I move beyond the narrow focus on information and the individual by examining the college choice more broadly within the larger context of the family, school, and community. In doing so, I identify several mechanisms of social inequality, showing how institutions and families of the middle- and upper-middle class work to procure advantages by cultivating dispositions among their children for specific types of higher education opportunities.
This book contributes to existing knowledge in the following ways. First, this book links the structural aspects of social class (e.g. accumulated experiences and access to information) to the cultural aspects (e.g. narratives about family and frames about higher education) to explain social class differences in college application choices. In doing so, this book focuses directly on the processes that connect social class to college choices, showing what aspects of social class matters and how they matter in the decision-making process. Second, this book shows that choosing where to go to college is as much about the particular type of lifestyle that students want to pursue during college as it is about the institutional qualities of colleges. Lifestyle preferences reflect students’ social class experiences and upbringings. In particular, the decision about whether to apply to colleges across the country is based upon experiences and observations that students have accumulated over the years. Third, beyond the conceptual and theoretical contributions, a key methodological strength of the book is its ability to directly compare the experiences and understandings of lower- and higher- SES students at the moment in time when they are making key decisions about college applications.
The Diverse Experiences of First-Generation College Students
I am working on a current project entitled The Diverse Experiences of First-Generation College Students. While first-generation college students come from families in which neither parents have completed college, they bring with them varying levels of social, economic, and cultural capitals. As a result, their experiences can be quite distinct depending on their racial background, gender, and the type of knowledge or experiences they bring with them as they navigate higher education. This research project will examine the factors that impact first-generation college students’ sense of belonging on campus and the consequences of a sense of belonging for their personal, social, and academic outcomes.