Choosing Colleges

How Social Class and Schools Structure Opportunity

By Patricia M. McDonough

Subjects: Social Context Of Education
Paperback : 9780791434789, 186 pages, November 1997
Hardcover : 9780791434772, 186 pages, November 1997

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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




Examines the everyday experiences of high school seniors as they choose their colleges and demonstrates that college choice is a more complex social and organizational reality than has been previously understood.


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.

Patricia M. McDonough is Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA.


"I think in-depth case studies and interpretive analyses of students' college decision making can provide much needed additions to the college-choice literature. This book is a very welcome contribution to the genre. The reader is drawn irresistibly into the world of these young people as they proceed through this important choice process. " -- James C. Hearn, Institute of Higher Education, University of Georgia

"The focus on the effects of family, friends, and high school counselors on college choice is a much needed addition to the college access literature. This book represents a major empirical advance in the field. It is a corrective to the individually-oriented education and status-attainment literature and it extends the organizational approach to education. " -- David Karen, Bryn Mawr College