Two Paths Diverged: Race, Class and Inequality in the College-Going High School
Megan Holland

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University at Buffalo

Primary Discipline

My project examines how high schools structure pathways that lead to very different college destinations based on race and class. Drawing upon previously collected data, and new follow up data, I am currently writing a book manuscript that delves into the stories and experiences of 89 students who are navigating the college application process over their junior and senior years. I draw upon a racially and socioeconomically diverse sample to show how students within the same school have vastly different college application experiences. I track a sub-sample of students throughout their junior and senior years, and then follow up with them four years after high school to understand students’ full postsecondary trajectories. I supplement the students’ voices with over two hundreds hours of school observations, interviews with 40 school faculty and staff (including school counselors) as well as a sample of local college admissions officers, to examine how access to college information is structured at both schools. What I find is that racial and class inequalities are reproduced through unequal access to key sources of information, even among students in the same school and even in schools with well-established college-going cultures. In today’s competitive college application process, the social capital embedded within students’ networks are key, and the social capital students gain (or don’t) through their peers, counselors and college admissions officers influences their application to more and less selective colleges. School structure and organization facilitated students’ connections to different sources of social capital, funneling more advantaged students toward networks and ties with more information and less advantaged students toward information poor networks. Most striking, however, was how the schools acted as brokers – connecting more advantaged students with higher quality college information and with college admission officers at more selective schools, while encouraging less advantaged students to attend events populated with less selective schools. This left less advantaged students vulnerable to marketing tactics that that took advantage of their high hopes for college and lack of information.
About Megan Holland
Megan Holland is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University at Buffalo. Dr. Holland received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University. Her research centers on understanding the processes within schools that contribute to systemic patterns of racial, gender and class inequality and the role of both culture and structure. Using interview and observational methods, her research examines students’ social and academic experiences and the connections between the two that contribute to educational and societal inequalities. In examining these broader social processes, Dr. Holland has focused on two lines of research. In one, she examines how students navigate the postsecondary transition and in another she studies the social dynamics of diverse high schools. Her work has appeared in Sociology of Education, Sociology Compass and Teacher’s College Record.

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