Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Early Adolescents' Aspirations and Academic Tracking an Exploratory Investigation

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Early Adolescents' Aspirations and Academic Tracking an Exploratory Investigation

Article excerpt

Early adolescents make early career decisions in the form of curriculum choices for high school, and these choices can influence future postsecondary education and career paths. This exploratory study examined relationships between school and demographic variables and 522 eighth graders' choices of high school academic tracks. Analysis of variance and chi-square analyses identified statistically significant relationships between curricular choices and various school and demographic variables. The potential for aspiration gaps and implications for school counselor educational and career planning are discussed.


Aspirations have been defined as the "educational and vocational 'dreams'" that students have for their future (Sirin, Diemer, Jackson, Gonsalves, & Howell, 2004, p. 438). Gottfredson (2002) discussed the development of occupational aspirations as a process of circumscription and compromise in which an individual may change his or her original career choices to ones perceived as more appropriate or accessible. Students may perceive one job or career path to be more accessible than another based on factual information they have gathered; however, the values and beliefs of others (e.g., peers, parents, teachers) can shape students' occupational aspirations over time. A student might aspire to become a biologist, but if peers believe the job has no value, parents indicate they cannot pay for college, and teachers do not encourage rigorous coursework, the student might compromise that aspiration for one viewed as more prestigious to peers, more affordable to attain, and more in line with what teachers expect.

Career and academic aspirations are clearly influenced by multiple intrapersonal and systemic factors (Gottfredson, 2002). Some individual factors related to students' aspirations include their level of interpersonal skills, self-reliance, self-control, self-concept, and level of maturity/responsibility (Marjoribanks, 2002; Sirin et al., 2004). Systemic variables related to academic and career aspirations include students' socioeconomic status (SES), the level of families' engagement in their children's education, ethnicity, race, familial aspirations, and the level of parental education (Hill et al., 2004; Marjoribanks; Sirin et al.).

Research has in fact shown significant correlations between race and educational aspirations. In a study of high school seniors conducted by Mahoney and Merritt (1993), White students were much more likely to be enrolled in a college/university preparatory program than Black students. Moreover, a disparity existed between Black seniors who desired to attend college and those who were enrolled in a curriculum track preparing them for college. Also, Bigler, Averhart, and Liben (2003) found that Black children, by the age of 6, have "developed racial schema that incorporate beliefs about occupations and that these schemas affect their perceptions of job and occupational aspirations in significant ways" (p. 578).

In similar ways, gender and SES also can be influential. Both Buchmann and Dalton (2002) and Mau (1995) found females to have higher educational and career aspirations than males, while Trusty and Niles (2004) discovered that women were more likely to complete a bachelor's degree than men. With regard to SES, Valadez (1998) found that the significance of SES in the decision to pursue college outweighs that of both race and gender, with individuals of lower SES having lower aspirations toward college.

According to Marjoribanks (2002, 2004), students' academic and career aspirations significantly contribute to their educational and occupational achievement and academic self-concept. Moreover, career aspirations have a significant positive relationship with students' achievement (Hill et al., 2004), in that higher expectations lead to higher educational and occupational attainment (Trusty & Niles, 2004). In fact, Man and Bikos (2000) found that a student's academic program of study was the strongest contributor to his or her postsecondary aspirations. …

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