High School Outlook Reveals Key Trends Among Gen Z Students

About the author : Stephen Dunmore

CEO North America Schools at Sodexo

Published on : 10/25/22
  • High school has always been a time for students to develop their interests and explore ideas for the future. These young people are often just starting to consider the many paths into adulthood that lay before them. Will they go straight into the workforce or continue their education? Perhaps they may be interested in serving in the military or learning a trade. For many students, the next step is to pursue higher education, which requires them to think through numerous complex considerations.

    Sodexo is committed to understanding what drives students’ decision-making and other behaviors so we can help educators provide the right support and resources. As part of that commitment, we strive to identify and track shifting trends as reported firsthand by undergraduate students through the Sodexo Student Lifestyle Survey. In addition to surveying college students, this year Sodexo also surveyed high school students for the first time to identify how these students are navigating the complex and sometimes overwhelming process of pursuing higher education. We recently published the results in the 2022-2023 Student Lifestyle Survey – High School Outlook.

    What struck me most as I read through these findings was high school students’ sophisticated awareness of the world around them and their own needs. Although they are still quite young, they seem to understand the challenges that are inherent to pursuing their goals, and they’re concerned about their skills and level of preparation.

    School districts and their partners are in a unique position to become allies for students and prepare them for life beyond high school. Resilience is a universal skill that is vital for all students, regardless of their post-graduation path, and it is something we as community leaders have a responsibility to help students develop.

    High School Outlook Key Findings

    High school students’ motivations, priorities, values and expectations have shifted in recent years in response to the myriad changes and events that have impacted their educational experience. The High School Outlook report reveals a few key areas where school districts and their partners can have a meaningful impact on students’ experiences and promote future success.

    Social and Educational Gaps Persist

    Because of school closures, online learning and the cancellation of extra-curricular events, Gen Z students experienced gaps in learning and social development. The unique challenges of remote learning also inhibited relationship building with the teachers, guidance counselors and school-based staff who typically help students prepare for college. These gaps have led to students anticipating challenges and being acutely aware of the need to overcome obstacles. There are significant opportunities for educators to bridge the gaps experienced by students by providing the easily accessible support they need to overcome barriers and achieve their goals.

    Finances and Friendliness are Paramount

    College-bound students are increasingly concerned about the costs of higher education, naming affordability and availability of financial aid as the number one factor in enrollment decisions. The second most important factor is a friendly campus atmosphere. When high school students consider college options, prestige, rankings and reputation are far less important than these two criteria.

    Dining is a Top Opportunity for Engagement

    Students consider dining the most significant opportunity for socialization and engagement on campus. Although students believe that making new friends will be a major challenge when attending college, we can help them continue to see mealtimes as opportunities for socialization by providing menus and cafeteria environments that ensure students want to eat together at school. Lunch may be the only consistent time during the day when students can connect with friends, so we must continue providing fun, healthy dining experiences that encourage social engagement.

    Students Want Support and Guidance

    High schoolers are independently researching college options by browsing social media pages and other online resources. And 81% of students have viewed colleges’ websites as part of the research process. While Gen Z students tend to be pragmatic and independent, they are also ready to seek and receive help when needed, with 60% speaking with guidance counselors about college options.

    Mental Health is an Ongoing Concern

    Students at all levels are stressed and worried. Almost 60% of high school students are already concerned about being anxious and overwhelmed in college. About two-thirds of those students expect colleges to provide support for mental health concerns.


    Partnering to Meet Students’ Evolving Needs

    Something that excites me about what we do here at Sodexo is the chance to help the districts we serve build strong, vibrant school communities where students have an equitable opportunity to thrive. We must continue working together to provide warm, welcoming environments in our cafeterias and school buildings and creating touchpoints for students to develop social skills, learn to overcome challenges and prepare for the future. Listening to students and remaining committed to meeting their needs is one way school districts and their partners can create resilient students who are ready to tackle whatever obstacles may come their way.

    Download the High School Outlook Report