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Published July 10, 2018

Helping disadvantaged students navigate the college selection process

Finding the correct college fit for disadvantaged students

The college application process is complicated, including how high school students obtain and use information to narrow down their college choices. This selection process can be especially challenging for students at racially and socioeconomically diverse high schools, who may be influenced by the marketing techniques of less and noncompetitive schools that at times come with high price tags.

Megan Holland, research assistant professor from the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, has been researching this topic since 2015.

In her research, she interviewed 89 high school students at two schools in the suburban Northeast as they were navigating the college application process during their junior and senior year. Four years later, Holland  followed-up with a sample of those students to examine the role that high schools play in influencing the kinds of college information students have access to during the college selection process.

Through these interviews, Holland found that the resources and information inherent in social ties were key to transmitting information about college. The schools connected students to college information via ties to friends, counselors and college admissions officers, but these connections were not equal, leading to different college destinations by race and class.

Holland’s findings will be published in a book, “Divergent Paths to College: Race, Class and Inequality in High Schools,” which is due in 2019. She hopes the book will become a resource for educators who are interested in understanding how to better prepare all students for the college application process.

“It’s important to understand how students make college application decisions, and what influences them,” said Holland. “When students attend schools that are a mismatch, they are less likely to graduate, and it puts them at a distinct disadvantage.”

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