Where students come from "overwhelmingly" drives how they go at high school, rather than what sort of school they go to, according to new research from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).
The study, published on Wednesday, also found that public funding on keeping high school students in school was spent "too late" and did not change whether they stayed on to Year 12.
Males were found to be more disengaged in school than females in the study which used data from the 2009 cohort of 15 year olds from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) - a total of about 14,000 young people.
Rod Camm, managing director of NCVER, said the choice of school did not come out as an important factor.
"What really came out in this report, is that at age 15 the key elements that determine a person's engagement in school are their individual characteristics," Mr Camm said. "Their actual school characteristics had virtually no impact at all."
Researcher Sinan Gemici said that the "key message from this research is that it really matters from a policy perspective at what point in time you spend big dollars on school programs and interventions".
Mr Gemici said that that if funding was spent on interventions and the way schools were set up and run on students that were around the age of 15 "it is too late" and "it made no difference".
"We looked at the school sector, school demographics, the size of the school, whether its rural or urban, school resourceing, teacher quality - all these types of things and the result is that at age 15 virtually none of these things at the school level matter," Mr Gemici said.
Mr Camm said the results painted "a sobering picture" about the ability of schools to raise the engagement levels of 15 year-olds. "It seems that by this age the die is cast,” Mr Camm said.
Mr Camm said educational researchers already know that level of engagement has a big impact on academic performance.
The researchers suggested schools may be best placed to influence students when they are younger.
Factors which the research suggests influence engagement included individual ability, socioeconomic status, being foreign born, speaking a language other than English at home, working only a few hours a week outside of school, and coming from a traditional nuclear family.
Higher education access programs, vocation education programs and school-based apprenticeships are all measures schools currently use to engage students at risk of dropping out.