Background: Planning for college is an increasingly common rite of passage for high school students. Institutional agents—nonkin adults who possess institutional resources—are important sources of support and guidance in this process.
Purpose: This mixed-methods study examines social class differences in the involvement of school-based institutional agents such as teachers and school counselors in helping young people plan for college and the future.
Population: Interviews were conducted with 61 middle-class, working-class, and poor young women to collect information regarding their future plans, social ties, and role of social ties in guiding their plans. In addition, the author uses survey data from the Education Longitudinal Study (ELS) to examine the association between social class and the role of school-based ties in adolescents’ college planning.
Research Design: Analyses of in-person interview transcripts involved inductive coding and the development of effects matrices to compare coding output by class. Quantitative models were constructed based on qualitative findings. Based on these findings, analyses of ELS data used hierarchical models to estimate the association between social class background and receiving encouragement and information regarding college from social ties.
Findings: Analyses of interview transcripts reveal that disadvantaged young women see school-based ties as their primary means for college planning, whereas middle-class young women often discount advice from these ties when other sources of advice are available. Quantitative models also show that disadvantaged youth rely on school-based ties for information in the college planning process to a greater extent than do middle-class youth. However, disadvantaged youth receive less encouragement to attend college from school and nonschool ties, even after accounting for academic performance.
Conclusions: Inequality in access to college stems in part from differences in the resources available to high school students as they plan for the future. Disadvantaged youth look to schools to help them plan; if schools marshal their resources to assist these young people, they can help address existing inequality in access to college.