Finishing What My Parents Started: Selective College Aspirations among Underserved Students

with Irina Chukhray, Nehemiah Ankoor, & DongMei Li

EMERGE is a college access program for talented but underserved high school students. EMERGE aims to encourage students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds (economically disadvantaged, first-generation college-going, or both) to attend selective colleges and universities since disadvantaged students are prone to academic undermatch—enrolling in a postsecondary institution less selective than their qualifications may allow. In spring 2018, we interviewed 26 high school sophomores recently accepted to EMERGE to understand what factors drove students’ college search processes. Through our interviews, we learned that students felt college was essential to a “better life” and thought of it as a way to repay their parents financially and to honor their sacrifices. However, students felt constrained in their college searches, particularly by the cost of college and a sense of obligation to family. Finally, the students we interviewed expressed excitement at their acceptance into EMERGE, describing it as a life-changing opportunity.