Extending the Runway

To Better Prepare All Students for Their Futures

A 50-State Analysis of Middle School Career Exploration

With the demand for skilled workers continuing to rise coupled with the lingering educational effects of a global pandemic, it is no longer enough to start planning for career aspirations during a student’s junior—or even freshman—year of high school. Students who have a longer career exploration runway are better positioned to make the right decisions along their education journey to put them on a path to life-long economic success and personal fulfillment. Starting career exploration in middle school is now a necessity. 

“I feel like there aren’t enough [opportunities to learn about careers in school]. I feel like we need more time to do it. Because it’s once a year and you get a five-day unit about what you want to do. Okay, that’s nice. Goodbye. We’re moving on.”

student interview with Lexi, 8th grade student in Virginia

Through an in-depth national scan including student and expert interviews, against 13 criteria across 3 categories, American Student Assistance® (ASA) and Education Strategy Group (ESG) recently set out to understand states’ current approaches to defining, investing in, and supporting the implementation of middle school career exploration and perhaps more importantly, how current students are experiencing these efforts. 

Overall, our research found that states have a strong start in this relatively new space, but without a unified state vision and commitment, a prioritization of students’ need for more relevant, diverse and hands-on experiences in a continuum throughout K-12, and sustained financial support and local capacity building, they risk making career exploration a series of paper-pencil activities that miss the opportunity to help shape students’ path to a fulfilling career that pays a living wage.

Read the full report for examples of best practices in state vision, policies, funding, implementation, data collection and accountability.

State Profiles: Methodology

ASA commissioned ESG to analyze the efforts of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. to effectively prioritize and facilitate meaningful career exploration experiences for middle school students. These findings are included within the full report and outlined in each state profile with a more thorough description of each state’s approach to middle school career exploration.

Individual State Profiles