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Narratives of Interdependence and Independence: The Role of Social Class and Family Relationships in Where High-Achieving Students Apply to College

May 1, 2019 - 3:00pm to 4:30pm

Research demonstrates that social class affects where high-achieving students apply to college, but the processes through which such effects come about are not well understood. This talk draws on 46 in-depth interviews with high-achieving students in the Bay Area to examine how social class impacts college application decisions.

University of the Pacific sociology Professor Yang Lor argues that the upbringing and experiences associated with students’ social class shape their narratives regarding how much autonomy or constraints they perceive in making college decisions.

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 selective private universities in other parts of the country, while lower-SES students tend to limit their choices to primarily selective and nonselective public colleges closer to home.

This research enhances our understanding of the mechanisms by which social class differences in family experiences contribute to the perpetuation of social inequality.

Lor completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2018. He teaches and researches education, stratification, Hmong Americans, race & ethnicity and political participation. Lor has published about the political participation of immigrants, the educational experiences of low-income immigrant youths, and social class differences in where high-achieving students apply to college. Lor has taught at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and Sacramento State University, and is now visiting at UOP.


Social Sciences and Management Building, 117

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School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts