Military recruitment is a perennial challenge. Estimates show just 30 percent of youth are fully qualified to enlist, and many do not consider serving. To meet this challenge, the military must continually assess and adapt its recruiting approaches. This dissertation aids military recruitment planners by providing a more comprehensive understanding of how youth build and access their career and educational information networks in high school, as part of their decision-making process.
This dissertation consists of three papers. The first paper explores the many theories and factors that affect youth career and educational decision-making, integrating several disciplines that have contributed separately to understanding youth in this context. The second paper provides an exploration of two sources of data—a longitudinal survey from the U.S. Department of Education and interviews with high school juniors and newly enlisted U.S. Air Force recruits. I segment youth into seven groups of interest and evaluate how each builds and uses its information networks in high school. The third paper visualizes and describes youth information networks across groups using concepts from social network analysis. I find that youth information networks are dynamic and evolving, with four-year college-bound youth and females having the strongest networks and youth neither enrolling in college nor serving in the military having the weakest. I also find that social-emotional wellbeing, degree of focus, and motivation are important factors in how youth build their networks and make career and educational decisions. I then provide insights and implications for military recruitment planners on how to more effectively engage with youth. This could include marketing strategies designed for the full youth life-course with multiple points of engagement and doing more to distinguish and reach out to youth in a social network context.