Interview Methods

Interview Methods

Special Survey Collections

In addition to the NLSY97 main youth survey administered annually, special data collections took place in the early years of the survey that provided additional information about these young adults.

School Surveys

School Survey (1996). Designed with an emphasis on the school-to-work transition, round 1 of the NLSY97 also included a mail survey of schools. Principals (or their proxies) were asked to complete a self-administered instrument that focused on institutional-level attributes such as school policies and management as well as student-level "experience" data. See School & Transcript Surveys for more detail about the content of the survey. Due to confidentiality restrictions, access to these data is limited. More information can be found on the BLS website's NLSY97 School Surveys page.

Schools in the NLSY97 sample areas that had a 12th grade comprised the sample for this survey. As described in Sample Design & Screening Process, the NLSY97 sample was drawn from 147 primary sampling units (PSUs). The PSUs were further divided into sample segments. All schools in any county with a segment selected for NLSY97 sampling were included in the survey. There were some counties in the PSUs from which no sample segments were selected. The 1996 survey did not include schools in these counties. Schools were identified using the Quality Education Data (QED) file, a proprietary national database of primary and secondary schools in the United States.

The original school survey form was mailed in September 1996; in-scope schools that did not respond by December 1996 were sent a shorter version of the survey, the "critical items" questionnaire. Of the 7,390 in-scope schools that received the survey, 5,295 responded to either the original school survey or the critical items questionnaire. The response rate by the end of the field period, April 5, 1997, was 71.6 percent.

Answer forms for the original school survey were electronically scanned by NORC. However, some hand editing was necessary. The majority of the edited questions were in decimal format. To ensure clean data, the answers were verified by randomly selecting cases, keying the data, and comparing the keyed data files against the scanned data files. The critical items questionnaire did not use a scannable format; the data were keyed using Computer Assisted Data Entry (CADE) and verified twice.

School Survey (2000).  Round 3 of the NLSY97 also included a repeat survey of schools. Principals (or their proxies) were asked to complete a self-administered instrument similar to that used in 1996. To reduce the time burden, questionnaire items from the 1996 instrument were modified to encourage respondents to provide approximate values rather than requiring them to consult administrative records for exact figures. See School & Transcript Surveys for more details about the content of the survey. As is the case with round 1 school survey data, data access to round 3 school survey data is limited. See the school survey information at the BLS website for more details.

As in 1996, schools in the NLSY97 PSUs that had a 12th grade were mailed survey instruments. However, the 2000 sample was expanded to include vocational schools. The sample also included schools in the counties that were in NLSY97 PSUs but did not include any sample segments. Schools in these counties had been omitted from the 1996 survey but were included for limited data collection in 2000. No telephone follow-up was done for schools in these "omitted counties." Finally, in addition to the geographically based sample, other schools were included if an NLSY97 respondent was enrolled during round 2 and that school met the grade and program requirements for eligibility. Schools were identified using the 1998 Quality Education Data (QED) file. 

By January 2000, survey staff had secured cooperation from state school officers and local school districts. In February 2000, questionnaires were mailed to 9,632 sampled schools, including 8,925 schools in a longitudinal sample (comparable to the 1996 school survey), 492 in the omitted counties sample, and 215 eligible only due to round 2 youth enrollment. After mail and telephone follow-up, 5,955 schools (71.6 percent) in the longitudinal sample (comparable to the 1996 school survey) completed questionnaires. The overall response rate for all schools in the 2000 survey was 71 percent.

Due to "births" and "deaths" of schools between 1996 and 2000 and nonresponse in 1996, not all schools in the longitudinal sample are present in the 1996 data.  The retention rate of 1996 schools into the 2000 survey was 74.2 percent (3,900 of 5,253).

Transcript Surveys

High School Transcripts. At two separate points in time, the NLSY97 program sought high school transcripts for respondents who were no longer enrolled in high school and for whom field interviewers had secured parent and respondent consent for transcript release. Eligible respondents were those who either had graduated from high school or who were age 18 or older and no longer enrolled in high school. The first wave of transcripts was collected in 1999-2000, the second wave in 2004. Transcripts were received and processed for 1,417 respondents in Wave 1 and 4,815 respondents in Wave 2 for a combined total of 6,232 respondents. Using course catalogs, transcript data, and clarification calls to school administrators, survey staff constructed histories of courses taken and term enrollment calendars for each youth. Data files also include information on absences, standardized test scores, and indicators of special education, gifted/talented, and high school graduation status. Courses were coded into the Revised Secondary School Taxonomy (SST-R). A large set of transcript variables is included in the public use data set, as described in School & Transcript Surveys.

Post-Secondary Transcripts. College transcript data for NLSY97 respondents were collected in 2012-2013. These data include a youth-level file with selected transcript-related data, as well as course and term-level files with variables pertaining to course enrollment. For more detailed information, see School & Transcript Surveys and Appendix 12: Post-Secondary Transcript Study

Comparison to Other NLS Surveys: School surveys have been conducted for the NLSY79, Children of the NLSY79, the Young Women, and the Young Men. Each of these surveys has recorded information on the school's total enrollment, number of books in the school library, qualifications of the staff, and ethnic/racial composition of the faculty and students. The NLSY79 and Children of the NLSY79 surveys also asked about the school's grading system and average daily attendance. 

Transcript surveys have been conducted for the NLSY79 and for the Children of the NLSY79. These surveys have included information on course subject matter, enrollment dates, and grades earned. For more precise details about the content of each survey, users should consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide.


The Department of Defense (DOD) used the NLSY97 sample as part of a larger effort to establish new norms for the computer adaptive form of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (CAT-ASVAB), a military enlistment test. Administered from summer 1997 to spring 1998, the CAT-ASVAB collected baseline information on the aptitudes and vocational interests of NLSY97 respondents. Additionally, the CAT-ASVAB was administered to a group of participants age 17-23 who were sampled at the same time as NLSY97 respondents (see Administration of the CAT-ASVAB for more information). 

COVID-19 Survey

A supplemental COVID-19 survey was fielded in the spring of 2021 to document the effects of the pandemic on respondents’ jobs and health. Respondents received invitations to complete a short (about 12 minute) web questionnaire about their experiences during the pandemic. For more detailed information, see Appendix 14.