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Research Review

Teenagers Who Feel Like They Don’t Fit in Less Likely to Attend College

High school students who feel they do not fit in—particularly girls who are gay or obese—are less likely to attend college, according to new research from the University of Texas at Austin.

“Because social experiences in high school have such demonstrable effects on academic progress and attending college, the social concerns of teenagers are educational concerns for school,” says Robert Crosnoe, PhD, a sociology department professor and Population Research Center affiliate.

Crosnoe has completed one of the most comprehensive studies of the long-term effects on teenagers who say they don’t fit in. He used national statistics from 132 high schools and spent more than a year inside a high school in Texas with 2,200 students, observing and interviewing teenagers.

“Kids who have social problems—often because they are overweight or gay—are at greater risk of missing out on going to college simply because of the social problems they have and how it affects them emotionally,” says Crosnoe. “Not because of anything to do with intelligence or academic progress.”

Girls were 57% and boys 68% less likely than peers of the same race, social class, and academic background to attend college if they had feelings of not fitting in, according to the study. Particularly at risk were girls who are obese (78% less likely to attend college) and those who are gay (50% less likely to attend).

Crosnoe found feelings of not fitting in led to increased depression, marijuana use, and truancy over time. Those coping strategies interrupt the education process—the classes teenagers take and the grades they make—which, in turn, affects their ability to go to college.

“Teenagers cope with the discomforts of not fitting in, including being bullied, in ways that are protective in the short term, but disastrous in the long term,” says Crosnoe.

— Source: University of Texas at Austin