Narratives of Interdependence and Independence: The Role of Social Class and Family Relationships in Where High-Achieving Students Apply to College
KeywordsSocial and Behavioral Sciences
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractResearch demonstrates that social class shapes where high-achieving students apply to college. Based on 45 in-depth interviews with high-achieving students in the Bay Area, I find that higher-SES students are more likely to apply to out-of-state public and private universities, especially liberal arts and Ivy League colleges. I argue that the upbringing and experiences associated with students’ social classes shape their narratives regarding how much autonomy or constraints they perceive in making decisions about their choices of college. In discussing their upbringing and their future, higher-SES students present a narrative of independence about what they have done to prepare themselves for college and where to apply. In contrast, lower-SES students speak of experiences and considerations that reflect a narrative of interdependence between themselves and their parents that is grounded in the mutual concern they have for one another as the prospect of college looms. As a result, higher-SES students frame college as an opportunity to leave their families and immerse themselves in an environment far from home while lower-SES students understand college as a continuation of family interdependence. Consequently, higher-SES students are more likely to apply to public and selective private universities in other parts of the country, while lower-SES students tend to limit their choices to colleges – both selective and nonselective – closer to home. This study draws attention to the social and cultural context of decision making among youth.