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Aspirations Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

Aspirations reflect student ambitions to complete secondary school and pursue post-secondary education or enter the labour market. Research has demonstrated that educational aspirations are formed during the school years, and a strong relationship exists between sex, parental socioeconomic status, and educational attainment (Andres, Adamuti-Trache, Yoon, Pidgeon, & Thomsen, 2007).

The Learning Bar’s framework on the drivers of student outcomes includes measures of quality instruction, school context, classroom context and family context. Family context includes measures of advocacy at school and student aspirations. The Learning Bar’s measure of student aspiration asks students to indicate if they plan to finish secondary school, pursue an apprenticeship or VET/TAFE course, or attend university.

Why is it important?

  • Both academic and occupational aspirations have a significant impact on educational attainment (Bidwell & Friedkin, 1988: Hossler, Braxton, & Coppersmith, 1989).
  • University attendance is influenced by aspirations developed throughout the high school years (Christofides, Hoy, Milla, & Stengos, 2015).
  • Grades and educational aspirations are influenced by parental expectations and peer factors (Christofides et al., 2015).
  • Support and encouragement is needed from school personnel to ensure that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are able to pursue postsecondary opportunities that match their abilities (Andres et al., 2007).
  • Dropping out of school is not the result of a single discreet event; rather it is a developmental process of gradual disengagement, often beginning in the early school years (Finn, 1989).
  • Early predictors of school dropout include poor attendance, poor behaviour, and failing grades. Thus, early identification and intervention is needed to ensure high school completion (Balfanz, Herzog, & Mac Iver, 2007).

How do we measure it?

In the Tell Them From Me secondary school questionnaire students respond to Likert questions about their aspirations. The results are reported as ‘the percentage of students planning to finish Year 12’, ‘the percentage of students planning to go do an apprenticeship or VET/TAFE course’, and ‘the percentage of students planning to go to university’.


Andres, L., Adamuti-Trache, M., Yoon, E. S., Pidgeon, M., & Thomsen, J. P. (2007). Educational expectations, parental social class, gender, and postsecondary attainment a 10-Year perspective. Youth & Society, 39(2), 135-163.

Balfanz, R., Herzog, L., & Mac Iver, D. J. (2007). Preventing student disengagement and keeping students on the graduation path in urban middle-grades schools: Early identification and effective interventions. Educational Psychologist, 42(4), 223-235.

Bidwell, C. E., & Friedkin, N. E. (1988). The sociology of education. In N. Smelser (Ed.), Handbook of sociology (pp.449-471). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Christofides, L. N., Hoy, M., Milla, J., & Stengos, T. (2015). Grades, aspirations, and post-secondary education outcomes. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 45(1), 48-82.

Finn, J. D. (1989). Withdrawing from school. Review of Educational Research, 59(2), 117-142.

Hossler, D., Braxton, J., & Coopersmith, G. (1989). Understanding student college choice. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. 5, pp. 231-288). New York: Agathon Press.