Buying and Selling Higher Education: The Social Construction of the College Applicant

By McDonough, Patricia M. | Journal of Higher Education, July-August 1994 | Go to article overview

Buying and Selling Higher Education: The Social Construction of the College Applicant


McDonough, Patricia M., Journal of Higher Education


How high-school seniors become college students is a result of two separate but interacting processes. Applicants apply to and enroll in college at the encouragement of family, friends, teachers, counselors, advertising materials, and other sources [28]. Colleges conduct marketing assessments, establish entrance standards, select, and enroll students [20]. The demographics of high-school graduates would seem to indicate a buyer's market, yet although college access is easier now than twenty years ago, it is harder to get into what some people consider the "right" college because of increased competition and standards [39].

For upper-middle-class students who view college as a pivotal career investment, choosing the right college has become pressure-filled. An industry has grown up to help college-bound students: guidebooks and software for SAT coaching; private counselors; consortia offering paid trips for high-school counselors to obscure college campuses; and slick magazines selling private college educations marketed to students stratified by SAT scores and socioeconomic status. College admissions has become a complex, high-stakes game where insider information is difficult to come by and where the guidance counselor caseloads are staggering. Some parents consider their children's college prospects when choosing preschools [23], and admissions practitioners bemoan the extraordinary amounts of time and money that students spend in "packaging themselves" [16].

In this article I am defining all aspects of the interinstitutional transition of an individual from high school to college as the "field of college admissions" [4]. I examine changes in this field in the 1980s and 1990s and the way in which nonschool-based admission assistance services have developed and expanded. I describe and label these nonschool-based services "admissions management." I offer this concept as an individual-level counterpart to the idea of enrollment management that has become prevalent in the literature on higher education. Admissions management is a constellation of behaviors which include buying services to help mostly high-SES, college-bound students maximize their college prospects, package themselves, and anchor themselves emotionally as they navigate the troubled waters of college admissions. I also describe the social construction of a new type of person--a college applicant--who in making the high school to college transition needs professional help, specifically, the assistance of a private, independent educational consultant.

I argue that due to increased marketing on the part of college admissions officials, diminished high-school guidance operations, and heightened competition for college seats upper-middle-class students have generated new practices which, for them, already appear normative, are taken for granted, and are virtually the only reasonable way to choose a college. Some college aspirants, fearful of being frozen out of certain types of colleges thought to be their birthright, are mobilizing economic capital in an effort to enhance their cultural capital and thereby maximize their socioeconomic advantages. As a specific example, I will discuss the role and function of these private counselors, which I will show to be (1) offering specialized knowledge and assistance, (2) providing private uninterrupted time with a counseling professional, (3) organizing and managing the college choice process, and (4) cooling out unreasonable aspirations with viable, personalized alternatives.

I will also demonstrate the advantages of using a field analysis. Examining the historic changes in the structural and organizational contours of the college admissions field and viewing the interinstitutional transition from high school to college as a "field" allows for greater analytic purchase by simultaneously viewing changes in high schools, colleges, the entrepreneurial sectors, and individuals' college choice actions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Buying and Selling Higher Education: The Social Construction of the College Applicant
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.