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Survey of alumni reveals surprises

Student's research shows choice of college doesn't determine satisfaction in life

Classroom buildings at Gunn High School. Photo by Veronica Weber.

This article is part of a larger story on Gunn High School students' perspective on mental health on campus. It can be found here.

This past year, Gunn High School junior Meghna Singh pursued an independent research project through the district's Advanced Authentic Research program, examining the life trajectories of Gunn and Palo Alto High School alumni. She distributed the online survey through Facebook, community websites and newsletters, personal emails and word of mouth and collected 618 responses from graduates of the years 2004 through 2014. The survey asked questions about high school, college and post-college experiences, including measures of success, income, happiness levels, mental health and priorities at the time.

The results were eye-opening, especially for a student body that believes the top 20 colleges are the only avenues for success, Singh said.

Twenty-one percent of alumni said getting into a top 20 school was their No. 1 measure of success during high school. Developing interests came in second at 18.4 percent, followed by being happy with 17.6 percent and having a high GPA with 17.1 percent.

When asked what was their No.1 measure of success in college, however, the highest percentage of respondents — 35.5 percent — said developing interests, while 21.3 percent said being happy, 14.1 percent said having a high GPA and 11.8 percent said getting a job.

When asked what factor had the biggest impact on their current career, top three responses were choice of major (20.9 percent), social or family connections (19.4 percent) and internships (18.3 percent). The two least-reported factors were college attended (9.6 percent) and high school GPA (0.8 percent).

According to Singh's full report, 35.7 to 57.9 percent reported they had mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and burnout during high school. Responses were further broken down based on the college they attended. (The groups, or tiers, were created according to rankings from the 2017 U.S. News and World Report). Alums in tiers 1 to 3 — categorized as universities or liberal arts colleges ranked 1-100 — said they experienced "progressively increasing levels" of mental health conditions in college when compared to high school, whereas tiers 4 to 6 — universities and liberal arts colleges ranked above 100 as well as regional universities, community colleges and city colleges — showed reductions in post-high school years.

Meanwhile, across all groups, the overwhelming majority of alums reported "quality of life" satisfaction levels as "somewhat satisfied" and "very satisfied."

Singh has shared her findings with teachers and hopes to present them to students this year.

"I really hope that this presentation will help ease their minds that — if you look at income, happiness levels, getting a job — it does not matter which college you attend and what the ranking is for that college," she said.

The second-to-last question asked in her survey was "What advice would you give to students in this community?" According to Singh, the major theme of the responses was self-care and getting help.

"So many people said ... (to) enjoy being a kid instead of stressing out all the time and worrying about grades and GPA," she said. "The regret was that they wish they hadn't gotten caught up in everything."

Watch "Behind the Headlines" for a discussion on this issue.


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7 people like this
Posted by Great Initiative!
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 6, 2017 at 1:14 pm

This is a great initiative that Ms. Singh has undertaken and I hope to hear more details about the results she obtained. I think it would be really helpful to extend the survey more broadly as well, such as contacting the rest of the alums from those years. It would be a difficult task and would require support of others, but the additional information would provide even more comprehensive feedback.

This was obviously a lot of work and kudos to Ms. Singh for getting so many responses!

6 people like this
Posted by steve
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Oct 11, 2017 at 7:39 am

our kids are depressed!

this is the work of the damned meddling SCHOOL!

here's how you make kids less stressed, "PAUSD":
cut the bad 'social' programs, and actually lower student's workload!

back in my day we barely had any homework in High School! we didn't need these 'social' programs as a class, because we actually had time to make friends after school.

it's no wonder the kids in the district don't have social knowledge -- it's because between their homework, sports, and forced 100 hours community service, they don't have any time to be with friends

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