Talk to pretty much any high school teacher today, and they will tell you that apathy and disengagement are key factors in their classrooms.  In fact, this problem is not new.  In 2003, the National Research Center noted that approximately 40% of high school students are chronically disengaged from school.  Research indicates that several factors foster motivation in students, including feeling competent to complete a task, having control and autonomy about how to complete a task, having interest in or valuing the task, and feeling a sense of social belonging or social reward from completing the task (Center on Education Policy, 2012).  If we look at the problem of apathy in high school students through the lens of these four factors, it might be easier to understand why so many high school students today are apathetic.  Are they in classrooms that provide opportunities for autonomy, relate tasks to students’ interests or values, or support students as they develop competence?  What are schools doing to curb apathy by increasing factors that motivate students?

Many programs exist that seek to motivate students by having them set goals that include college (Center on Education Policy, 2012).  However, not all of these programs work to motivate students.  Just encouraging students to attend college is not enough.  If students lack a sense of competence related to applying for college, or a lack of feeling in control over the direction of their futures, then no amount of encouragement will overcome the disengagement.  Programs that are the most successful ensure that students understand what they need to do to get into college, as well as help them to see the value of attending college in relation to their own life plans (Center on Education Policy, 2012).  In addition, students are supported when programs offer ongoing counseling and supports to help students as they progress in their high school coursework and begin to plan for attending college.

One of the ways in which schools can extinguish apathy in high school students is to offer programs that help students see postsecondary education as a goal, and provide the supports for students to achieve that goal.  These programs should work to provide information for students on the process of applying for and attending college, such as admission requirements, entrance requirements, and financial aid.  In addition, students should receive advice and support as they consider what courses they should take to be well-positioned to apply to the college of their choice (Center on Education Policy, 2012).

The LifePlan Laboratories curriculum can help your school district meet all of these research-based recommendations for motivating students by connecting the work they are doing now to postsecondary options.  The LifePlan labs curriculum, which addresses topics related to planning and preparing for college to topics addressing navigating college life and transitioning to a first job, helps to build student competence by introducing them to issues surrounding the decision to go to college.  As they work through the curriculum, students are building their own unique life plan and setting unique goals.  They have control and autonomy as they reflect on the type of college they would like to attend and choose a potential major.  The curriculum relates decisions about college to the student’s individual preferences and values, while also helping the student to understand how decisions made in high school can affect the ability to fulfill the life plan goals.

Because of the connections that the LifePlan curriculum makes between high school coursework and eventual goals that a student may have for college, students suddenly have more personal interest and a sense of personal value for the work they are doing in high school.  In addition, because the LifePlan curriculum allows students to have choice in the design of their life plan, the curriculum fosters a sense of autonomy and self-control in the student, which translates to their sense of autonomy in everyday life.  Students can now see how the choices they make today will affect their life in the future.  Finally, the LifePlan curriculum is built around giving students the information they need to make educated, competent choices related to college.  When students fully understand the steps of the process, including understanding how decisions to accept financial aid impacts their future, they are able to move through a new, often intimidating, process feeling competent to make decisions that are in their best interests.  Instead of blindly relying on the judgement of others, including advisors, counselors, and even loan officers; students are able to take the information they learn in the LifePlan curriculum and make educated choices about their own futures.

Students are more motivated when they feel competent, have autonomy, value or have interest in a task, and find social value in a task.  The LifePlan Laboratories curriculum helps students engage with planning for their own futures by building their competence to address a plethora of issues related to planning for college, attending college, and transitioning to a career.  The curriculum helps students to understand the social value of attending college, as well as helps them to create an individualized path and set goals related to their unique preferences and needs.  Finally, the curriculum helps students see value in their high school coursework by connecting it to their planning and preparation for college admission.

Want to extinguish apathy in your high school?  Put the LifePlan Laboratories curriculum to work for you, and help students engage today as they plan for tomorrow.


Center on Education Policy (2012). Student motivation: An overlooked piece of school reform. George Washington University.  Washington, DC.  Retrieved from:

National Research Council. (2004). Engaging schools: Fostering high school students’ motivation to learn. Committee on Increasing High School Students’ Engagement and Motivation to Learn. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.  Retrieved from: