"Coming out of Sept. 11 these kids recognize that the world is different, it's smaller and more challenging," said Peter Hart, whose research company studied adolescent attitudes and goals. "As difficult a year as they've gone through they remain optimistic and upbeat."
The "State of Our Nation's Youth" survey released Tuesday is published annually by the Horatio Alger Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based group that gives college scholarships and financial aid counseling.
Two-thirds of teens also said Sept. 11 was the most significant event of their lifetime, the survey found. The same proportion of students said that after the attacks they prayed, meditated or spent time in spiritual reflection.
"Since the attack on Sept. 11, I believe anything can happen anywhere even in our backyard," said Adrienne Ulmer, 17, who graduated in May from high school in Columbia, S.C. "It made me appreciate my family, my religion, the places where I grew up, everybody who has loved me."
One in five students said the attacks directly affected their lives a great deal and nearly a third said the events of Sept. 11 gave them new ideas or changed their plans for life after high school.
While the survey did not explore what those changes might be, 89 percent of students said they planned to attend some type of college after graduating.
Hart said 62 percent of students said seeking professional degrees would better prepare them for life rather than a broader liberal arts education.
"Tougher economic times have made these young people that much more pragmatic," he said.
The May telephone survey of 1,003 high school students aged 13 to 18 had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The survey of students also found:
Nearly six in 10 expect to see required military service in their lifetimes.
Half said their fellow students became more friendly and considerate immediately after the attacks, but only 14 percent said students were still that way six months later.
More than half said they have been frustrated since Sept. 11 because they can't do more to help.