Twenty-first century career construction is not straight forward, and this is especially so for young people from low SES backgrounds. The decision to go to university typically “begins with the end in mind” being the identification of preferred occupations. What young people from low SES backgrounds want is a clear line of sight between where they are now and the work they want to do in the future. Indeed, a joined-up, education-to-occupation blueprint underpinned by accessible and coherent career advice would be well received by low SES students, their families, communities, schools and the higher education sector.

The decision to go (or not to go) to university is complex and is more accurately described as a “series of group decisions” involving parents, Elders, schools and university outreach. Low SES young people often have to process mixed messages from well-meaning others and attempt to make sense of voluminous and sometimes conflicting information, rhetoric and rumour. Adding to this is uncertainty about future work, such as the impact of automation on job availability in their preferred occupation.

For many present-day low SES secondary school students, career and associated university decisions are fraught with risk. In my 2018 NCSEHE Research Fellowship, I set out to develop a deeper understanding of these risks. I found that not only are there ten types of risks that low SES secondary student wrestle with, but also students vary in the way they square up these risks. The decision to go to university follows a different course for risk-averse, risk-neutral and risk-seeking low SES students. Further analysis found that low SES parents underestimate the breadth and depth of the concerns (risks) that their secondary school child have.

Such insights can inform and help tailor the initiatives and supports provided by upstream and midstream stakeholders.

Associate Professor Maria Raciti

University of the Sunshine Coast

NCSEHE 2018 Research Fellow


Raciti NCSEHE 2018 Research Fellowship Final Report here


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education