College enrollments continue to fall – Top 5 reasons to consider life design curriculum to counter this disconcerting pandemic trend

If you are a parent, teacher or high school administrator concerned about the falling number of high school graduates attending college, you are not alone in seeking ways to motivate teens to pursue higher education. The Associated Press article – Jaded with education, more Americans are skipping college – captures the disconcerting trends and concerns. As tuition prices soar and student debt becomes an increasingly prevalent issue, many teenagers are turning away from college altogether in favor of joining the workforce right away. For many of them, the pandemic was a double whammy – their education on Zoom was not engaging and they found jobs that provided steady income.

Per the AP, “Nationwide, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022, with declines even after returning to in-person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse.”

You may find yourself challenged with getting these teenage minds to understand the huge potential benefits of continuing their education beyond high school. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of five key reasons why incorporating life, career and college design education will be integral in helping students understand their options, explore different possibilities and make informed choices about their future. In order words: don’t let your teens miss out on exploring all they can become!

Mitigate/manage the financial burden of educational debt

Creating a plan to manage educational debt can be the key to financial success. Before taking out student loans, it’s important to understand exactly what type of loan is best for you, how much you need, and what you’re willing to pay back each month. Additionally, make sure to research as many scholarships and financial aid programs as possible, by filing a FAFSA form or planning a visit with the school’s financial aid officer for further advice. Community college can also be a great way to lessen the burden of educational debt; take the time to explore options within your community and talk to advisors about which credits may transfer. Lastly, consider alternative lending if you have already taken out loans but are struggling with repayment. There are countless tools available to help manage debt and create an effective life design that works both now and in the future.

Pandemic saw sharp drop on college enrollment

percent of recent high school graduates, ages 16-24, enrolled in college. Source – Associated Press.

Learn/teach life design skills that students believe prepares them for the real world

Learning the skills of life design helps teenagers create strong, meaningful futures for themselves. Rather than focusing only on college tuition and loans, life design encourages teens to think about – how they can find their purpose by connecting what they love and are good at with the world’s needs and what will pay them. Those are the four elements of the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai. Life design focuses on long-term thinking and planning, which better prepares them for lasting success in the real world. Through developing life design skills at a young age, students can develop an understanding of how to balance independence, creativity, and financial freedom while still finding future success. Life design skills help people navigate the unexpected possibilities and issues that come up throughout life – people skilled in life design are less anxious, less stressed, more creative, more productive, and happier.

Evaluating job opportunities and life aspiration with or without college degrees

Knowing what career path to choose can be tricky. It’s hard to explore what pathways will be available and what debt you’ll have to pay off. Although immediate compensation is important, it’s essential to also consider the long-term implications of any financial decision. That being said, it doesn’t make sense to take on a job that you don’t enjoy just because it pays a lot– life isn’t worth living if your work isn’t satisfying. Instead of being hyper-focused on immediate payment and security alone, taking advantage of opportunities to explore the unknown may lead to more valuable and meaningful experiences in the future. Taking time to evaluate your job prospects carefully while considering immediate vs long-term compensation, satisfaction, and optionality can help you find the right fit.

From the AP – “Fewer college graduates could worsen labor shortages in fields from health care to information technology. For those who forgo college, it usually means lower lifetime earnings — 75% less compared with those who get bachelor’s degrees, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. And when the economy sours, those without degrees are more likely to lose jobs.”

Mentors, passion projects, and communities of interest provide valuable experience

College is a great avenue to develop skills and knowledge, however, it is not the only path to success. Recognizing this reality, mentorship can help teenagers build experiences, passion projects can spark something worthwhile, and communities of interest can expand access for finding mentors as well as like-minded individuals who share a common cause. By carving out time for mentorship and hands-on experiences or following one’s passions by investing in them, teens may gain valuable experience that will guide them on their life journey before, during, and after college. This type of thoughtful exploration of pursuits, done in a proven and structured curriculum, will open doors that are just as meaningful as college without the debt – demonstrating that there can be immense value in continuously creating a person’s own individualized life design.

Build career mentor networks while in high school

Finding the right mentors and building career-oriented networks before graduating high school is paramount to teenage success. Teens should explore what’s out there and access beyond their known people for expert collaborators. Bigger, diverse opportunities exist with in-person and virtual approaches. Reaching out to professionals in different facets of a particular field can provide direction as well as first-hand understanding about what a dream career entails. With research, curiosity and dedication, teens can create powerful mentorships that facilitate insightful learning experiences to create a life design of their aspirations.

As we have seen, teenagers can prepare for both the short-term and long-term reality of job opportunities before making a decision about college. Debt can be mitigated with education, skill development, and good decision-making. Learning how to design a life that maximizes one’s passion, interests, and strengths — instead of purely focusing on building career skills — is a valuable approach for teens who naturally want to take their lives into their own hands. In these unusual times, the world needs young people who can think outside the box more than ever. Therefore, actively seeking out mentors and communities of interest is an integral part of creating a successful career path, so students should begin building their networks now.

It is our mission at to ensure every student has access to a personalized plan, meaningful mentoring, hands-on projects, and community so if you are interested in exploring this route please sign up for a free 1:1 consultation with our life design experts to learn more about how we motivate teens, guide them to find their direction and improve their college application outcomes and experiences. We believe in developing talent through personal growth and self-reliance— regardless of traditional academic or economical circumstances — and are committed to helping young adults create their life designs that become their personal success stories.

Joelle Kaufman<br>
Joelle Kaufman

Revenue Catalyst | Optimizes Everything in Go-To-Market (GTM)

Mastering the Art of Being a High School Superstar: Insights from Cal Newport’s Book

Today college admissions is an overwhelming race. You are expected to achieve the highest grades, participate in various extracurricular activities, and maintain a busy schedule that can often leave you feeling burned out. Cal Newport’s book “How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out)” hits the nail on the head regarding how to approach the college admissions process holistically.

The examples presented in the book are from the mid-2000s, the competition for college admissions has only increased since then. However, the advice presented in the book is still highly relevant today. One of the key aspects of the book is the importance of under-scheduling. Newport emphasizes the beauty of having free time and using it to focus on your one or more deep interests, rather than constantly overcommitting and being overwhelmed by a hectic schedule.

The book encourages you to be “interesting” rather than well-rounded but run-of-the-mill. Colleges want to admit students who have unique and fascinating interests and experiences, rather than those who participate in a long list of generic extracurricular activities. The key is to pursue a few interests deeply, rather than trying to do everything and becoming a jack of all trades but a master of none.

High school and the life beyond is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s important for you to stay sane while running the marathon. You should take care of yourself mentally and physically, rather than sacrificing your health and well-being for the sake of productivity. Burnout is a real risk when you try to do too much, and it’s crucial to maintain a healthy balance between school, extracurricular activities, personal time, and pursuing deep interests. 

Newport advocates for you to be a “relaxed superstar” who has free time to focus on your interests and doesn’t sacrifice sleep to maintain a busy schedule. Sleep is essential for both academic success and mental health, and sacrificing it for the sake of productivity is not worth it in the long run.

In addition to pursuing deep interests, Newport also encourages you to pursue “wow” accomplishments. These are achievements that truly innovate, even in a small way. Innovation should take the world forward, even in the slightest way, and these accomplishments are the ones that will truly make you stand out in the college admissions process.

Overall, the book emphasizes the importance of having an enjoyable high school experience, rather than exhausting years that drain the life and spark out of you. One of the key takeaways from the book is the idea that being “interesting” is more important than being well-rounded. It’s crucial for you to find a balance between school, extracurricular activities, personal time, and pursuing deep interests. The college admissions process is about much more than just grades and extracurricular activities – it’s about finding unique perspectives and meaningful experiences that showcase who you are as a person. Pursuing deep interests is the best way to cultivate these qualities. This doesn’t mean that you should neglect your academics or extracurricular activities – it simply means that you should prioritize your passions and pursue them in a meaningful way.

Ultimately, there is no better advice in the world than to be the best version of yourself, rather than trying to fit into a mold of what you think colleges want. Pursuing deep interests, having free time, and cultivating unique experiences are the keys to standing out in the college admissions process, and in life. You do you!