Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Markella Rutherford


This project analyzes the different ways less privileged students apply to college, the tools they use to prepare for admissions, and the information they receive from their networks about higher education. Building from Bourdieu’s theories on capital and field, this study highlights how students from non-dominant backgrounds have to adapt and overcome to succeed in an admissions system designed to reward the cultural capital available to students from educated families. I conducted 18 in depth, semi structured interviews with high school students and recent graduates to uncover the motivations and behaviors in their college choice process. Information in their immediate networks and affiliation with college-access programs were able to “intervene” and introduce students to the preparation behaviors necessary for elite college admission. Students with college access program (CAP) affiliations were able to prepare for college admissions in a collaborative way, with the help of newfound social connections facilitated by their CAPs. Students without program assistance were less likely to reach to their networks and engaged with the college application process in a more independent manner.