and March 8th, 2021, using an email invitation and an online survey. 
Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 2.2 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.

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