Cover: Changes in College and Career Readiness Supports During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Changes in College and Career Readiness Supports During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published Jan 12, 2022

by Christine Mulhern, Elizabeth D. Steiner

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Research Questions

  1. Which high school students received supports for postsecondary transitions?
  2. How have supports for postsecondary transitions changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic?
  3. What were the perceived barriers to supports for postsecondary transitions, and what types of resources do high school principals and teachers report might help address those barriers?

High schools play a crucial role in helping students plan for and transition to postsecondary education and career pathways. During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, supporting all students in their transition to life after high school remains important for postsecondary success. Resources, such as school counselors and advising technologies, can affect students' postsecondary choices. Differences in access to supports in high school contribute to significant variation in student access to postsecondary opportunities; high school students experiencing poverty and students in minoritized racial/ethnic groups generally experience the largest barriers to such access.

Emerging evidence suggests that high school students' postsecondary aspirations and their engagement with school counselors have changed during the pandemic. In this Data Note, the authors compare nationally representative survey response data from the 2020 and 2021 Learn Together Surveys (LTS) to examine differences in how high school teachers and principals provided supports to students for successful postsecondary transitions before and during the first year of the pandemic.

Drawing on responses from 2,126 9th- to 12th-grade teachers and 702 high school principals to the 2021 LTS and responses from 2,279 9th- to 12th-grade teachers and 640 high school principals to the 2020 LTS, the authors compare educators' responses across various school-level characteristics, including student free or reduced-price lunch eligibility, enrollment of nonwhite students, and school locale. The authors found equity gaps in which groups of students reportedly received sufficient supports for postsecondary transitions and recommend strategies for improving students' equitable access to and engagement with such supports.

Key Findings

  • Access to supports for postsecondary transitions was unevenly distributed across student groups. High-achieving students reportedly had the most access to such supports, while underachieving students and those who did not ask for these supports had the least access to them.
  • High school teachers reported providing fewer students with college and career readiness supports one year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • High school principals and teachers desired more staff to help with postsecondary transitions.


  • High school students who graduate during the pandemic may require additional supports to make successful postsecondary transitions. High schools could take several different approaches to address this need, including offering postsecondary advising in 9th and 10th grades, partnering with community-based organizations to provide supplemental advising, or working directly with postsecondary educational programs and employers on direct outreach to students.
  • District leaders should consider expanding high school counseling staff and services. A larger counseling staff could increase student and family engagement in the postsecondary transition process and supplement the in-class supports provided by teachers, particularly when there are disruptions that create barriers to using class time for college and career readiness supports.

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The research described in this report was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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