Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Nicholas Michelli

Subject Categories

Education | Higher Education Administration


college access; college choice; Discourse; high school; literacies; literacy


Every year more than two million high school seniors prepare for and apply to college. These students visit college websites, write college admission essays, complete online application forms and use digital literacy tools to elicit and share knowledge about college. These literacy practices are central to the college choice process. Nonetheless, few scholars have examined how these practices are experienced by students or framed by the schools these students attend. Guided by Gee's Discourse theory, this study examines how a group of 14 high school seniors who attended a high poverty high school in the Bronx, New York developed the knowledge, skills and attitudes associated with the college choice process. Findings from the study are based upon a one-year ethnographic study and subsequent interviews with student participants. Data sources included surveys, digital and printed documents, photographs, observations, interviews and focus groups. Students reported that their high school played a central role in their college choice process. Staff at the school organized during-school workshops, after-school events, college fairs and visits to local colleges. Staff introduced students to college-going texts and helped students to interpret these texts and compose their own college-going texts. These discursive practices helped students to learn about and engage in the college choice process. Nonetheless, students experienced multiple challenges as they engaged in the process of deciding whether and where to attend college. Findings from the study point to a number of literacy practices and organizational structures that were instrumental in both supporting students through the college choice process and in hindering opportunity. The dissertation ends with a discussion of implications for practice, policy, and theory.