When a student graduates junior high, it's generally a sure bet they're going to attend high school. when they graduate high school, usually most have an idea about whether college is for them or not. But then... graduate school.
Last winter, I went to a conference in which the keynote speaker talking a lot about her own college experience.
She mentioned how the top students in undergrad do not always become the top students in graduate school. Why? Because studying does not translate into research. It doesn't mean a student can't be good in both, but it does mean one can't assume that they're going to be good at both. Likewise the other direction, which in her case she says she was better at research than she was as a student in undergraduate.
I'm quickly seeing how the classroom does not translate into research firsthand this summer. Yes, it's a physics project, but nothing in my physics classes are even remotely relevant. Heck, I had to Google search about half the terms for the title of what I'm working on this summer. One of the few skills I've been able to apply is Matlab (a coding language) which would have been difficult to learn from scratch this summer. Granted, we're still using it in a very different way, but it did help that I've used it before.
So what if I hadn't gotten a research experience? How exactly are students supposed to make a decision that affect the next five to seven years of their life if they've never had an experience even remotely similar? One of my friends had decided on graduate school until she did undergraduate research, at which point she most adamantly decided against doing a PhD program.
So how the heck is a student supposed to make such a huge decision without having research experience? Sure, you could work industry a few years before graduate school to delay your decision, but all that really tells you is whether or not you like that part of the industry. For many disciplines, jobs in research are held by those with at least a master's degree. Every other level, we know what we're in for before making any huge decisions. You have most of the information you need to make an informed decision about what your next academic step is. But good luck making PhD decisions without seeking out research experiences.