Choosing Colleges: How Social Class and Schools Structure Opportunity

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Based on interviews with students, parents, and counselors as well as case studies of the college guidance environments of a working-class public school, an upper-middle-class public school, a private preparatory school, and a Catholic school, McDonough examines the everyday experiences of high school seniors as they choose their colleges. The author shows that college choice is a more complex social and organizational reality than has been previously understood and shows how families and schools mutually influence individual student outcomes and our higher education opportunity structure. After half a century of increasing federal, state, and private investments in higher-education, phenomenal growth in the number of colleges, and enrollments of almost fifteen million students, Choosing Colleges asks why it is that there are vast differentials in college access. McDonough addresses access and equity issues by documenting how student college-choice decision making is influenced by colleges, high schools, parents, friends, and the media.
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Editorial Reviews

In this study of the influence of social class and high school organization on student perceptions of the opportunities for a college education, McDonough (education and information studies, UCLA) analyzes case studies of 12 white female high school seniors. McDonough discusses college choices in terms of their social, organizational, and cultural contexts and demonstrates the essential use of values in decisions about which college to attend. She also considers the influence of school environment, school counselors, and social services offered by schools. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780791434772
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1997
  • Pages: 174

Table of Contents

List of Tables


1. Who Goes Where to College?

Patterns of Educational Attainment
College Choice Research
Status Attainment Literature
School Effects Literature
Theoretical Framework
Significance of the Study
Organization of the Book
Research Methodology

2. So Many Ways to Choose a College

Paloma Young Women
The Women of Gate of Heaven High School
University High School's Women
The Women of Mission Cerrito High School

3. Four High Schools, Four Social Worlds

Paloma School
Gate of Heaven High School
University High School
Mission Cerrito High School

4. A Cross-Case Analysis of High School Guidance

Overview Guidance Structure and Outcomes
Organizational Mission and Curriculum
Assumptions of Students' College Knowledge
Counselor Role Expectations
Summary of Actual and Normative Structure of College Advising
Organizational Habitus

5. Families, Friends, and Finances As Influences

Choosing a Private High School
Choosing a Private College Counselor
Family Involvement in College Choice Decision Making

Levels of Involvement
Geographical Influences
College Visits


High SES Students and College Finances
Low SES Students and College Finances
Job As Influence


6. College Choice in a Cultural Context


Policy: Cultural and Organizational Equality of Opportunity
Theory and Scholarship



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